Boat Test - Nacra 430
Jordan Spencer discovers that simple, modern catamaran technology has put the fun back into off-the-beach sailing.
For many in the 1980s, their first introduction to sailing was a blast on an off-the-beach cat like a Hobie 14, a Windrush 14 or a Maricat. These craft were simple, fun and versatile and they were everywhere. They created many spin-offs, each more high-powered and more technical, gradually moving away from the simplicity that won so many supporters.
Interestingly, with all the technical developments that we have seen in the cat world, nobody has chosen to take the best of those elements and create a modern version of the simple off-the-beach cat - until now!
The team at Nacra has thrown its considerable skill into bringing back the off-the-beach fun machine with their new 430 design. The 430 is a thoroughly modern-looking piece of kit and is the first new off-the-beach 14 we have seen in over 20 years.
The design covers all the bases and brings back the fun for family sailing. It is set-up to race, with a trapeze, main, jib and spinnaker. Plus it has a huge trampoline, so it can be raced by one, or one and the kids, and it has storage for camping gear so the whole family can skip away for a day or the weekend.
The 430 was designed by Ross Guinea, with the goal of creating a craft for family fun and racing. First impressions are that it is certainly family-friendly. The design features modern wave-piercing bows and high-volume hulls with a skeg rather than a daggerboard. It has kick-up rudders, a boomless main and a fairly simple layout. It looks friendly and it looks easy to sail.
A lot of design work has gone into making it simple. The hulls are a sandwich construction moulded in e-glass with polyester resin and built in Brisbane. To create the volume in the boat, the hulls are slightly wider than you would expect. Structurally, each hull is built around a couple of vertical seams with some bulkheads for strength. Given the family-friendly requirement of the boat, the designer wanted a lot of trampoline space. This was created by moving the front beam forward and could be done because of the volume in the hulls. They were also able to do away with a dolphin striker by placing an I beam inside the front beam, cleaning up the lines of the boat.
There are lots of other clever design ideas incorporated. For example, the mast has a captive ball with a safety pin to prevent it popping out when raising and lowering. The rudders are carbon reinforced, they have a rake adjustment system so you can tune in your steering weight, and they use the Acumen steering system. This allows the rudders to turn at slightly different angles to reflect their rate of turn, (the rudder on the inside of the turn is more angled than the rudder on the outside of the turn, which means less drag and less helm is required). The rudders also have a safety pop-up in case you should hit something. There are also storage compartments in each hull for any gear you might want to take.
Rig-wise, there are three versions of the boat. The Clubman is the "toy" for hire operators or club training. It comes with only a main, in Dacron, shallow rudders and no traveller. The Sports version is the standard boat minus the spinnaker. It features a square-top, fully-battened Mylar main and a high aspect Mylar jib. The Rocket version adds a spinnaker, the pole and the snuffer system.
The set-up we tested was the Rocket version and is the one where most of the sales will come. The main is 11.88sqm, is reasonably high-aspect and is quite a forgiving shape, but it carries its shape to the top of the sail, so the designer definitely wants the boat to perform. The jib is tiny, 1.97sqm. It is quite high-aspect, so has a long luff and a very short foot. This means you will have to get your sheeting spot-on for it to perform when racing. And the spinnaker is 11.46sqm, easy to launch, easy to trim and easy to retrieve.
The componentry is shared between Harken and Ronstan. It is all high quality with no scrimping on the specs. Features include an RCB traveller system, 6:1 mainsheet system, 8:1 downhaul system, ratchematics for the spinnaker sheeting and 2:1 purchase on the jib sheet. The spinnaker halyard, retrieval and tack line are an all-in-one system, which all goes into a chute suspended along the pole. So the 430 is a pretty high-quality boat, particularly when you consider for the first 20 boats sold, the Rocket is $13,900 and the Sport $11,900. There is a lot of boat for the dollars.
When it came to sailing the 430, I wasn’t expecting as much as it offered. The test was in the middle of winter in Queensland, so quite a nice day with about 10-12 knots. However it was done in a quite restricted waterway, meaning lots of tacking and gybing and not much time to get settled. Not the best circumstance in which to explore a new boat.
First up, leaving the beach, it was quick. The 430 jumped away whilst I was still putting the rudders down. Not so much that you would worry, more it was just the boat saying, “lets get on with it, lets sheet in and go”. Rudders down, I set the traveller, sheeted the jib, cranked the main and was straight on the wire.
The 430 climbed straight up into the wind with good height and really efficient speed. The rig did feel a little flexy, but that was probably due to not enough rig tension on my part. It didn’t affect the boat though. Quickly, I had to tack and like any cat you want to speed through a tack. Warren from Nacra told me to throw a metre of mainsheet through the tack - I reckon its more like two or three, otherwise the leech of the main will hold you in irons. Once you work it out, it’s not hard, plus there is plenty of tramp to scamper around on so you can sort yourself out.
Pretty quickly, (in the confined waterway) it was time to turn downhill and try the kite. With no vang, bearing away is a breeze, just ease some mainsheet and turn down. The boat responds to the helm, you can scoot in off the wire, set the traveller, ease a little jib and pull the kite up. It is super easy! As soon as you sheet the kite, you get a real sense of acceleration, the boat loves it. There wasn’t enough pressure to get on the wire downhill, but there was enough to get a bit of spray coming off the hulls and for me to think, hey this thing is pretty quick.
Gybing was easy as well. It really was a case of steering the boat around the corner grabbing the new sheet and going. This means the 430 could be quite tactical in one-design racing, allowing you to pursue every shift downhill.
The thing about the speed of the 430 was that it was easy. Don’t get me wrong, this is not going to be anywhere near the fastest cat out there, but that is not what it was designed for. As I have said before, the designer was trying to create something that is fun. To do this, he has put that volume into the hulls. Extra volume can mean extra drag, so it tends to be slower.
But what it also means is the boat is more forgiving. It’s less likely to pitch pole on a bear away, it’s less likely to bury a hull on a gybe, and it will forgive a mistake where you end up too far forward on the tramp. It also means you can carry extra weight a bit better, so if the kids do want to race with you, they can. It means the boat is fun!
One of joys of testing boats is that if they can capsize, you have to tip them over to see how they come up. With the 430, I waited for a gust, started spinning her into the wind and then jumped down onto the leeward hull at the front of the tramp and over she came. Cats can be difficult to get up, but the 430 has a righting line from the mast base. I waited for the mast tip to go head to wind and the tramp to hang downwind, leaned on the righting line and up she came. I thought it might keep going, but nope, up she popped and sat there waiting for me to jump back on board. Quite easy really!
Certainly I would have loved to have got this boat out on the open ocean or a big open waterway, because I feel you could really settle in and drive it hard and have a lot of fun doing it too. Next time!
The best way to describe the Nacra 430 is ‘versatile’. It’s a cheap, affordable package that allows you to get out and do a number of things on the water and have fun doing each one of them. No you aren’t going to be the fastest boat out there, but the way they are selling, it won’t matter because there will be a strong one-design fleet and really, what does it matter? You will be the ones with the biggest smiles, especially if you have small kids.
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