Atlantic 47 MastFoil
Atlantic 47 MastFoil™ Updates
The A47 named Pounce was completed by Alwoplast in Valdivia, Chile in early June 2013. I was there along with the owners Thom and Francine Dozier and their crew for the commissioning. After commissioning they planned to sail north to Thom's home on the Chesapeake Bay. The timing was right and I asked if I could join Pounce for the first segment of their long sail toward Panama. Thom was happy to add me to the ranks of his all star crew of Mike, Ann and Larry. Francine would sign on in Florida for the final leg to the Chesapeake.
Owner Thom Dozier has an extensive history sailing and racing beach cats, he then moved on to larger cruising boats. Mike was a commanding officer in the USCG for many years and now runs a marine engine business. Ann is a critical care nurse and superlative cook and Larry is the onboard electronics/computer geek. In total there were skills aboard to solve just about any problem and I was very pleased to have the chance to sail with them.
June is late autumn in the southern hemisphere and the weather in Valdivia was not good for anything but ducks and mushrooms. Near constant rain from a series of deep lows coming into Patagonia from the southern ocean slowed the final preparations on the boat. Moreover, the Chilean Navy had all the southern ports including Valdivia closed due to seas offshore of 10 meters (33') and strong Northerly winds so waiting was the only option.
Pounce's crew departing Alwoplast Marine
Finally boat projects were wrapped up and a weather break came. This promised to be several days of either light or favorable winds before the next low pressure system slammed into the Andes. From Valdivia you need to sail about 500 miles north to get into a more benign climate where the southerly winds stabilize around a largely stationary high pressure system west of Valparaiso. Once into the high pressure area the winds may be strong but they will be from behind and there is little risk of severe weather. So the safe way to play the departure in the off season is to get north as fast as possible, motoring if necessary, to get beyond the reach of storms.
At mid day we motored Pounce out of the river under low overcast and misting rain. An ebb tide and Pounce's 9 knot motoring speed made relatively short work of the 8 miles to open water. Corral Harbor at the mouth of the river was sloppy going with wind and swell against the outgoing tide. Once clear of the river the seas became more regular and we were able to motor sail on course against a light northwesterly breeze until the wind fizzled out completely.
Several hours later the weather started to improve and we could see some red sky beneath the clouds to the west as the sun set. After 12 straight days of rain this was a pleasant sight! The Navy forecast had predicted light headwinds for the first day then shifting to the SW and increasing. Along with the wind increase there was a large SW swell from the series of recent storms and that swell was forecast to grow. We motored through the night making good progress. By midnight we were passing Isla Mocha and the wind had started to shift to the WSW although it was still too light to sail. Intermittent light rain, cold water temperatures and fog made the pilothouse - with the heat running - the place to be for standing watch in comfort.
Pounce leaving Valdivia on a grey day
By mid morning the second day there was finally a sailing breeze . We unrolled the two sails, trimmed the mast foils and shut off the engines. The quiet is always such a relief after a day of motoring! Our course was deep off the wind so the sailing was not particularly exciting but we had knocked out 200 miles in the first 24 hours and transited to the edge of the high pressure system where the weather would only improve. The sun did appear after it burned off the fog and we had a beautiful sailing afternoon. The swell was building in height although being long period it did not cause any discomfort. The larger wave sets were over 15' high which was more or less consistent with the Navy forecast.
During the day the wind built and our course changed from NNW to NNE as we rounded Punta Lavapie.
For the first hours we sailed Pounce downwind under a wing and wing configuration. When on a run there isn't much difference in speed made good between wing and wing or gybing downwind so we experimented with both. Depending on the wave train(s) often one method is more comfortable than the other and you really just need to try each to see what works best. Wing and wing worked well, although the fore sail is more stable when it's boomed out toward the windward side - otherwise it catches the turbulence from the mizzen. There still was not a lot of wind, not enough to enable surfing any of the swells, and we were making 6-7 knots. Both mastfoils were trimmed square to the wind, which seemed the be the right thing to do on a run.
As the day progressed the wind slowly increased. We gybed to port on a deep reach and vanged both sails forward with the foils rotated so that the leeward telltales were streaming. True wind was getting up to 15 kts, the sea still flat with a long large swell. Pounce liked this and would occasionally catch a wave surfing into the low teens.
Gybing the mastfoil rig is a piece of cake. The sheets are pulled in most of the way, course changed, sails come over, then sheets eased and vangs snugged. Self tacking jibs don't slam over the way a large roached mainsail does so the whole exercise is a very low stress event, even in big winds. If it's really blowing hard you can always control the jib boom with the vang/preventer and ease it over slowly but that does not seem to be necessary in winds under 30-35 kts. The foils can be ignored until you are ready to re-trim them. The foil trimming loads are low in the conditions I have seen to date and it takes little effort to position the foils wherever they need to be.
At this point sailing conditions were still light to moderate but I was pleasantly surprised and very happy about how absolutely quiet the mastfoil rig is. The conventional catamaran rig, even sailing in light conditions, tends to make lots of squeaks, bangs and other noises as the boat rolls in the swell. The enormous forces on sheet and vang used to keep the mainsail leech under control (and off the leeward shrouds) stretch and contract the lines on every wave, groaning in rope clutches, squeaking over blocks and winches in addition to the occasional loud crack/snap of upper mainsail battens as the sail snap fills with wind and empties as the boat rolls. In contrast Pounce's MastFoil rig was dead silent. Not a peep! Maybe this sounds like a trivial point but I don't think it is; quiet is comfort. And at the very least those noises are usually signs of excessive wear on sheets, blocks and sails.
Sunset the second day brought happy hour and a peaceful sit down dinner expertly prepared by Ann before the start of another 14 hour night. All the while the wind was slowly building so that by 8pm it was time to roll up some sail. Pounce was frequently feeling her oats and taking off on a swell, surfing along into the high teens. Catching waves is usually fun, particularly during daylight for the people awake. It is not as much fun in the dark especially for crew off watch trying to rest. So I had the honor of stepping out into the cockpit to ease off the mizzen outhaul while my right index finger pushed the furler button to roll up about half of the sail. I doubt if this took 20 seconds. Then back inside where it was warm!
On watch again in the wee hours, sitting with Thom in the pilothouse, and the wind and waves increased another notch. Pounce was once again frequently catching waves for long surfing rides. Each time the water noise changed from hiss to roar as her speed increased from 9 to 20+knots. Okay, time to ratchet back again in the name of comfort. The mizzen foil was trimmed square to the wind so that was an obvious choice for "reefing". Once again I stepped into the cockpit, put the winch handle in the mastfoil rotation control, released the lock and turned the foil (it actually turned itself) into the wind. At that point the foil essentially disappears as far as the wind is concerned as its streamlined shape has extremely little drag. Thom and I both wondered how much difference that would make as we resumed our comfortable watch keeping seats. Our "sail" reduction was quite significant, cutting Pounce's speed enough so that the surfing was greatly diminished. Not really a surprise, but satisfying to see how quickly the sail area can be changed both up and down by trimming the foils. I don't think it took more than 5 seconds to adjust the mizzen foil.
The next morning was once again cold and foggy damp with a thick overcast marine layer. Wind was 25 to 30 kts, still way behind us, with a sizable swell. The day before standing on the house top the swell would break the horizon. My eye height standing there is almost 15' above the waterline so the swell was somewhat taller than that. This morning I suspect the larger waves were close to 20'. Of course waves, even large ones, never look like much in photos but in real life some of them were starting to look pretty impressive coming up astern. The autopilot handled all of this in stride, even the fast surfing. Occasionally we'd get smacked on the quarter by a breaking wave top which would start to slew the boat around but she never went very far before the autopilot had her back on course.
Pounce departed Valdivia fully provisioned and ready to sail non-stop the 3000 miles to Panama. Having me sign on at the last minute required a little change in plans because I needed to get back to business and could only stay for a few days. There are only a few harbors along the bold coast of Chile and now it was time to gybe over in order to intersect the coast so I could get off.
We were about 100 miles offshore when we gybed to starboard. Still on a deep reach but with the main swell further behind we had a comfortable ride, making a steady 9 to 10 with occasional surfs higher. The wind gradually decreased and we unrolled all of the mizzen and re-trimmed both foils for speed.
Headed toward the major port of Valapariso we raised the first lights about 10 pm. By midnight we were close into the mountainous coast and the prevailing SW wind was replaced by a light but cold land breeze. We sailed past the resort town of Vina del Mar and rounded up under the point of Higuerillas, just outside of the yacht club breakwater. What looked like a reasonable enough anchorage on the chart felt very exposed. It was also fairly deep and the anchor had only a so-so feel to it when pulled hard. But it was calm and we only would be there until daylight.
After much needed coffee and breakfast we inspected as much of Pounce as we could see. After all it was her first sail of consequence and she was bounced around enough to warrant a good look over. There was some pretty serious chafe on both jib outhaul lines which was caused by a sharp edge on each clew block. That was quickly filed off smooth and should not cause further problems. Also a bit of chafe on one of the foil rotation lines but again there was a hard edge that needed to be smoothed. That's all we could find wrong. A very good check up after a 500 mile long initial sail.
From anchor it was a short motor to the dock where I departed and Pounce resumed her passage northward to the Panama Canal.
In addition to the sailing, spending a few days aboard gave me a chance to see the functionality of the interior layout. The A47 inside is very much like the interior of the A55 and A57. I don't suppose that is a surprise to anyone but to largely match the space and utility of the A57 in a cat 10' shorter is something that people who see the new boat will immediately appreciate.
Forward in the pilothouse there is a fully functional inside steering station to starboard and a nav/comm center to port. Aft starboard, on the galley side, is a dining table adjacent to large opening windows. Aft to port is a sitting area similar to what I have aboard Javelin - still my favorite comfortable seat for a night watch. In total the pilothouse works very well and is a great place to keep watch while sailing or to hang out when anchored.
The main difference in the A47 is the galley which is elevated and more integrated into the pilothouse than the A55/A57 layout. I like the way the A47 galley works and the elimination of 3 steps down and 3 up every time you go into the galley is a nice plus. There is a spectacular view from the galley and that should help anyone prone to motion sickness keep their equilibrium.
The midship cabins are a bit smaller in width than the A55 cabins, though the berths are the same size. There is ample storage space in this cabin.
The heads and showers are just as functional as on the A55/57. They are a little smaller, largely due to the hull beam being less, but have plenty of space. The large inboard lockers that we find so useful on the A55/57 for sheets and towels as well as first aid and toiletry items are also similar.
The port aft cabin on the A47 is the most versatile and probably the best cabin on the boat. Three of the first four A47's have substantially different layouts in the aft cabin. There is a double bunk layout, a two single bunk layout and a two single bunk plus head layout. Seldom does a boat of this size offer so many alternatives. Pounce has the double berth layout and it looks very comfortable with plenty of storage.
Along with the hallmarks of Atlantic Cat cockpits - safety and easy access to running rigging - note the simplicity of the sail handling system of the MastFoil rig. Far fewer lines are required than with a conventional rig.
The spacious aft deck is a great place for lounging and dining. The awning, not shown, provides shelter from sun and rain.
The purpose designed dinghy landing makes access for people and supplies safe and easy.