Recalling the Horstman TriStar 18 Trimaran

The TriStar 18 trimaran is truly a classic small tri model. It’s designer Ed Horstman is a well-known 20th century multihull pioneer.

I received the article below this past week from sailor Earl Patterson, who built and then sailed his TriStar 18 for over 20 years. He shared the following article, along with the photos of his friend (and co-TriStar 18 builder, Jim Griffin) found just to share with our community here at the site. (Many Thanks Earl and Jim)!
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I was introduced to sailing by a Professor of mine at Stephen F Austin State University in Texas while studying for my master’s degree in psychology. While this professor sailed a monohull he introduced me to the multihull design. Then I began serious sailing by crewing on a South Coast 21, hull #1 at the Shreveport Yacht club.

I built a Folbot kayak and added a sailing rig. This was Jim’s first introduction to sailing or even boating as I took the kayak to Lubbock and, unknown to him at the time, became a defining moment in his life.

Jim sailing the Folbot kayak

Jim sailing the Folbot kayak

The decision to build Tapatai was made during a late Friday night at Fat Dawg’s and was not as enthusiastically endorsed by graduate school professors at Texas Tech University, employers, and significant others.

Jim and I were in the same program and worked at the same place but had different significant others. I vividly remember taking the morning off on a boat building day to celebrate my wedding anniversary with my ex-wife.

Jim and I had decided to build a trimaran rather than a catamaran. It was not an easy decision for us but for the time stability won over speed. There were very few small trimaran plans available in 1972. We sent for plans from more than one designer. Ed Horstman promptly replied.

He produced plans that an amateur builder could follow and offered help in ordering rigging and sails. Since we were building a boat in a rural agriculture community in West Texas we chose to build the Tristar 18. We were attracted to the TriStar 18 because it was trailerable, would carry four people, and could be single-handed.

I think the building process went as smoothly as it could given the constrictions of the building site. We built the boat at Jim’s parent’s house in Lubbock, Texas where cotton is king. They had a suburban house with a single car garage. The deal was that we could use the garage, but we had to make room for the family car to stay in the garage during the week, as we only worked on the boat on weekends. We met the rules!

Earl's TriStar 18 Trimaran Being Built

Earl's TriStar 18 Trimaran Being Built

As we progressed, Jim’s father who was a great woodworker became more and more interested in the project and made a tiller for the boat from an exotic wood he had stored in the attic. Also, bless his mom for feeding us 3 days a week for 6 months!

Two college students building a sailboat in a West Texas town was so unusual that the people we purchased parts from were very helpful. Everyone knows, smile, that boat materials can only be purchased at a boat store. However, the fiberglass people gave us a lesson in mixing resin and a lumberyard owner spent over an hour helping us pick out straight grain wood. Vertical grain Sitka spruce in West Texas … forget it … we were elated to get vertical grain!

Thinking of supplies, we also learned not to track boat expenses and beer expenses since when building a small boat one exceeds the other and led to differentiating between boat beer and personal beer. Also, the shipping company delivering the 30’ mast – pre UPS days – just assumed that it was a flag pole. Who knows what they thought when delivering Cranfield sails from England?

Also, Horstman was very helpful in obtaining hardware, mast, sails and winches. In fact, we were able to call him in CA and talk with him as needed. Given the challenge in purchasing even the most basic building supplies in West Texas, Horstman overnighted boat nails from CA for a “critical” weekend task and prominently and humorously displayed the service in his advertisements for years.

TriStar 18 trimaran Center Hull

TriStar 18 trimaran Center Hull

Finally, in 1972, the decision of what glue to use in construction was a serious decision. Ultimately, for long forgotten reasons, the decision was made to use
Chem-Tech rather than WEST SYSTEM, perhaps because WEST was new and unproven at the time. The $24.99 a gallon including shipping for Chem-Tech placed a serious dent in the boat building budget. It held fine across the decades.

TriStar 18 trimaran under center hull

TriStar 18 trimaran under center hull

Launch day was July 4, 1972. A new 1972 penny was placed under the mast step for good luck. White River Lake, wind in the upper teens, lower twenties. We put Tapatai together, on the trailer, celebrated her launch, Jim, Tim – a good friend – and I got onboard and left the dock.

I was at the tiller, Jim on the jib, no winch, just a cleat for the jib and Tim was ballast. When we sheeted in the sails she shot forward, there was a power boat leaving the launch ramp and we were rapidly overtaking her, I did not have good rudder control so we yelled at the power boat, and they accelerated away.

We had a great sail that day learning that our Tapatai (Tahitian for ‘fearless of wind and sea’) was a fast and wet boat. Also, we took Jim’s parents sailing, and our significant others.

It’s easy to forget that we had not a clue how to “stop” such a fast boat and blunted the starboard ama when coming into the dock for the first time because Tim, riding on the flying ama, would not sacrifice his leg for the good of the boat. In penitence, he has been a Hobie 16 owner for nearly 40 years in Lubbock.

In 1973 I moved to Dallas for an internship. I bought Jim’s interest in Tapatai and moved her to Dallas. He bought a Hobie 16 with Tim. I sailed Tapatai on Lake Grapevine and Lake Ray Hubbard for 20 years.

Tapatai was a hard chined version of the Tristar 18 which means she had a flat bottom. At speed skimming the water, she would cavitate the rudder so that only a few inches of rudder was in the water. This severely limited her ability to turn and tack.

I added about 6 inches of length to the rudder and solved that problem. The old rudder has been on Jim’s shops’ walls since then as a treasured memento or an ode to past mistakes! After that she had a neutral helm at speed and would tack very well. Backing the jib helped when the wind was in the mid 20′s and up. I also increased the dimensions of the dagger board making it wider and deeper. She pointed much better after that.

The unique feature of Tapatai was a mistake that Jim and I made when building her. We mistakenly built the amas too long from the forward beam to the bow; they were the same length as the main hull. She was not designed that way. I don’t think we ever told Ed Horstman of the mistake. However, it made her an incredible boat when the wind was in the 20s and gusting.

I raced her once on Lake Texoma, against monohulls in the mid 30 ft range, in winds gusting 30, reefed main, setting out on the windward ama, all the way back next to the beam, crew next to me, the leeward ama deck barely clearing the waves, speed over 15 knots, and when the unusual 5th or 7th wave hit watched the ama go through the wave top, she could not point with the monohulls, but she had the speed and power to come up next to them on their leeward side and pull through, then take off again.

The TriStar 18 trimaran under sail

The TriStar 18 trimaran under sail

The Tristar 18 had Amas that had a flat bottom, and with the rocker, at speed they were like water skis lifting the leeward ama to the surface. Jim and I would take her out in a breeze and we learned that a close reach is what she liked. We would sail in what we called S patterns trying to pick up just the right wind to skim the water. When it worked, we learned we had to bear off the wind to hold our speed … and off Tapatai would go, rooster tails off the leeward ama. Also, flying a 310 square foot Texas flag spinnaker on a reach produced awesome speed and a serious opportunity to pitch pole.

She was easy to build and easy to single-hand, which now, I am re-learning how important that feature is in a small trimaran. I have owned and sailed a Telstar 26 since 1978, and she is not easy to single-hand. I can, but at age 67 it is no longer fun. The Tristar 18 would still be easy to single hand, but I no longer own her. I sold her when in the 1990s in Dallas when I was a single parent and had some 5 sailboats to maintain.

Tapatai as Jim and I built her was never easy to trail. In west Texas we would trail her 12 feet wide for short distances, but we usually took her apart and trailed her with 8ft beams we made for trailing. This meant we had to take her apart and reassemble her with her 12 ft sailing beams, then do the same with the 8 ft trailing beams to take her home. However, when you are 20-something with your first boat it was a small price to pay.

The Tristar 18 built in Lubbock, Tx 1972 by Patterson and Griffin while going to college

The Tristar 18 built in Lubbock, Tx 1972 by Patterson and Griffin while going to college

Even though I don’t own her anymore, the experience of building the Tristar 18 with Jim in Lubbock, Texas, was a chapter in my life I will never forget. This winter in Montana, I have been thinking of how much fun it was to solo sail on Tapatai, the Tristar 18. I just bought a Windrider 17 . Jim stayed in boating, too, but made a turn toward more traditional yachts – Grand Banks and Nonsuch – in New England and although he did not quit his day job, started Classic Yacht Charter 15 years ago.

I was the official photographer for the project, hence the attached pictures are from the one roll of film that Jim could find; however, the memories remain plentiful, fresh, and definitely magnified 38 years later.
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Ed Horstman’s TriStar 18 is featured in my 2nd book — More Small Trimarans.

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