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Today we hear from sailor Ron Falkey and the story of his self-designed and self-built micro cruiser trimaran named Dalliance. Ron really gives us a great read here because he spares few details.

Let’s get right to it. (And thanks Ron for sharing this great info with us, along with the photos and sketches of your boat.) — Joe


Dalliance: A Micro-Cruising Small Trimaran
by Ron Falkey

Getting Into Sailing

dalliance-micro-cruising-trimaran-1How did I get into sailing in the first place? The answer to that is simple — my father provided my introduction, education, and inspiration to boating and sailing. I am not sure where or when the boating bug bit him, but he did his best to spread it along to his three sons. Through him I had my 1st boating experiences and built two other trimarans.

My dad was a civil engineer and eventually worked that into positions where he could make his living related to his love of boating. He designed marinas including the ones at Miami Beach on Government Cut, the Ocean Reef Yacht Club on Key Largo, and the one at Bahia Honda State Park, to mention a few. Then he became the general manager for Merrill Stevens Boatyard and Marina in Coconut Grove.

It was in this job at Merrill Stevens that he had the thrill of hauling and repairing Jim Brown’s personal trimaran, Scrimshaw, and the honor of having Jim and Barbara over to the house for dinner. Of course they spoke about trimarans, Scrimshaw and Yankee, and dad’s dreams for his next boat. He wanted to build one of Jim’s new SIB Constant Camber designs. Unfortunately he passed before he got the chance to build that next boat.

When entering Jr High School, I received a 17′ canoe as a shared Christmas present with my older brother. We paddled everywhere; including an overnight trip in Everglades National Park with my uncle from Flamingo to Cape Sable and back. However, it wasn’t too long before I discovered that letting the wind help move the boat could be far more enjoyable. My brother and I built a sailing rig of bamboo and plastic sheeting, and used the paddle as our makeshift rudder.

Later, Dad had a 60 sq ft lanteen sail made by a Coconut Grove sail loft, and fabricated aluminum pipe and tubing into the mast and spars. I crafted the leeboards and rudders (the fists rudder was a shallow draft barn-door design that was soon replaced by a balance high aspect blade). My younger brother and I would paddle it down the canal behind our home, out to the intrusion dam at the bay. There we would portage over the dam, and go sailing to Chicken Key on Biscayne Bay.

However, in growing up and older, graduating from the US Coast Guard Academy, pursuing my career(s), and raising a family, my involvement in boating slowed drastically. It would be several years between excursions on other people’s boats.

Serendipity brought me back to the love of boating that had long been in my blood. The “development” of this boat started soon after my wife and I moved to Tallahassee from the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC.

sca-cvI had stopped my subscription to Charles Chioti’s “Multihulls Magazine” many years ago. I had been become disenchanted after he belittled the Tremolino and small trimarans in an editorial. “Multihulls Magazine “seemed to become fixated on large cruising catamarans, and ignored or discounted the continuing interest and development in smaller pocket and camp cruising multihulls. Then, in a Tallahassee book store I chanced upon the cover of a boating magazine featuring the photo of an aggressively sailed Farrier Corsair 24.

Because of the Corsair, I bought the magazine. And in that issue of Small Craft Advisor (issue #28 Jul/Aug 2004) was the article of “Two Grandpas Win the Everglades Challenge” by Doug Cameron (aka RidgeRunner of the Watertribe). They talked about the Everglades Challenge, and how they took top honors in this endurance event in their outrigger equipped Sea Wind Kruger Canoe. The fact that, with its jib, twin masts and twin inflatable amas, it looked to me to be a mini trimaran; and that was enough to get me hooked again.

swkcRidgeRunner’s article was later published online at the Watertribe website and can be found at the following URL: http://www.watertribe.com/magazine/y2004/m08/dougcameron.aspx

That article and subsequent issues of SCA helped give me a new perspective on what a sailing craft could and should be. The simpler (and that often means the smaller) a boat is, the more likely that it will be used regularly. That was my first copy of Small Craft Advisor, and I have not missed an issue since then.

I then started following the Watertribe Blog. Chief (Steve Isaac) had an article on his small tri rigged kayak “Wango Tango”, and Chris Ostlind had an article on one of his early designs, the “Wedgesail A18; A Dual Purpose Coastal Cruiser” – http://www.watertribe.com/Magazine/Y2004/M08/ChrisOstlind.aspx

khcFrom Watertribe and Chris, I came across Kellan Hatch on the Duckworks website. Duckworks is an excellent source of reading and inspiration.

Kellan’s article “A Curious Boat For Questionable Adventures” sealed the deal; the boat bug not only had bitten, but there was a realistic “treatment” available. – http://www.duckworksmagazine.com/02/articles/curious/index.htm

I didn’t have to have a boat big enough to live aboard and that would be costly in terms of time and money. I could have a small boat now – and enjoy the waters of the Florida Panhandle. Then I came across the Cedar Key Small Boat Rendezvous and the great folks of the West Coast Trailer Sailing Squadron (WCTSS), and my boat designing, building and sailing adventures were on their way.

On Multihulls in General … and Trimarans in Particular

Again – the answer is dear old dad. I often wish he was still around to share ideas, new designs, thoughts, and all the excitement associated with boating and the resurgence of small multihulls.

A short while after getting the canoe rigged and sailing, my father expanded my horizons again. He gave me wonderful life lessons in using tools, building self-reliance and of course taught me the virtues of multihulls.

In the late 1960’s, to get a boat with the room needed for a family of six, you would need to get a very large monohull; something like a Morgan Out-Islander that was a sailboat mostly in name, and only off the wind; or build your own multihull.

My father, brother and I built two trimarans — Tryst and Yankee.

• Tryst was an Australian design from Headly Nichol; his 29’ Islander. It was an excellent and forgiving design for the novice builder and sailor. She had solid wing decks; 19 foot of beam; a cabin with an enclosed head, galley, two permanent wing berths, and a settee that sleep another two, as well as a hammock in either float (providing wonderful out-of-the-way private bunks with as much fresh air as you wish rolling in through the deck hatches above the hammock); a 10 inch deep, nearly full-length, low aspect keel; and a balanced rudder that hung no lower than that protecting keel. We had her out on Biscayne Bay at least twice a month, and were able to work in trips to the Bahamas and the Florida Keys.

• Yankee was a Jim Brown Searunner 25 (Sail # 259). She was cutter rigged and she would scoot! I did not get to sail on Yankee as much as I would have liked. Six-months before she was launched, I entered the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and started career in the USCG than spanned 21 years of active duty. My father and younger brother are the ones who really enjoyed Yankee. Nevertheless, every time for the next several years that I was on leave and able to come back to Miami, we would find ourselves on Yankee on the bay, or on trips to Bimini.

The lighter weight, shoal draft, greater stability and speed of multihulls have been the deciding/appealing factors for me in their favor over “Unimarans” (at least that is the term my dad coined for those more traditional single-hulled sailing vessels). Within the realm of multihulls, trimarans for me have always been more appealing. I like the nod toward tradition that a tris’ central hull allows for cockpit and cabin layout. And I have never liked the catamarans’ strange helmsman seating needed to see ahead over a large/tall deckhouse.

Additionally, many trimaran designs focus on performance, while catamarans of the day (plus some misguided lines of tris, like Ed Horseman’s) seemed more concerned with accommodations. For the family sized catamarans, sailing performance was a secondary consideration and they suffered for it. This view of catamarans as a lumbering class of floating “time-shares” gave birth to the pejorative term “Roomarans”. Thankfully the pendulum seems to have swung back a bit and charter cats are starting to see improved handling under sail.

My early favorite multihull designs leaned toward the sleek and fast (and often less practical) trimarans.

My list of favorites included:
• Norm Cross’ 26 and 27 footers
• Headly Nichol’s Privateer, and
• Lock Crowthers’
— Buccaneer 24
— Kraken 33
— Kraken 40

My current list of favorites is very different. My tastes now lean toward a boat around 6 meters, capable of day saiiling two to three, camp-cruising one to two, and not nearly as shrill as the Krakens or Buccaneers.

It has to give its crew a way to avoid excessive exposure to the sun; be folding or collapsible and small enough to be “moored” on a trailer in your yard/driveway; easy enough to rig quickly single handed; and ultimately be quick and nimble enough to be fun to sail. In my humble opinion, Ian Ferrier and Ray Kendrick currently have some of the best designs in this category.

On the Design & Building of Dalliance

chdDalliance is a self-designed, self-built micro-cruiser trimaran. I identified the requirements over time, and drew up plans that mostly meet the priorities. However, it is not accurate to think of her as the outcome of a design exercise.

She more or less evolved over time, and is the culmination of a progression of incarnations designed to address changing situations and requirements. If I was to start from scratch, and could reinvasion her, Dalliance would likely be longer (say about 19’), hopefully a bit lighter, and powered by a more aggressive sail plan. But for now, with last month’s introduction of telescoping akas, I believe she is “complete”. Except for unavoidable ongoing tweaks to incrementally refine and improve, I do not foresee any major (perhaps you should read “costly”) modifications.

So Dalliance, while I love sailing her, is not a perfect boat. But then of course, there is no such thing as a perfect boat. All boat designs grow from the process of determining the highest valued (or at least the least offensive) compromises between conflicting design constraints or requirements. And all requirements change with perspective, and are unique to each of us. Some of my primary requirements for designing Dalliance included:

• Minimalist coastal camper-cruiser
— Hard (vs. tent) cabin to get out of the sun and weather
— Ability to accommodate two, but must have space for one to sleep enclosed below deck
— Cabin sole wide enough to fit my shoulders, laying on my back
— Sitting head room below deck
• Sail Plan
— Be quick cruiser, but not a racer
— No spreaders or diamond stays
— Manageable without winches or multi-part sheet blocks
— Roller furled head sails
• Easily Trailered — with assembly, launch and recovery to be done by one person
• Value/Frugal Oriented — repurpose and reuse where ever practical
• A boat one can be proud of

There are a number of designs and designers that influenced in the requirements and design process.

How Long to Build Her

That is simple question, but the answer is not really that simply. Nevertheless, here is the short answer. In Dalliance’s current configuration, it took about 13 months of construction time. In retrospect I wish I had added the extra effort/time to maintain a construction log; but here is brief summary.

• Time to build (current) Main Hull – 9 months
— Started lofting the bulkheads and hull panels – MAR 2010
— Float Testing on local pond – DEC 2010
— Maiden Voyage/Sea Trials on Gulf of Mexico – JAN 2012

Duckworks Splash Announcement:

• Time to build current Amas – 4 months
— Lofting bulkheads and panels — AUG 2011
— Assembled and ready to sail — DEC 2011

However, there is a longer answer. Because Dalliance has been a progression of major changes and design enhancements, not the execution of a specific design, she came into being in phases between 2005 and 2013. Below is a high level overview.

oceanid-triOceanid the Kayak – launched in 2005

• Oceanid: A light stepping sea nymph; one of the 3,000 daughters of Oceanus. My two person CLC Millcreek was a light stepping sea nymph.
• Built part-time over 5 months from a CLC kit.
Oceanid the Trimaran – 2006
• New to this configuration:
— a Free standing mast, boom, and 55 sq ft sail from a 16’ Saroca sailboat
— Gary Dierking inspired Amas. Gary wrote a very good “how to” article titled “Foam and Fiberglass Ama Construction” that is still available online at http://homepages.paradise.net.nz/garyd/quikama.html.
— Commercially available kayak rudder
— Self-made leeboard
— Trailex aluminum small boat trailer
oceanid-tri-2Oceanid in 2007
• Same as before, but added:
— Folding mechanism for Akas/Amas
— Free flying 27 sg ft jib
— Homemade Roller Furler for Jib
— Cockpit Spray Cover
— Larger self-made kick-up rudder and leeboard

dalliance-micro-cruising-trimaran-2Dalliance – Christened in JAN 2011. Fashioned to be a Matt Layden’s Paradox like minimalist micro-cruiser in trimaran configuration

• Repurposed from Oceanid:
— Mast & Boom
— Jib — which became a staysail

• New:
— Main Hull with
…. Sleeping accommodations inside
…. Port-a-lue
— Multiple steering/piloting stations
…. Inside hull out of sun, wind and weather, and
…. On the wing nets/tramps when live ballast was needed for stability (that was typically in any wind above 6 knots)
— Sails
…. New professionally made 83 sq ft Mainsail
…. Homemade 65 sq ft Polytarp Jib
dalliance-micro-cruising-trimaran-3 — Demountable akas using two 12′ long 4” aluminum tubes
…. Akas lashed to hull
…. Amas were hung on and lashed to the akas
— Standing rigging to support mast, now stepped on the cabin top
— New Ida-Marine Rudder and Tiller
— Wing nets/trampolines
— Torqeedo electric outboard motor

dalliance-micro-cruising-trimaran-4Dalliance – 2012
• Repurposed from Oceanid:
— Mast & Boom
• New:
— Redesigned Amas
…. 150% displacement
…. Increased design (and maximum) displacement from 155 (185) lbs to 588 (1,166) lbs
…. Removed the need to climb about tramps like a spider monkey to keep amas above the water
…. Allowed helmsman to sit comfortably out of the sun, wind and weather
…. Deck hatches in amas for accessible storage
dalliance-micro-cruising-trimaran-5 — BIGGER Trailer
— Genoa and Staysail from professional sail loft
— Harken Small Catamaran Furler for Headsail

Dalliance in 2013
• Repurposed from Oceanid:
— Mast & Boom
dalliance-micro-cruising-trimaran-6• New:
— Replacement Telescoping 12’ Akas
…. Used one of the existing aka tubes cut in half
…. Added four new 50” long 3.5” aluminum pipe inserts/extensions
…. Reworked existing Ama Brackets into 4 new brackets to mount Akas to Main Hull
…. Hired metal fabricator with CNC waterjet to machine 8 new mounting brackets mount Amas to Aka extensions
…. Powder coated tubes, pipes, and mounting plate assemblies
dalliance-micro-cruising-trimaran-7 — Moved the Aka mounting points 12” further back on the amas
(this was done to address a comment from Jim Brown that to his eye it looked like the cutter rig might put pressure on the lee bow, and she could use more floatation further forward – I took Jim’s advice)
Estimated Cost of Dalliance in her current configuration is approximately $7,850

• Torqeedo – $1,435
• Sails – $860
• Mast & Rigging – $350
• Trailers – $420
• Main Hull Construction & out fitting – $2,950
• Ama Construction – $960
• Telescoping Akas – $875

The Greatest Challenges to Her Construction

Although there were times when I found the builder in me cursing the designer for not having thought through all the complexities and specify the sequence of steps needed to bring the design to fruition, the construction of the boat was still rather straight forward, and other than finding the time, it was not that much of a challenge.

• Main Hull
— I designed the main hull using Greg Carlson’s Hulls freeware application. It was an easy to use, intuitive tool that helped me quickly create and change design parameters. It is a bit limiting in only allowing you to set up four bulkheads (including the transom, about which it splines the selected number of chine panels
— My design followed the basic lines from John Harris’ CLC Pacific Proa. I purchased a set of John’s Mbuli plans; then asked if he had any objections to my using the lines from those plans—but with significant modification. Including:
…. shortening it to 87% it original length by rescaling it from 20′ to 17.5′
…. stretching the beam at the cabin sole to 150%, increasing the initial 16″ up to 24″ to provide a wider sleeping area
…. Shortening the cabin height by a couple inches to help retain some of Mbuli’s original look and keep her from looking too squat, despite the shorter and wider hull.
John was very gracious and agreeable; he gave me his blessings, as long as it was clear this was not his design and he was not responsible for any changes I chose to make.

— Here are some basic comparison stats between the original Mbuli and Dalliance:


— I used the stitch and glue technique for the five panels of 6 & 5 mm Okoume plywood that made up the main hull.

• Amas

dalliance-micro-cruising-trimaran-8For the Amas I used Carlson’s Hulls application again, but supplemented that with “Free Ship” for better data and planning. Although the plans were drawn up with 12 panels (i.e., 6 per side), I wanted to have more organic flowing lines and did not want to use flat panel stitch and glue construction for the amas. I debated between doing them as strip built (which would have been first for me) or as double diagonally planked, cold-molded hulls.

Because of its strength, structural stability, and my familiarity with the technique from building Tryst, cold-molding won out in the end. I took the hull forms generated via Carlson’s Hulls, and then faired and smoothed the bulkheads by splining the points of the hard chimes when lofting them. I then added stringers and began the skinning with two layers of 3mm Okoume plywood, topped with epoxy over 5 oz. fiberglass.

The real draw back to cold-molded construction is there is a need for a great deal of attention to detail, as well as filling all the holes in the outer skin and lots of sanding, if you want to end up with a fail hull form. That is why I jokingly say that Dalliance is a good 25 footer; that is, she tends to look best from at least 25 feet.

The real challenges for me were in some of the engineering and design issues that took me time to research, cogitate on, and finally work out.

Calculating design weight estimates and corresponding waterlines was not simple. That is one of the reasons that I ended up selecting John’s Mbuli as the form for the main hull. Besides the classic lines, with a double ended proa, I did not have to worry so much about the height of the transom and the resultant drag it would create if it was submerged further than I expected.

For the replacement Amas, I did not want to fly one or the other when sitting at anchor or a dock, like the reused ones from Oceanid did. This makes for a disconcerting time below decks as the wind, waves, or crew weight shifts.

I worked hard on the design to get the Amas to the point where they just kiss the water when the boat was at rest; and also have them support about 550 lbs displacement without burying the transoms, at their designed underway waterline.


Performance Under Sail

I am generally pleased with the performance I have achieved with what I’ve used. Admittedly, at 19′, her mast is very conservative (or short) for a boat with her stance and stability. A taller mast and increased sail plan would improve her speed. However, it’s possible that a taller rig might not actually improve her intended “performance”.

Dalliance is a micro-cruiser, not a racer. And she excels at providing a dry comfortable ride, with ready-to-use (i.e., no assembly required) camping like conveniences once you stop for the day. However, I do find myself wishing she would foot a bit better to windward.

Because of the deck/topsides layout and resulting sheeting angles for the head sails, when going to weather she points highest under main and staysail. She will point 45 degrees to the wind, and with leeway factored in, will make an honest 98 degrees between tacks under main and staysail. She tacks smartly with the board down. However, in really shallow waters, with the board way up, you have to plan your tacks, and backing the jib is helpful in getting her bows all the way through the wind.

She is very comfortable to sail from the protection of the cockpit/cabin. And although she is not a multi hulled screaming sailing machine, other than other multihulls, there are few boats I’ve sailed with that outpace her.

• Speeds (so far)
— The best sustained speed I held for 30 minutes or more at a time is 8 knots
— The highest speed I’ve seen on my Garmin GPS is 12.3 knots
— During the Florida 120, it seems that I did a lot of 5 to 6 knot passages — but that typically kept me up with or ahead of the fleet (including the 21′ Sea Pearls and Sea Pearl Tris).

As reported in SCA Issue #71 by Al Sweany in his article, My First Cruise, a report from the Florida 120, on page 38, “Two of the faster boats (a cutter rigged trimaran and a CL-16) flew by. They always seemed to start last and finish first.”

Sailing anywhere between a close reach and a broad reach she is a joy and puts a smile on my face. However, I have found, like in 2012 FL 120, in a rough chop or when footing quickly through waves, and she exposes the bottom of her hull to the waves, there can be pounding that both slows and annoys me.

What to Love About This Micro-Cruiser Trimaran

What I love best:

• Dalliance is a micro-cruiser…. And she excels at providing a dry comfortable ride, with ready to use camping like convinces once you stop for the day.
• Despite technical shortcomings of the designer, she does perform well and has very pleasing lines.
What I would like to change:
• I wish she would foot better and track a bit higher when going to weather.

A Great Day of Sailing Aboard Dalliance

While sailing the local waters around St Marks, Shell Point and even St Georges Island, I’ve discovered that I do not get as much solace from solitary outings as I had thought. I really enjoy sailing in the company of others; having the friendly competition that seems inevitable when two sailing craft are heading in the same general direction; and being able to enjoy good fellowship at the end of the day over a meal and (preferably) a campfire.

dalliance-micro-cruising-trimaran-9With that said – I’ve found my most enjoyable sailing on Dalliance has been related to the Florida 120 (arranged annually by Scott Widmier) and the many West Coast Trailer Sailing Squadron cruises. Last year’s FL 120 was a lot of fun, and I believe it adds a little zest to have a destination to shoot for, even when cruising-in-company.

Here is a link to the WCTSS FL 120 photo gallery that along with capturing the feel of the event, it includes a number of pictures of Dalliance: http://members.ij.net/wctss/wctss/photos89.html

Additionally, Ron Hoddinott’s WCTSS is a great group that always seems to have a good time wherever they go. I’m not aware of a group of sailors that use and enjoy their boats more than the WCTSS.

I also am very fond of the times I’ve spent at the annual Small Boat Rendezvous at Cedar Key, FL. It is good venue for meeting good hearted, like-minded folks; swapping ideas and stories; and getting in as much (or as little) sailing on beautiful Gulf waters with sandy beaches as you like.

On boats other than Dalliance

• Sailing on the US Coast Guard’s Barque Eagle and racing against other tall ships, not around a course, but for the most miles made good in a 24 hour period, was a bit of a thrill;
• The many trips with my dad and brother to the Bahamas aboard Tryst and Yankee are also way up the list; and
• The summer of 1976 where I got to skipper the 48′ Bill Trip designed Touché in the Marble Head to Halifax ocean race and then throughout the Gulf of Maine Races Series was very special.