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Experienced sailor, naval architect and multihull enthusiast Michael Waters, wrote in recently about his most favorite small trimaran ever … a seemingly famous boat named “Magic Hempel.” So I asked him if I could post it on the blog – along with the pictures he sent me of this boat. He agreed, so here is Michael …

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“I have owned 3 small trimarans (under 26ft) over a period of 20 years. For 16 of those years I owned and sailed Magic Hempel, one of the most famous small trimarans ever.” She was built in 1985, by Quorning Boats of Denmark, for the purpose of entering the notoriously tough Round-Britain-Race. Her name came from her ’85 race sponsorship by “Hempel Paints”. At 25.5′ long, with a beam of 22′ and 400 sq. ft. of sail in her main and jib, she was reportedly once timed in the Baltic Sea at 25.4k.

The prototype of the Dragonfly Trimaran

The prototype of the Dragonfly Trimaran

Although somewhat ridiculed as being too small and possibly unseaworthy when she arrived at the start on her trailer, she went on to WIN the Round-Britain-Race on corrected time, in some of the worst weather the race had experienced to date and as one, if not the smallest boat in the race … and a fine painting was commissioned in her honor (of which I have a treasured copy).

The fine painting commissioned by Hempel Paints (Denmark) after she won the Round Britain Race on corrected time. This print has faded a bit being 20+ years old but is still special.  Artist was John Gardner.

The fine painting commissioned by Hempel Paints (Denmark) after she won the Round Britain Race on corrected time. This print has faded a bit being 20+ years old but is still special. Artist was John Gardner.

Magic Hempel was not a folding trimaran, but was demountable. This was the most efficient solution in terms of weight, cost and performance. She weighed less than 2000 lbs. all up, had a 40′ rotating mast with fully battened mainsail and was equipped with 2 spinnakers. (Both her wide trampolines and her slender but well-stayed mast are featured in Chris White’s book on Cruising Multihulls).

Magic-Hempel-Dragonfly3

After her impressive win, offers to purchase came in and as part of a plan to promote the design worldwide, she was sold to the U.S. soon after her victory. In the Maryland area, won virtually every race she entered, with capable Tom Linton as her skipper/owner.

Magic' with a small added sprit for a drifter

Magic' with a small added sprit for a drifter

Magic' sharing a picnic spot with a Dragonfly 800

Magic' sharing a picnic spot with a Dragonfly 800

The only race she DNF’d, was a story in itself …

While Tom was racing in Long Island sound, he saw a strange sight in the distance. With binoculars, he was able to make out what looked like someone standing on the water, far off! They decided they’d better take a look and so left the racecourse …

Luckily Magic gave a fast ride, as it turned out to be an elderly fellow on a fast sinking monohull, which had been literally ‘run-through’ the previous night by a steel trawler that did not stop! They got there just in time, and with the low freeboard of Magic, it was a fairly easy task to get the poor fellow on board, get some warm things around him and get him safely back to shore.

A couple of years later, Tom decided to upsize and Magic was sold out west where she was entered in the Swiftsure Race. A waterstay fitting broke on that race and this now famous boat was sadly shipwrecked (1988 I believe it was).

Note the knuckle and hull flare

Note the knuckle and hull flare

A lot of incorrect things were written up about the failure at that time, but on final analysis and after doing my own calculations, it was established that the waterstays on this particular boat were undersized (for lighter weight no doubt)) and had no design margin for extreme conditions.

Although it was a forged fitting and not the wire that broke, the boat was then refitted with all new waterstays of some 50% larger diameter and that ended forever, this only weakness. In retrospect, Magic had been lucky to get away with the undersized waterstays for her first historic race, but sometimes, we race on the edge and get away with it.

A peek inside the cabin

A peek inside the cabin

Comfortable and spacious trampoline

Comfortable and spacious trampoline

Trimaran designer Kurt Hughes bought the damaged boat. He designed and built new amas (with about 15% more buoyancy) and a balanced spade rudder for her. He also repaired a hole in the hull that was above the waterline and she was then once again featured in Multihulls Magazine. The boat was then sold to a novice couple back on the East Coast, who were not yet ready for that sort of performance, and I bought her soon afterwards in 1990.

I finally owned her far longer than anyone else, and she was without doubt the finest, fastest and most fun boat I EVER owned out of some 20. Interestingly, when 5 times Olympian champion Paul Elvstrom, (one of my teenage idols) finally bought a production Dragonfly trimaran for his personal use, he also stated exactly the same thing.

Under sail ... with a temporary jib

Under sail ... with a temporary jib

Even with now aging sails, I hit 22k five times, and 20k was quite common. I never needed a sou’wester or wetsuit either. She was also super comfortable, sweet to handle and surprisingly dry – partly due to her beam and fine hull, but also due to the flared main hull that most effectively kept water down at the forward aka (cross beam). The boat had a lot of horizontal surfaces to sit on too, like around the cockpit and flat foredeck, and that added to the comfort.

Altogether, a super design with great attention to detail and fine construction … and I say that as a critical naval architect and boatbuilder too. I finally sold this boat due to a health issue at the time but Magic Hempel, now 23 years old (2008), with two new amas and all new paint, looks and performs like new again.

Since 1990, she has continuously been sailed on Lake Champlain (the water gem of the North East) … now owned by a professional marine-inspector who also really appreciates her, after previously owning a professionally built F9A. The huge beam and more buoyant amas, gave the boat tremendous power for acceleration without heel, and she also had those wonderful wide trampolines to relax and picnic on.

Contrary to most other designs, the tramps were set slightly lower than the ama deck, so one could comfortably sit on the amas with ones feet on the tramp. Perhaps I’m biased, but I happen to think this is perhaps one of the very finest small trimarans existing in North America.

2008 photo of 3 small tri enthusiasts, chatting tri-design in upstate Vermont.  Mark Simons on the left, new owner of 'Scooter', a fine Farrier 25A; Phelps Holloway, past owner of a Kraken tri by Crowther and on the right,  Michael Waters, naval architect & marine engineer, and past owner of 3 sailing tris including 'Magic Hempel'.

2008 photo of 3 small tri enthusiasts, chatting tri-design in upstate Vermont. Mark Simons on the left, new owner of 'Scooter', a fine Farrier 25A; Phelps Holloway, past owner of a Kraken tri by Crowther and on the right, Michael Waters, naval architect & marine engineer, and past owner of 3 sailing tris including 'Magic Hempel'.

The production model Dragonfly finally switched to swing arms for folding – more under consumer pressure than a real need for most sailors. But this added weight and cost to the boat. She became known as the Dragonfly 800 – and although still an excellent, beautifully handling boat, the cost has now risen to match that of a comparable Farrier boat from Corsair.

Although I will now always be a Dragonfly fan, I am still sorry to see the demountable version go out of production. The new swing-arm system differs from the Farrier system in a lot of ways, but that’s a whole new subject.
This article, copyright 2008, Michael Waters

Publisher Note: Mike is open to answering some “small trimaran” questions. To send Mike a question about small tris click here. His time is limited, but if your question is similar to what other readers are asking then Mike may post a reply on the blog! To read Michael Waters’ Bio click here.