Custom Search
Join Duckworks
Get free newsletter
Comment on articles
on this site
by Frank B. Smoot - AKA "The DIY-Tri Guy" - Florida - USA

It's been said that necessity is the mother of invention. But more often, I think laziness is the real motivation - and maybe a big dose of impatience as well. Those were certainly my motivations when I set out to build a trimaran that I could be actually sailing in less than 5 minutes after getting to the launch point.

With my newest 16-foot trimaran, that 5-minute goal has not only been met, it's been slashed in half! The boat you'll see in the video below takes less than a minute to get off the trailer, another minute to load with a few items from the car, and less than 40 seconds to hop in, push off, deploy the amas, raise the mast & sail rig - and be sailing!

OK, you got me. I confess to being hopelessly lazy and terminally impatient. But I have a good excuse. See, the first boats I built some three years ago weren't just horrible performers and bizarre to look at, they also were tedious and time-consuming to assemble on the beach. (I'll spare you the sordid details of my earliest boatbuilding efforts, but you can see them all at if you're desperate to kill some time.)

Even my most recent trimarans - which are much better than my early boats - still required about 15 minutes to assemble, rig, etc. Now, I know lots of people would think 15 minutes is no time at all. In fact, I have seen people spend three times that long getting their boats ready to sail. But this just tells me that they're not nearly as lazy or impatient as I am.

Hence my goal of 5 minutes or less - and with no heavy lifting. But where to start in my search for the ultimate lazy man's sailboat rig? Well clearly the most time and energy consuming part of the assembly process was (a) getting the center hulls, akas (crosspieces), and amas (outriggers/floats) off the trailer they lived on, and then (b) assembling them on the beach.

The amas weren't all that heavy (22-32 lbs) but the hulls weighed as much as 75 -90 lbs - more than this 66-year-old was really interested in schlepping around. And geez, what a pain it could be trying to connect the akas to the main hull, and then hooking the amas to the akas in gusty winds. Sailing was supposed to be fun, wasn't it?

Then there was the mast & sail. We (my wife Laura and I) had gotten this step about as simple as we could, by using freestanding masts that simply plugged into a hole in the foredeck. The sails were just wrapped around the masts, and unfurling them was pretty easy - in light air at least. Then we'd just plug the boom into the homemade gooseneck, hook up the outhaul, thread the mainsheet through the boom blocks, and we were ready to go.

Problem was, all of this hauling and assembling and threading took 15 long and grueling minutes, and a fair chunk of energy as well. And if there was any significant amount of wind (which of course is why we wanted to go sailing in the first place), then every step of the process could become a real chore.

Even worse, you had to either do all of this assembling with half of the hull already in the water, or you'd end up having to drag the whole assembled contraption out far enough to float it, so you could finally hop in and sail away.

And if there were waves of any size coming onshore, you'd get splashed and soaked before you even got it all assembled! After having this not-so-pleasant experience one too many times, we eventually came up with a new guideline/mantra: "Too windy to rig, too windy to sail."

Anyway, there I was, in desperate need of a lazy man's quick-launch solution. How was I going to hack at least 10 minutes off this process, and eliminate the heavy lifting as well? Well the first step seemed clear: Figure out how to quickly and easily deploy the amas.

I looked at all the options I'd already seen on other tris, but didn't find what I wanted. Not only did I want to be able to deploy my amas quickly and easily, I also wanted to do be able to do it all from the comfort of my cockpit seat. (Yes, it's a patio chair with the legs hacked off. Super comfortable, cheap, unbreakable, and impervious to the elements.)

Here's my first attempt at "closeable" amas, on my older trimaran, No Commotion. The amas slid in and out on aluminum tubes located by stainless steel U-bolts. It didn't take long to open or close them, and it turned out to be a very sturdy design (which is probably why so many other tris go this route). But of course, you couldn't do it from the cockpit.

My second design worked out much better - a "folding ama" system that turned out to meet my needs perfectly. Now, in just 15 seconds, I can deploy the amas and lock them open with simple "clam cleats." (And contrary to what most folks seem to think, the ropes that open the amas and the cleats that hold them open are not under much stress at all, so there's no danger of them breaking or accidentally closing up.) All in all, a resounding success!

But now came the real challenge - design a mast & sail rig that not only could be raised and lowered from (again) the lazy comfort of my patio chair, but would also be stable and sturdy at all angles in between closed and fully open (which is about 78 degrees off the horizontal).

Now I have to say, at first I thought this mast & sail rig looked kinda weird. But people seem to really like it, even though they inevitably mis-label it a "crab claw." (Crab claw sails have a straight or hollow-cut leach, a curved boom, and no battens. My sail has a pronounced roach, a straight boom, and radial battens.) Actually, the closest thing to this sail is the "bat wing" sometime seen on old canoe rigs. But I call my rig a "fan sail" because of the way it opens and closes.

The next challenge was to make sure that the COE (center of effort) of my fan sail ended up in the right place relative to the boat's CLR (center of later resistance). If it didn't, I'd end up with too much weather helm or lee helm. But as it turned out, the helm balance was fine. And even if it hadn't been , well hey, the COE is actually adjustable - even while you're underway!

While it was a fair challenge to design and build the fan sail, the real time-consuming (and brain-power-consuming) part of this project was to come up with a mast that I could remotely raise and lower, but would still be strong enough to deal with a 90-100 sq. ft. sail and all the lateral loading stresses that a trimaran experiences. This took several weeks to figure out in concept, and several more weeks to build a functioning full-scale model on my work bench.

There's no question that it still needs some refinement. It requires a bit more effort than I had in mind (I don't think Laura could raise it from the cockpit), and a few of the mechanical bits need some re-engineering. But overall, it works remarkably well. It's been extensively field-tested, and no problems have shown up. I can lower the rig, paddle under a bridge, and raise it again on the other side. Onlookers seem to be mystified…

Now, initially, I feared that the "weak link" would be where the mast meets the deck, just aft of the bow. The maximum lateral stress is concentrated in that location. But it all remains solid as a rock after 15 or so hours of hard sailing (often in conditions that I really should have had better sense than to take an unproven rig out in).

I should mention that part of the motivation for the quick-deploy amas and the E-Z-Up mast & sail rig comes from the requirements of Everglades Challenge -- a "raid-type" event held every year and launched from the beach at Fort DeSoto State Park, near the mouth of Tampa Bay and just 40 minutes or so from our house. To participate in the EC, your boat needs to be able to go under some low bridges and between some narrow spans -- neither of which is possible for trimarans with fixed akas and masts.

Do I actually have the huevos to take my boats out in the Gulf, where the wind and waves can be fierce? Of course I do…in my vivid imagination. But in reality? Well a guy can dream, can't he?