Hobie Catamarans

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Like many I suffer from seasickness. The only real way I have ever been able to cure my “Mal de Mer” is to do one compellingly easy thing. If you are on a small sailing craft, a refurbished Thames Barge lunging down the East Coast of the UK or on a Cross-Channel ferry – stay outside. There is something in the combination of salt air, the roll of the sea, and the wind in your face that combines to prevent the inevitable heave!

Years ago a couple of friends suggested I should try wind-surfing. It was long before the invention of kite surfing and years before I was to fall in love with Tarifa on Spain’s Costa de la Luz. It was my second sailing experience but like my first it was on a reservoir this time, a former gravel pit, St Mary’s Reservoir near London’s Heathrow Airport.

After not many lessons I mastered the trick of standing on the surf board, lifting a knotted rope to engage the mast and triangular sail, a few square metres of clear plastic, and a wishbone that required quite careful control. It helped to have some understanding of the way of the wind. I was soon pelting across the water jibing and tacking to avoid a drop into the merkey depths. A bright spark then suggested I should consider a sailing holiday.

Sunsail – still a respected operator – in Bodrum (Turkey) was the preferred location and after a barrel of Turkish beer, a fight in the Halikanas night club and shots of raki, I found myself at the shoreline wearing an orange life vest. The wind surfing was wonderful, great beach, good waves and a brilliant hippy vibe but the one thing that really caused my adrenaline to pump was riding the Hobie Cats!

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One of the instructors who’d already spent years in Mirror Dingys, GP14 and the like was an excellent coach. We hit the trampoline of the Hobie and he explained to me both the agility of this excellent craft and the fact that, if I felt up to it, I could find my self on a trapeze hanging at perilous angels over the side as it approached maximum speed. They were amazing and whist I never really mastered the tiller of these simple crafts or the full extent of the trapeze the ride was breathtaking.

So where did the iconic Hobie Cats come from?

In the early 1960’s, at Laguna Beach (California USA) a foam and fiber glass surf and skate board manufacturer and surf team entrepreneur, Canadian born Hobart Alter, set up, with his Father’s help, a surf shop. He had determined at a young age that he wanted to make a living that didn’t involve wearing “hard soled shoes”!

Hobart saw and was influenced by the Aqua Cat catamaran designed by Arthur Javes. For Alter, the Aqua Cat suffered as it needed a dagger board to ensure under-sail stability. He set to work to re-imagine the catamaran.

The first dagger-boardless Hobie Cat, that could be easily beached and launched into the surf, was built in 1965 with two asymmetrical – banana shaped – hulls, a connecting trampoline and aluminium mast.

The Hobie Cat Company was founded in 1967 and in 1971 the Hobie 16, designed by Alter and Phil Edwards was launched.

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The robust Hobie 16 – which I sailed in Turkey – has become the world’s most popular catamaran, with over 135,000 manufactured to date in the US and France. Later versions of the Hobie 16 included a two piece fibre-glass composite mast after the families of owners in the US successfully sued the Hobie Cat Company arguing that deaths by electrocution had been caused by hoisting the aluminium mast near overhead power lines…..

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Image Credits – images used with grateful thanks Pinterest, the Hobie Cat Company and Wikipedia.

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