Sailing the Seawind 1600

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It’s been well-publicised, not least in Seawind Cruising Club magazine, that Seawind has now built over 500 catamarans in it’s storied 35-year history.  All of those catamarans have shared common traits: designed for couples and even solo sailors to cruise in comfort and speed.  They’re built tough, and designed to last.  Seawind concentrates on building models that will endure beyond the typical flimsy product lifecycle of mass-produced cruisers, even mass-produced catamarans.  Seawinds hold their value, encouraging owners to come back to the yard time after time for a new boat.  When news of this new 52-footer broke, many questions were asked – by loyal but worried customers fearing a departure from the core values that set the Australian marque apart and keep her unique.  It was my own worry when I first saw the design presentation at the 2016 dealer/supplier conference.  But is this a complete departure from the brand’s strengths?

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It’s a sign of the evolution of the catamaran cruising market that style should be such a hot topic when releasing a boat of this size.  But my first sight of Northstar, Seawind 1600 number 1, was as she slipped into the iconic Port of Barcelona. Most first sightings are made on sometimes grubby docks, but Northstar’s stunning shape made a real first impression as she made her approach through the channel.  It meant there was no way to start this article with anything else.  Flanked by a dozen 40 and 60 metre superyachts on line-up at the Port Vell, the “little” 1600 slid through the bright sunny channel stealing admiring glances from the crew on the bows of the yachting glitterati.  Our cross-dock neighbours, captain and crew of a Shipman 74 (herself a remarkable all-carbon cruiser, capable of 20+ knots and something of a style icon among monohulls) all wearing big smiles, immediately came over to admire and enquire about her.  Plenty of dock envy, then.  “She looks really quick, how does she sail?”.  Good question.

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 And then the rains hit.  Barcelona turned from sun-drenched Summer to rain-drenched Winter overnight.  We brought in the cockpit cushions, drew up the gangway and hunkered down for a stormy night in the hopes of sailing the next day.  The following morning the wind eased but rains continued, and we passed the time making adjustments and commissioning checks (this new boat was yet to be handed over to her new owner).  But by noon we couldn’t resist – we’re heading out, come what may.  The big targa top offers a lot of protection from the elements, including rain (we told ourselves).  Let’s give this a proper test – this is what she’s built for.  An offshore cruiser, operated by a typical Seawind owner, will face these conditions regularly.  “Proper test” in sailing-magazine-speak doesn’t usually mean waiting for the perfect combination of terrible sea state, driving rain, and not enough wind to prevent a battering.  But that’s what we got, so we took it on the chin (and nose).  This first test would be the toughest and most important of all.  We motored out of the channel, lowering the daggerboards on the way.  I took the wheel as we unfurled the screecher (aka Code Zero), and as she accelerated up onto the wind, she began slicing through the chop.  I felt my shoulders release some tension and had a little sense of relief as I realised she was going to excel in these conditions.  With a full mainsail and screecher up in an unsteady 10-knots of breeze she began cutting through the turbulent waves making her own steady 7.4.  It was perfect conditions to start pounding – big swells following the storm from the North kept us pinned back, but with every downward fall came a reassuring slosh instead of a jarring loud slam.  Notably the big tender hanging from the dinghy davits stayed out of the water, even as she filled with rainwater (note to self to open the plug next time).

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Like any other design, the Seawind 1600 is required to find the best possible compromise on features.  The saloon is set low – making performance and headroom there an easy combination.  But it does mean there are two steps up to the cockpit.  Many cruisers have done away with that, instead raising the saloon and lowering the cockpit to one level.  But it struck me that, having accepted the raised cockpit as necessary, the resulting visibility from the helm is remarkable.  So many modern catamarans and trimarans offer highly restricted vision, and give the captain very little view over the crew for which they are responsible.  But navigating a busy port, and then setting sail in the terrible conditions we had I felt reassured that I could see so well.  Not only can you see all corners of the boat – and sail with your head up, scanning the horizon, you can also see down into the saloon through the huge cockpit windows for a reassuring look at your crew.  Were there any children aboard (thinking of my own) I would find that feature priceless.  As a bonus, the view from the starboard helm to the nav station in the saloon is also completely unhindered.  It meant I could well read the 12” B&G display through the cockpit windows.  In the driving rain we experienced, you do get some amount blowing through the slot between coachroof and targa top (wide for visibility = rain can blow in when the wind is right).  So the windscreen, which at the time of testing was on order from a European canvas supplier will make a handy addition.  I felt less need for any side clears due to having the wide helm seats – sitting inboard took me out of the rain well enough.

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Let’s get something out of the way – tri-fold opening doors.  Any Seawind owner will get this far and be thinking “but is it a Seawind without those doors”.  And that’s because they haven’t yet seen the size of the door and windows from cockpit to saloon.  Pictures just don’t do it justice – it’s a particularly big door.  2 people can pass through together.  And the windows allow you to pass a food and drink from galley to cockpit in just the same way as in a 1160 or 1260.  Don’t fear a sacrifice in ventilation – nor in convenience.  That sliding door is quick and easy to operate as you would expect.

Handing over the helm, I headed down below to consider the interior.  For a good test, always best to try this at sea rather than just in port.  I’m no interior designer – lets allow the pictures to speak for themselves.  But down below I found it very quiet – no unnerving creaks or groans.  Again, this boat is right in line with the rest of the Seawind family.  Even when you know what the noises are, it’s hard not to feel nervous in a noisy groaning boat.  I found none of that in the 1600.  The only rattle came from the cockpit bar-b-q – turning out to be the right-hand fat splash guard under the lid.

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Approaching afternoon the winds began to build, which we knew was too good to last.  After furling the screecher and sheeting the self-tacking jib we went for the reefs.  Reefs are all led aft to the central electric cockpit winch.  It means lowering the main halyard and tensioning the reef is trouble free and won’t take much practice to be done very quickly.  Reef 1 is suggested at 19 knots, but we reefed early at 17 to keep the test going.  Steady progress remained and she ably rode the swells and kept momentum doing 10.5 at 37 degrees at the 17 knots of wind speed.  Reef 1 doesn’t remove a lot of power. We took to reef 2 at 19 knots instead of the suggested 23 and kept progress at 7.6 knots.  The second reef does, as you guessed, remove quite a lot of power.  And on days like this I can see the boat staying very comfortable with 2 reefs, and I found it to be a great combination with the shallow jib in the rough sea state.  This is almost your storm sail setup, and I suspect the owners won’t need the staysail, which had deck and mast fittings prepared in case of making the addition later.  Reversing the reefs to go back to Reef 1 was quick and free of fouled lines, and for our offshore sailing community, this boat lived up to her Seawind reputation for calm and trouble-free sailing in tough conditions.  More and more she felt like a big sister to the smaller Seawind.  As the wind fell toward mid-afternoon, and with performance boxes ticked we tested the engines.

Engine Performance

Northstar comes equipped with the up-rated 80hp Yanmar engines (57hp are standard) and in later days with a quiet seas state we found running under 1 engine offered an attractive combination of economy with performance – 7.5 knots at 2200 rpm.  On testing day, in testing conditions, the two 80hp engines really came into their own.  The sea state was so rough that gauging the numbers was tricky, but the 80hp engines certainly justified their few extra kilos of weight over the 57 hp’s.  The only trouble we did see with the 80 hp’s is actually going slowly enough.  Re-entering Port Vell (and looking like the intrepid sailors we are) one engine in tick-over was pushing us along at 6 knots, the calmness of the channel offering no resistance.  Feathering the throttle to deliver the correct approach speed is something requiring practice – maneuvering this boat is a clear step up in size over a 1260, so I’d suggest training within a quiet, protected space.

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 Interior 

Moving down below again I found little engine noise and vibration under motor.  You can tell that the engines are running, and so the yard will refine the insulation with each boat.  But it’s being pedantic – this won’t won’t at all worry the owner of Northstar.  Moving about in the hulls I’m really surprised at the amount of space.  The 1600 is now big enough to move the forward beds into the hull V, rather than placed over the wing as in the 1160 and 1260.  Despite the obviously narrow high-performance bow sections, the beds are generous (American queen sized/200cm beds).  That frees up quite a lot of handy space at the foot of the beds – the guest side getting a lovely vanity table or work desk.  It was surprising that the beam of the walkways are so wide.  I’m 6ft tall and felt easily able to free up my shoulders and move about naturally.  In many high-performance multihulls the fitout is plain and stark, only serving to remind you of the lack of space.  But here the combination of lots of natural surfaces, firm joinery and fittings such as door handles rather belies the performance shape and makes you feel right at home.  Long offshore passages will be comfortable when sailing, but equally comfortable down below.  I feel this interior will go a long way to alleviate the mental fatigue that a lot of plain white surfaces would otherwise exacerbate.

Re-entering the port it’s time to test the close-quarter maneuvering.  Clearly something most catamarans excel at, the 1600 is no exception.  What made her particularly easy to handle was the low freeboard.  Standing at the dock next to a Catana 53 – a boat of near identical length top-to-tail, the 1600 appears a full foot and a half lower.  A low centre of gravity (again, the saloon as close to the bridge deck height as possible) was always crucial to the sailing performance.  So while the helm position is higher, offering that visibility, the boat herself offers a sleek performance look with lower windage.  I also noticed that she does like to pivot on the daggerboards.  So when it comes to maneuvering, when convenient it’s good to leave the daggers down.

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Overall, the Seawind 1600 far exceeds her design brief.  She has been a long time coming, but worth the wait.  I was left with the impression that this yacht can serve the loyal Seawind owners ready to move up to a bigger boat – she’s got all of the requisite Seawind DNA.  And none of them will now feel it necessary to abandon the brand when considering that step.  Box checked.  But more than that she’s setting a new and exciting trend.  This is a proper offshore boat that can handle anything in safety and comfort, and to attract a new generation of buyer – a generation which might have something this big as a first boat.  They expect something really special, and especially capable, and they expect to show up and do a big expedition right away.  On looks she’s at home next to anything a modern monohull can throw at her.  And yet, this is what a proper offshore yacht should be.  Sound familiar?

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