The Gunboat 55 takes cool to a whole new level. She is a curvaceous yet fiery, muscular yet elegant design, drawn by the godfather of lightweight multihulls, Nigel Irens.
And now you don’t even have to take my word for it – but can see for yourself from this Gunboat 55 video footage (the full test report is in the June issue of Yachting World).
Gunboat sold 15 of the 55 before the first hulls were even built. 15! Not bad for a semi-custom, US$2m luxury all-carbon machine. And, remarkably, these sales are all to customers new to multihulls.
Over the past 15 years Gunboat has amassed a cult following. It produces a modern multihull take on a cruiser-racer that has mesmerised a younger, active, speed-thirsty generation of sailors. During its first 11 years of building in South Africa, Gunboat produced just 15 boats to three designs. After setting up its own boatbuilding enterprise locally in North Carolina, it is manufacturing the same number in just two years.
Gunboat began in 2000 building cats in South Africa. Founder Peter Johnstone explained how labour costs prevented the company building in the US before now. But in North Carolina two years ago he found low labour rates and skilled workers.
The 55s are built in infused carbon to strip resin content to a minimum. Even the tooling is infused to ensure maximum vacuum pressure. The deck is built in one piece from gunwale to gunwale.
The first 55 to launch made news headlines for the wrong reasons when it dismasted by a waterspout on delivery: Rainmaker dismasts. It has yet to be recovered. Thankfully, as you can see, our test of number two, Toccata, went more smoothly.
Bringing production in-house and introducing a novel concept that pushes the parameters of fast cruising cat design by re-examining how we sail and live aboard such a boat, is key to the 55’s popularity.
And there are some other novel design aspects. Gunboat noticed that its owners typically left aft areas open for example. The key decision was taken to eliminate the aft sliding door and window bulkhead, creating one big space.
Another crucial decision was to target the 55 at couples. Two cabins are standard and the upkeep needed has been reduced to a minimum. The bridgedeck living area is treated like one big open-transom cockpit, with watertight doors closing off the hulls. The teak sole can be simply hosed clean with scuppers running to the transom steps.
The 55 also benefits from the full suite of Gunboat attributes: the fast cruiser, the racing cat and the social platform. It is a recipe the brand has honed, and during and following the Heineken Regatta in St Maarten, we explored all these ingredients in detail. We had to be professional you understand…
Our two days and nights of cruising aboard the 55 was spent in challenging weather. The wind didn’t dip below 20 knots and we saw frequent rain squalls with 30-knot gusts – a full blown gale in apparent wind speed terms.
The Gunboat 55 provided fast cruising in an environment that is quite unparalleled. It is something like open air sailing yet from inside. It successfully mixes heady adrenalin runs with warm water, shoal draught cruising. And it’s manageable by a (ballsy) couple.