Seawind catamarans has moved all its operations to Asia as it ends a tumultuous year on a high, celebrating in style during its 14th annual regatta, reports Kevin Green.
s I scampered around the deck of the first 1160 to be built outside Australia our busy start line reflected the popularity of the former Sydney based brand. For the 130 crew attending during a long weekend on Sydney's sunny Pittwater there was plenty socialising and close racing. A 27 boat fleet assembled at Newport's Royal Motor Yacht Club for the three-day event and we were blessed with great conditions. Friday night saw an invitation race in light conditions, followed by the official launch of the latest Seawind 1160 to be built and the first to arrive from the new Vietnam production facility. Owner Chris Lawrence christened his new boat Avalon Spirit, pouring champagne over the bow to the delight of the large crowd of fellow Seawind owners. Dinner was served later at the yacht club as Seawind MD Richard Ward laid out his vision for the new Vietnam yard where all future boats are to be built, while also assuring all owners that their warranty would be valid for both future and existing boats; regardless of where they have been manufactured. This is good news for Asian based owners of both Seawinds and the Corsair brand that was acquired two years ago.
The following morning, on the windy and sunny Pittwater a competitive fleet of Seawinds converged, an interestingly mixed fleet that charted the company's 30 year history. A brace of older Seawind 850s jostled with the new 950 owned by David Byrne. An entry level boat, the 950 is intended to get sailors on the water at minimum cost. "As production expands we ideally want the boat to sell for under $200k," Ward told me. The result of a joint venture with a Korean company, the boat I sail tested a few months previously demonstrated a no-frills approach with twin outboards, simple internal layout and a user friendly sailplan. Minimising onboard systems importantly keeps the weight down which showed during the day's second race when happy owner Byrne scored a second place. At the front of the fleet were a brace of the company's flagship Seawind 1250s - Wisky Business (Greg & Marilyn White) and David Taylor's Kailani. Their strong pace showed during the bumpy beat back from Lion Island during the afternoon's passage race. In late August I'd helped sail one of these 1250's (hull number 13) with regular delivery skipper Royce Black all the way from Airlie Beach to Darwin, a 1500nm odyssey through the Great Barrier Reef, Cape York, across the Gulf of Carpentaria and finally along the wild lonely coast Arnhem Land. Going with the prevailing wind we averaged 9.1 knots over a two day 268nm run from Cairns to Lizard island, a very impressive feat for a heavily loaded catamaran, while doing it all in comfort. I also noted that at the busy Lizard anchorage 24 of the 27 boats were catamarans, which says a lot about cruising trends I think.
Aboard our brand new 1160, hull number 101, we enjoyed the ride during the day's racing, winning both starts as we ran the line for the downwind first leg to Towler's Bay then reached towards the Avalon wing mark before gybing around towards the Basin. The 1160 running rigging layout has the mainsheet electric Harken winch portside along with a smaller winch for halyards – this allowed me to tweak the main's luff easily, while on starboard the jib halyard and other lines are controlled by a brace of Harkens. The jib runs on a track which worked effectively during our fast tacking in the 15-20knot breeze. New owner Chris Lawrence had a very pleased look on his face as he moved between the two helms while being ably helped by his brother Peter. Returning to racing after a 30 year break, owning a Catalina 400 for some of that time, the retired architect wanted a cruising boat that was no slouch yet roomy, he said. "There just wasn't enough space for my friends and cruising needs on the monohull," explained Lawrence. Over a beer, Chris talked about his plans to cruise the east coast and like many Aussies, sail up to Indonesia then onto the SE Asia circuit.
Back on the water our main competition came from Ralph Gravolin's 1160 Meltemi, helmed by Richard Ward. Despite a lack of rig tuning, a stiff fully battened mainsail and blocks that required loosening up, our new boat Avalon Spirit kept pace with Meltemi. Even more spritely were the two other 1160s Vivacious (Vivan Bliss's pink clad crew) and Full Circle (Brett Kimorley) that showed us their transoms during the morning's race.
The fleet rafted up in Towler's Bay for a sedate lunch as barbeques sprang into action on the transoms. I hopped across the rafted boats to chat with Richard Ward. "We're very busy at the Vietnam yard with both building lots of commissioned Seawinds, Corsairs and of course fully establishing our facilities there," he explained. After recommencing trading from what Ward described as the toughest conditions in Seawind's 30=year history the company has a full order book and a mix of dedicated Australian and Vietnamese staff building them. "We are very keen to expand throughout the Asian region and work with companies there," added Ward as he talked about his plans for 2013.
In the afternoon passage race around Lion Island there was plenty of tactics on display as the fleet toiled with the 2m swells and chose the best line for the port rounding of the national park protected island with its colony of fairy penguins. The southerly wind created a large wind shadow on the north so we chose to stay out while others including the 1250 Wisky Business chanced the inshore wind shifts and relatively deep water close in to cut the corner. Inshore as the swell broke on yellow sands of Pearl Beach we hardened up for the 1.5nm beat back to Pittwater, coming slightly off the wind to compensate for the swells but pointing high enough to lay a course just under West Head. We enjoyed a closely fought battle with Meltemi the tacking duels going in our favour, much to the chagrin of the Seawind boss. "You guys sailed the new boat really well," conceded Ward just before the evening party in the Basin; a tranquil anchorage. Onshore as the food was laid out in the marquee amid the trees of Ku-Ring-Gai national park the prize giving kicked-off. Top honours went to Seawind 1160 Meltemi owned by Ralph Gravolin. It also won the competition for the youngest crew, having Richard Ward's year old granddaughter Clover aboard, who had previously screamed at fellow competitors as the 1160 overtook them. Among the notable efforts was the Seawind 1000 Tranquility of Allan Leach that did very well to overcome the larger boats in the fleet, taking second place. Among the prizes given out was gear from Stormy Seas (inflatable life vest), duffle bags from North Sails and $750 worth of insurance premium vouchers from Nautilus Marine.
As the sun dipped over the trees the three piece band belted out some old favourites from Jimmy Buffet and the dance floor swelled. The 1980s themed party was appropriate given the company's inception in 1982. Among the party goers were a group of Blue's Brothers who took out the best dressed prize, lots of mullet haircuts and loud shirts. "We're always guaranteed a good laugh at the Seawind bash," screamed a lady decked in pink headband and flimsy attire.