Liberty is being free from the things we don't like in order to be slaves of the things we do like.--Ernest Benn

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Wyliecat-30: A Laser for the Geriatric Set

My illustrated presentation to members of my Club Fleet Thursday Night

We often hear that great boat designs begin with a conversation in a bar and are originally drawn up on a paper napkin with a ball point pin.

A comparable urban myth is associated with the origins of the Wyliecat-30.

Designer Tom Wylie says the idea for the first Wyliecat originated in 1988 when he and his builder, Dave Wahle, were chatting about a fix for the most common problems facing yachtsmen.

One of them (not sure which one) posed the problem facing many of us in this manner:

If we could be in five yacht clubs at the same time anywhere in the world, we'd hear sailors talking about the same three things:

· I can never get enough crew.
· I can't take the boat out for a sail during my lunch hour.
· I never have the right jib up for the weather.

To answer multiple quandaries like these, a prototype Wyliecat, Mustang Sally, was built within a year and she's still sailing today. To date, 21 Wyliecat 30's have been built and splashed and an additional one currently in the oven.

They are hard to find on the used market. My information is that LINX built in 2002, just became available on the pre-owned market. Although an email communication with the owner earlier this year indicated to me he was not a motivated seller.

I had to select Wyliecat 30 as my dream boat because, as Trophy Wife will tell you, I've had it on and off my wish-list for more than decade. I've actually sailed it two or three times.

One time was a two-person sail from Newport Beach up to Long Beach in about 10-12 knots, steady. For my body I found it most comfortable: the deck combing is slanted perfectly for the helmsman's comfort in mind. I never needed to be relieved from the tiller.

This week I read that Tom Wylie has been plagued by a bad back for the past two decades, and that what motivated him to design a boat that would be extremely comfortable for bad backs.

The other memorable sail was in about 15-20 knots, when I realized that I could practice all of my old Laser skills, especially dead down wind. 

Except, I could not induce any of those death-rolls!

What's unique about the Wyliecat 30?

First of all, it obviously has no jib and or spinnaker. That makes it a catboat.

That doesn't mean it's comparable to the famous Chesapeake Bay catboats, which have
· beamy hulls,
· massive "barn door" rudders,
· shallow-draft centerboards,
· and inefficient sails and riggings.

The Wyliecats, are designed to state-of-the-art technology. That means hull features like
· a fine entry,
· optimized underwater foils,
· light displacement, low-wetted surface,
· and a heavy bulb on a deep keel.

A 55% ballast to displacement ratio is rendered. You can also order a Wyliecat with either the standard sail for with high winds areas or a larger, light air sail for light wind venues.

This modern catboat rig means that whatever part of the race course you are on, you always have your maximum sail area aloft. 

Today the PHRF is 129 for an outboard and 132 for an inboard. So, for our fleet they rate a little slower than my friend's Choate-30 (126) and a little faster than Grappa (135).

Equally obvious, a second unusual feature is its unstayed mast. As on The Good Guys', it allows the rig to carry a huge mainsail, unrestricted by backstays.

A large roach gives the mainsail an elliptical shape which renders much less drag than a triangular shape. The shroudless carbon fiber mast is precision engineered to bend off and depower and flatten sail as the wind increases.

The only reason we have triangular sail-plans is because we have wires that hold up the masts, and this necessarily makes sails triangular. Because if you have wires in the way, you don't want your sails to chafe on them. And the triangle is absolutely the worst conceivable shape for a lifting surface. The closer we get to a wing shape the better off we are.

Thirdly we have a wishbone boom.

The wishbone tensions the sail at an angle, pulling the sail both back and down. This trims the sail more efficiently than forces applied to a sail by a conventional boom, outhaul and vang. The wishbone is also more effective at bending the carbon mast. 

The only way in which a conventional mast could be similarly bent is with the use of running backstays, which are typically seen on crew-intensive boats.

Conventional boats must have mainsheet travelers, outhauls, boom vangs, and furlers. Not to mention low-swinging booms menacingly sweeping across the cockpit.

All this gear has been eliminated on the Wyliecat. Mainsheet travelers are unnecessary because, going to weather, you sheet the sail on a Wyliecat more like a genoa than a mainsail. That means at 8 to 12 degrees off the centerline for upwind sailing.

Outhauls and boom vangs are also both unnecessary because the wishbone performs these functions with a device call the choker.

The choker attaches the forward end of the wishbone boom to the unstayed carbon fiber mast. [WC30-Crinan-Choker.jpg]

Furlers are not needed because there is no jib to furl. Wyliecats have built-in mainsail furling as part of the wishbone. When the sail is dropped it automatically flakes itself into the integrated lazyjack system attached to the wishbone boom.

This greatly reduces the work necessary to put the boat away. Dropping the sail is a one-person job!

You also do not need a large crew on the rail to be fast and stable upwind on a Wyliecat. These boats are designed with light displacement balsa core hulls. Their 5'3" deep bulb keels guarantee a low center of gravity. So that upwind, they carry a lot of sail well and are stiff and fast.

Because Wyliecats are so stable and the rigs are so easy to de-power, you very seldom need to reef, even in windy areas such as the San Francisco Bay.

When reefing does become necessary, the tack and clew reefing lines are led aft into the cockpit for quick, easy handling.

On this point, Tom Wylie was curious as to which part of this Wyliecat rig was the weakest. A few years back, on one of San Francisco's windiest days, he had three sailors single-hand their boats in a practice race. The only rule was no reefing.

Here is a shot taken that day:  Remember these unreefed Wyliecat-30's are sailing single-handedly in 30 knots -plus of wind.

Only after the wind increased to above 40 knots, did these un-reefed rigs fail. In each case it was the wishbone boom.

But in my book, under 35 knots and unreefed , this boat sails like any dream boat should...... But I think I would like some company aboard. 

Now for the bad news.

I think the boat may be too young for me.

Santa Rosa Junior College English professor Pat Broderick recently raced his Wyliecat Nancy to first place in his class in this year's Double-Handed Pacific Cup from San Francisco to Hawaii.

I'm not up to that. But that's okay! After all, Broderick is only a kid at 70 years old. And, I'll never see 70 again.

But this boat will get any of you down to King Harbor and back in a style to which you could become accustomed!!


  1. Fantastic post, Doc. It's funny, but I thought that the Wylie 17 was the old guys Laser. Now you've set me straight. I really loved the bit about trying to induce death-rolls.

  2. I thought the Force 5 was the Laser for the geriatric set. I hear they are very comfortable.

  3. Tillerman, the debate on my current boat is why, since I don't like cruising, should we go racing with our furniture?

    As far as the Force 5 is concerned, you have already established the boat is not intended to be sailed by old farts like myself.

    The Wyliecat-30 is #3 on my list of bucket boats. I have already described Bucket Boat #1 and Bucket Boat #2. The Wyliecat-30 would be even higher on my list, were it not for Trophy Wife's opinion. She definitely gets a vote. And she has already voted against the F-13, sometime early in the last century.

  4. How does the WC-30 compare with the Nonsuch 32?

  5. I think Doc H would consider that sailing a Nonsuch would be sailing with his furniture. It's a much heavier, cruiser-friendly boat.

  6. Wow. So informative and well-written. Sold. I want one. It looks like it's just a big dinghy, a real big dinghy. Doc, the sage of Santa Barbara, I can't wait to hear your take on the A Cat.

  7. Hey Doc: I responded to your "where did my comment go?" at the end of that post and it disappeared also. Twilight zone

  8. The comment you left was at the end of the summer dinner post. I still don't know what happened to my response.

  9. Couple things you overlooked... it will surf to over 22 knots in 25' following seas with 50 knot gusts and never stuff the bow... and that was doublehanded. It is a great boat!

    "Lotta'tude" hull 16

  10. Good to see some new writing about the Wyliecat 30!

    I also have decided this will be my next boat but my wife still cry over the nice interior of our First 36.7 that we never cruised (and she can't understand why a boat with pretty much no interior would cost the same, even if I keep trying to explain that on a Wyliecat I would save on beers and sandwiches for the crew :)

    Anyway, I'll keep dreaming and knocking off her long list of "ifs" that need to be satisfied :)

  11. Furniture is over rated, IMHO. It's comfortable enough for overnighters and one pot meals under way on a starboard tack.

    We had 8 Wyliecat 30's come out for a race (SF Bay) on Saturday. It was a lot of fun. I think three of us are doing a double handed race next weekend down the coast to Half Moon Bay.

    Raff... remember too, much less money in all those sails...

    Did I say it's a great boat?


  12. I know, I know, I agree an all those points, but you know how wives are :)

  13. My Trophy Wife is different. She has sailed & raced with me on all kinds of boats for forty-one years. She's entitled to her negative feelings about the Wyliecat-30. But it hurts. Still.

    On Furniture being over-rated? Yes! Echo & ditto! Also to the idea of headroom. Whoever wants to stand up inside a sailboat, anyways?

  14. One-design racing on SF Bay! What could be better?

  15. I took at least one of the photos you posted here, and as crew for the doublehanded races, I like that I CAN take photos instead of cranking in the jib or, worse yet, jibing the (non-existent) spinnaker. What is your wife's role when you go sailing?

  16. Sue, Trophy Wife takes the helm on light wind days while I serve as human preventer on the mainsail. On Moderate days, she will take the helm on the last windward leg so that I can shoot some photos. BTW, thank you for your contribution into the photography I borrowed for this post.

    BTW, did you see Nancy featured on the inside cover of Latitude 38? She's beautiful!

  17. Regarding future buckets: it comes to me that the barrier is just financial. That is common. Should that barrier fall, it further comes to me that you would not snap up one of your currently-identified buckets, but that you and your mate would go shopping and find something that will keep you sailing together into the sunset.

  18. Thanks for the flattering article about my favorite boat. I've had mine, Katzenjammer, since January of 2000.

    Not to take anything away from their accomplishment, but Pat Broderick raced to HI with three on board, not double handed: Pat plus Gordie Nash and Michael Andrews. They won division A, beating an identically rated J-30 by about 45 minutes. Well done.

  19. Yeah, Dan! I was aware of my error some time ago, but thought I could finesse it. Thanks for correcting the record!

  20. Pat Broderick ("NANCY") here. Yes, we sailed the Pacific Cup with a crew of 3 and I owe most of the win to Gordie and Michael who are superb sailors and great friends. I echo all the positive comments about a Wyliecat 30. But I would add that the boat looks deceptively simple to sail. Everything's in the sail shape, which is controlled by the halyard, choker, "boom vang" (foot control), leech line, and main sheet. Toss in batten tension, too. It took me several years of almost weekly racing to figure some of it out; I have more figuring to do if I plan to keep up with the best in the SF Fleet. By the way, the "Sunset" photo is "NANCY" winning a Sausalito Yacht Club beer canner. Thanks

  21. Hey Pat! Thanks for the input. I'm thinking if I am ever fortunate enough to score on a Wyliecat, I'd be well-advised to take delivery in April and wine and dine you for at least a month down here while you show me how to tune and sail her!

  22. Hey, that is a very interesting boat indeed - thanks for the link. Anything you don't have to reef down in 30 knots is impressive. Have a great race!

  23. I helped Tom complete Mustang Sally at his hilltop home/workshop in Canyon, CA. It was a great experience and a real privilege to work for Tom. The most memorable day was the day we towed the boat from the top of the hill to Kim Desenberg's North Coast Yachts, to bolt the keel on. The only way to get it to the main road was through his neighbor's cow pasture. We stopped in front of Canyon School where Tom's daughter, Lindsay, attended, and let the kids see it. I don't know if I'll ever buy another sailboat, but if I do it will be a Wyliecat. My favorite analogy for the difference between a Wyliecat and a traditional sailboat is the difference between an automatic transmission and a stick shift. Some folks like shifting gears, and some folks like changing sails and sheeting in headsails. I don't.

    1. Automatic transmission vs a stick shift! A perfect analogy! But some people don't know how good they have it, do they, Hedley? Like Steve Wonner who went and added a spinnaker to Uno!