Thursday, October 3, 2013

Our Boat for Cape to Rio 2014

A few weeks ago I announced that we will sail in the Cape to Rio Race in January. If you missed it, you can read it here. Now I would like to tell a bit more about the boat.

Her name is "Black Cat" and she is very special in my life. I designed her, I built her in my garden and I have sailed her across the South Atlantic three times. I have also raced and cruised her for many, many miles on the notorious Cape of Good Hope waters and she formed the foundation of my best selling range of boat designs. She is the prototype of the Didi 38 design and older sister to designs from the DS15 (Didi Sport 15) through to the DH550 .
"Black Cat" with her crew on launch day.
 I started concept sketches during the 1993 Cape to Rio Race on the Shearwater 39 "Ukelele Lady". "Ukelele" is very comfortable and carried us across the Atlantic in 29 days, excellent for a cruiser.  Still, I resolved part-way across  to do the next race on a boat of my own, which would be better able to take advantage of the downwind surfing conditions found on this race.

The new boat was to be cold-moulded wood. It was to be very light, with a big rig and deep bulb keel for high performance. Light and beamy boats are uncomfortable at sea and I sometimes get seasick, so I designed her relatively narrow for comfort. Narrow beam would also make her even faster.

I had nearly 3 years to build but I had a very big problem, I had no money to start. It was nearly a year before I had money to start building. Now the problem became a lack of time to build the cold-moulded boat, so I had to find an alternative solution that would be quicker to build.

My solution was to develop a method for building a rounded hull shape from plywood, using a radius chine form developed from my metal designs. I needed it to be mostly sheet plywood for fast construction but a rounded shape for performance, aesthetic and resale value reasons.

The resulting boat was 4 tons displacement in measurement trim and with 50% ballast ratio. She turned out to be clean, simple, pretty and a delight to sail. In two Cape to Rio Races she carried us across the Atlantic in 21 days in vastly different conditions. In one race she topped out as 18 knots and covered 250 miles in 24 hours. On the other her top speed was 22 knots but her 250 mile record went unbroken.

Where did her name come from? She is, after all, a yellow monohull and not a black catamaran. Black Cat is the top-selling peanut butter brand in South Africa and they sponsored her in the 1996 race. The kids knew her as the "Peanut Butter Boat" and her big  Black Cat spinnakers attracted a lot of attention.
Moving well in very light breeze.
She is quick on all headings in light breezes. The above photo was taken while racing on St Helena Bay in only 3-4 knots of breeze, a race in which she took line honours with a very comfortable lead over the 2nd placed boat, also a 38ft cruiser/racer.

She also loves to run free in a strong breeze. From cracked off on a fetch through to a run, she flies in strong conditions. Like me, she loves to surf. I surfed her at 22 knots down a very big wave mid-Atlantic after a storm.

Yet, she remains a home-built plywood boat and I look forward to spending 3 weeks with her and her crew as we cross the ocean once again. In the next few weeks I will write about the crew who will keep me and "Black Cat" company on this voyage.

To see our full range of designs, please visit .

PS. Entries for the race currently stand at 26 boats, with another 19 pending. The race website is at .

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