There comes a time for every specialist in journalism when he wants to try his hand at something else in the trade. So it was that Hugh Whall, our ebullient boating writer, left his pier at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED a year ago to take an inside-the-office editorial job with another magazine. "I did it to cut down on my traveling and to see what so-called departmental writing was like," says Whall. "I thought I could simply divorce myself from the world of boating. I found out pretty quick that I couldn't."
No one is happier about that decision than we are. Now Whall is back on the water again for SI, reporting on everything from powerboat racing and experimental hydrofoil and captured air-bubble boats to rowing and sailing. When pressed, Whall concedes that he is somewhat partial to stories on ocean sailing, and this week he presents a detailed report on the blue-water sailors who zip along on top of the waves (and sometimes tragically end up beneath them) in multihulled catamarans and trimarans.
No boats afloat today are more reviled by conventional monohull sailors, yacht-club members, marina operators and sailmakers. Whall says some of their charges are justified, but adds: "The trouble may lie not in the craft but in those who sail them. Well-designed catamarans or trimarans can reach speeds of 20, 25 or even 30 knots, and the men who sail them have to be far more aware of the sea than those who sail single-hulls."
Whall did part of his research for this story aboard Jim (Marshal Dillon) Arness' 58-foot catamaran Sea-smoke. It was right out of Mutt and Jeff. Arness, who is 6'6", has a well sunk by the wheel so he can get down low enough to steer. Whall, who is 5'4", had to stand on the well hatch so he could reach up to the wheel. "The idea behind Seasmoke," Whall reports, "is to make her go faster than any other oceangoing sailboat in history, and she may well succeed. The day I was aboard we got her up to about 17 knots in only a whisper of a breeze. The scary thing about these multihulls is that the sensation of pure speed is so exhilarating that it tends to make anyone but a thoroughly experienced hand lose sight of the inherent dangers."
Despite the hazards, which he describes on pages 44 through 52, Whall was impressed by the multihulls. "They are fantastically comfortable boats," he says. "You fly along flat and level, never fighting uphill as you do in a single-hull, and your speed allows you to use the sea more. You can actually surf down the face of a wave. Arness stands at the wheel looking over his shoulder so he can hook onto a big wave at the most opportune time, just like a surfer. Under the same conditions in a single-hull you look back at a monster wave and hope you can get out of the way before it pops you."
When Whall is not busy reporting on other people's boats for us he spends much of his time aboard a very conventional 22-foot midget ocean racer called Springbok (after the national symbol of his native South Africa). To date he has sailed her in five races on Chesapeake Bay. His record: two firsts, two seconds and a third.
WHALL ON DECK