Saturday, October 6, 2012

It's Sweet When You Stay in Love With the Girl You Brought

rev. 5/16/2013. 
Sail Magazine just did a laugher of a review (June 2013). No negatives, got the displacement wrong by 30%, gave the draft as 34 feet, guessed at the speed instead of reading the GPS; Funny stuff. Guess who advertises there. A common thread in Sail Magazine reviews.

I'm talking about boat shows and dock-walking, of course.

A few days ago I visited the Annapolis Boat Show, trolling for article ideas rather than a new boat and other boat toys, but of course, I spent a little time walking thought the latest offerings and looking at the ideas there in. Coincidentally, the very next morning, I left on an overnight trip, and so I've measure this against that, at least on my scale, and sumarized my thoughts. I'm not saying which is better--a boat must fit the buyer--just pointing to some things I see. Why am I so interested? Once they were built locally, on the Chesapeake Bay, and they were the first boats to interst me in cruising catamarans.

Let me be clear: I still like the Gemini. I just don't understand some of the design changes and the dirrection they have gone.

Also, read this excellent blogger review.

This is probably the worst case of "over-jammer" I have ever seen. Seven jammers lead to the one and ONLY winch, making it impossible to tend mupltiple tasks at the same time. Not a sailor's boat. The PDQ has six winches, allowing great flexibility when things get strong.

New on the Gemini Legacy
  • Price. About $280 K loaded, or about double what a loaded 105Mc was in 2003. There are a lot of used cats for $220 K with an $60K refit that would bury the Gemini in every category. But some people really like new, which I can understand, sort of. I prefer new cars, but boats and houses are different.
  • Lower bridge deck. The boat show model was 4 inches off the water, with empty tank, bins, and no dingy on the davits. I suspect loaded it would be about 3 inches above the water and would slap on everything. Gemini's own web site pictures (with no dingy and most probably very light-ship) show no clearance whatsoever underway when sailing. They got 6'7" standing headroom, but the cost was far too high. How many buyers are 6'6" anyway? Less than 0.5% for men 40-65 according to CDC study.
  • Spinnaker on fixed sprit. The Gemini 105Mc allowed the tack of the chute or reacher to articulate from side to side. Now there is only a fixed sprit, which some marinas will charge as length. A sprit works, on a performance cat that always carries the apparent wind forward of the beam. But on a cruising cat, the best VMG down wind--and often in the direction you are headed, particularly for Chesapeake Bay and coastal sailors--is obtained when the apparent wind is well aft of the beam, perhaps 110 degrees off the bow. In this case, the sail sets better if taken to the windward bow. Leave it on the sprit and it simply collapses from lack of air flow. I've sailed several sprit cats and that is what I've learned; they hate going deep. 
  • No sill between the cockpit and cabin. No real protection from following waves. Considering how low she rides and the short transoms--they've used the space clear to the end for cockpit, even though she is longer--waves are going to ride into the cockpit in a steep following sea if you don't keep your speed way up. For coastal sailing, OK perhaps, if the sailor is very careful. But not a good concept and not an ocean boat, not this low to the water. The older Gems and the 105Mc had a 6-inch sill and a more closed aft cockpit. They claim these hulls are "proven off-shore," but that is a half truth; the 105Mc is well proven, but the hulls have been changed, weight added, and safety features removed. She needs to be re-proven, looking at this transom.

 Low clearance and very little to stop following waves from entering the cockpit. No dingy, no cruising load. They want more headroom than she has to give.
Engine access is through hatch behind the head.
Just shoot me now.
  • Improved boarding railings. Really nice. Though I think the side railing blocks too much of the sugar scoop from the side for boarding, but that is personal taste.
  • Boarding ladder rungs are painfully narrow, at least for mature feet.
  • No ledge or shelves--zero--accessible to people seated in the salon. Everything goes on the table (no fiddle) or the seat. Rather of like a model house, stripped and fitted with miniature furniture, not practical.
  • Greatly improved helm visibility. Yup, they fixed the problems. I prefer a completely unobstructed view, but given the advantages for a small cat in salon headroom, I give them a solid B+ for this. IF the enclosure made sense it would get them an A, but the enclosure can't be used when sailing.
  • Winches and jammers cannot be reached when the enclosure is up. Oops.
  • No cam cleats for winch tails. How do you set them for quick release in  blow, given how hard they are to reach? 
  • Engine access. Oh dear.
  • Nice cockpit layout for lounging. And yet because there are only 2 winches, little that the crew can do to help out. Clearly this boat is NOT designed with even casual racing in mind, or even the cruiser who likes to press hard.
  • Improved helm position. Subtle changes, including a lower wheel, that add up to an improvement. Nice. I prefer an actual seat for long shifts at the wheel, but I really like the new Gemini Legacy placement. On the other hand, the helmsman is stuck out in the weather and sun. If you add the optional helm seat, them moving around the cockpit and getting to sail controls is more painful. Visibility becomes limited. OK for day sailing, where you sit to the side, but for long hauls you are going to want a helm seat and will suffer with poor visibility.
PDQ 32, for comparison. 
      Two-three opening ports (3 on starboard) on each side in the galley and nav/head areas, plus 1 large and 5 small opening ports on each aft stateroom.  
       Six winches (2 each side plus 2 on mast, all 2-speed, 4 are self tailing)
       Winches and jammers are inside enclosure.
       20-inch bridge deck clearance.
       No blind spots.
       3 1/2 feet of protection from any following wave, plus a 6-inch sill on the door.
  • Swapped boards for mini keels. Though many criticize the change, it does decrease maintenance and increase space. I see this only as a change, neither plus nor minus. I think most buyers will prefer the keels. I've had both and can testify the differences are minor and offsetting.
  • Smaller, minimally-overlapping jib. Given that her weight keeps going up--nearly 2000 pounds more than the PDQ 32 with the same sail area (with genoa--The Gemini is limited to a small jib by the shroud location) and new fixed screws and heavier engines, she's going to be under powered in light winds. The PDQs with square top mains are much faster and I'm sure the 105Mc is faster.
  • Better engines and more power. Twin diesels and a huge fuel tank give her more speed, better maneuvering, better reliability and better range.
  • Fixed props. Less speed due to drag. The props will require regular cleaning by a diver.
  • Hard to see the traveler position. But nice to have it safely out of the way. On the other hand, the high mounting changes the sheet angle when eased for broad reaching; the boom is going to rise and the main will twist something terrible. She'll need a vang to keep the sail under control and off the shrouds. Of course, with no winch available, a vang could not be adjusted underway. 10 jammers, I think, and perhaps they'll put that one on port. The gooseneck looked strong, the boom fat and the mast step beefy, so all should handle the load. 
  • Build quality. Too soon to say. Those at the boat show were very early production, nearly prototypes. I didn't see any obvious flaws and some things were clearly built a bit better than before. Not as rock-solid as the 15-year old PDQ, but not quite as soft and creaky as the 105Mc.
  • Ventilation. The double (twin mattresses) bunks have very little ventilation with either a single small or a mis-located hatch. The queen berth is well ventilated.
  • AC. Nice installed AC, but this is because there is poor ventilation otherwise. No opening hatches on the sides, none aft, none in some cabins. Dock queen or marina hopper, since the AC is not available at anchor. Some do come with Panda generators to mange the AC, but running a generator  all night is not my idea of cruising. Some will like it.
  • Storage space. With the inboards, AC, and generator, a lot of space has disapeared. A small matter if cruising for a few days, but a problem if cruising for weeks.
  • No visibility outside from the galley. Add to that the absence of any ventilation on the sides or down low, and this is an excellent recipe for sea sickness when sailing in anything rough. The PDQ has a lower row of hatches down each side.
Note the lack of opening hatches, the jammer location, and the rope piled by the jammers. Nine ropes terminate there.

Pre-existing Gemini faults still in evidence.
  • Winches are hard to reach and hard to get 2 hands on. Like the 105Mc, the starboard winch can only be reached by the helmsman (he blocks all access).
  • Only one winch on each side. Considering all sails, all reefing, and all halyards are controlled from the cockpit, this is laughably inadequate. Yes, there are jammers (nine of them, some quite out of reach), but in a breeze leaving sails in the jammers is unseamanlike. At the very least, there should be a secondary winch on starboard; however, the deck curvature is going to make this installation tricky and limit the things the secondary can do. If the starboard winch fails or gets a bad override, you've got a pickle. The 105Mc's often came with mast mounted winches. The furler lines were not led to winches (just to cleats near the toe rail), which usually worked but could be strenuous if the wind was up.
  • No forward visablity from the salon. Just a personal dislike. But it also means I cannot keepwatch from the salon, which I sometimes do off-shore on the PDQ 32. The convenience is easy to undervalue if you have never enjoyed it. It also makes lounging in the salon while underway far more enjoyable--you can actually see where you are!
  • Forward bunks are hard to sleep in underway. Aft is better.
  • Still suffers from limited access to certain compartments.
  • Crew cabins lack privacy. No door, just a hole to crawl into. That is a cabin? No, that is a bunk. Just call it what it is.
  • Dingy still sticks too far out the back for a cat. Some marinas will charge for that length. With the sprit and dingy she's really 40 feet.
I spent about 15 minutes discussing some of the above with the designer. He said "today we design for a different kind of sailor," a polite way of saying that visual presence over rules off-shore practicalities. More of a dock queen and motor sailor, and less of a sailor's boat. He's a smart guy and I'm guessing that for his new type of customer--Hunter's idea of a customer--he's right. But I'm still struggling with a single winch to handle...
  • Main sheet
  • Genoa sheet
  • Main halyard
  • Genoa halyard
  • Spinnaker sheet
  • Reef 1
  • Reef 2
  • Furler
  • Vang (needed)
  • And how do we rig twings, barberhaulers, and preventers without a spare winch? 
I've never seen over-cluching this bad, not in a cartoon. On a catamaran, the most basic understanding of capsize safety demands that each active sheet has a dedicated winch and a cam cleat for the tail. A tackle with cam cleat is also good, as installed on the 105Mc. The 105Mc also had halyards led to winches on the mast rather than sheet stoppers because the designer, Tony Smith, said "you're operating on a stable platform, even in a blow," so moving forward is not as treacherous.
    By way of comparison, my PDQ has 6 winches and only 3 jammers on the cockpit bank, one of them for a separate self tacking jib sheet, a line the Gemini does not have! I can nearly always assign a winch to a task. I can always divide crew labor, if I need or want to. For example, yesterday we were driving hard in a blow, enough that the windward hull was getting a little light in the gusts. I sat at the genoa winch, with the line out of the self-tailer, ready to release. I sat to leeward of the helmsman for better visibility and well aft, out of his way. The main was still on a winch but out of the tailer and in a cam cleat for quick release, also within my easy reach, allowing the helmsman to focus on crab pots and puffs. Both of these precautions are quite impossible on the Gemini. We could have reefed earlier, gone 2 knots slower, and been quite bored. We'd have been better off with a nice monohull for less money. Hunter's market must be for sailors that want a cat but aren't cat sailors. Perhaps they're thinking charter fleets, a fine market for dull, comfortable looking, rugged cats. Not for folk who enjoy sailing at 9-10 knots full-and-by, in a 32-foot cruising boat.

    Did I see anything new at the show that I pine for? If I were living aboard or sailing with more people, bigger is better. For cruising the Chesapeake, generally out for 1-7 nights with 1-3 people, I really like the PDQ 32 and haven't seen anything I really like better. I could like the Tom Cat; I bet it's faster and I like the shallow draft. I could live on the Gemini better; more space and easier to live in when buttoned up with heat and AC. The cockpit is lovely, when you're not sailing. But my family has sailed these and likes the PDQ better for adventure cruising. Yesterday's small craft advisory sailing highlighted what a sea boat needs to be. So I still like the old girl best and my loyalty has not wavered, even after Hunter "improve" the Gemini. If I were buying a Gemini, I'd stay with the 105Mc.

    My 20th wedding anniversary is only a few days away too. That still adds up right too. But I'm not posting the pluses and minuses and she won't let me take any new models for a test drive.

    1 comment:

    1. Very nice, Drew. We still love our PDQ 32 too!