Welcome to Our Blog

Thank you for sharing in our journey of building a Fusion Catamaran! We are so excited to be able to chronicle our adventure for our family, friends, and supporters, from our initial decision to (hopefully) a successful launch and beyond. Please post your comments, questions, and cautionary tales-we love to hear from you!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sails & Power

In all the years we’ve gone to boat shows, dreaming, shopping, learning, negotiating, we’ve never been to the Annapolis Boat Show.  It always falls on that Columbus Day weekend timeframe, the same weekend of my husband’s birthday, my son’s anniversary, and somehow there are always ten different places to be or one hundred things to do. Even though it’s a smaller show than either Ft. Lauderdale or Miami, it's kind of a quintessential sailboat show we’ve always wanted to attend, and this year we finally had the opportunity. 
In Baltimore to attend a two-day Long Distance Cruising seminar given by Jimmy Cornell, we found ourselves with an empty day before it began.  So, despite the rain, and windy weather, we went to walk the tents and piers in Annapolis.  But an odd thing happened: we found we actually had very little to look at, since one way or another, most of our major decisions have already been made. So instead we said hello to all the vendors with whom we have orders pending, and went to poke through all the boats, reassuring ourselves our boat would look better than any of them! 
In this blog post, we want to share some of the decisions we’ve made in two important areas: power and sail management, and our reasons why.  The takeaway for the reader, however, should not be that these are the only decisions, or even the right decisions for any sailor and vessel besides us and ours; the decision process of weighing pros and cons, of listening and researching, of how we arrived at our choices is what is most important.

Power and power management - Our assumption going into our boat build has been that we did not want to “camp aboard”, we want a comfortable live aboard boat, within restrictions inherent to a boat, of course.  This philosophy requires quite a bit of power to support, coming from batteries, generator, and solar panels.  Figuring out the mix and magnitude of these components was a job we took to the professionals.  Menno Ligterink and Rick Kerman of Mastervolt agreed to consult with us on the overall design, keeping in mind our desires balanced with as small an ecological footprint as possible.  First, we put together a grid of all the components of the boat that required power, and then paired that with models of our daily usage patterns.  This allowed us to determine the type of power generation systems which would best suit our needs. 
After looking at all available technologies, we decided that the “green”, “cutting edge” diesel generator + electric engine system that we’d tried to design, scaled to a 40-foot boat, was not realistic and not able to be finely tuned enough to be viable. This took us over a year of research and discussion to determine and finally discard, but reality is what it is.  So, we will have a “traditional” AC generator + a two-engine arrangement (Kohler generator + Yanmar diesel engines), but we did decide to use lithium ion battery technology in our power management design rather than traditional AGM (lead acid) batteries; a controversial move on our part.

Battery Decision points:

·        There are significant weight savings with lithium batteries (1000 lbs. lead acid vs. 250 lbs. lithium), which is very important to maintaining the light and lean aspect of XYZZY as a performance sail cat.

·        Another main advantage of lithium batteries are their ability to accept a heavier charge; the charging cycle is much faster and more forgiving than those of AGM (lead acid). Lithium batteries can accept a lot of amperage all at once, allowing a shorter recharge time, whereas AGM batteries accept a bulk charge to only about 80-90% of their capacity, and then have to be trickle charged over a long period to top off the balance.  That requires additional generator time (think additional fuel), especially if supplemental solar power isn't available at the time you need it (i.e. it’s cloudy, nighttime, etc.).  Most sailing cruisers don't run their engines and generator for long periods during the typical day, and so risk degrading/shortening the life of their AGM batteries by never charging them to full capacity.

·        On the other side of the charging spectrum, lead acid batteries should only be run down to about 40% of their total amperage, whereas lithium can be run down to 20% without causing battery degradation.  Granted, the recharging technology is more complicated for lithium, but that tends to be built in to the battery management monitor, and is actually easier than AGM for the "end user" to manage.  

·        Costs for lithium technology are still relatively high, as the technology is still very new, but lithium batteries (theoretically) last three times longer, so even though they're expensive, the cost of amp hours over time is actually less than traditional technology. 

·        Lastly, many people raise legitimate safety concerns about lithium technology, referring back to some of the recent disasters with the technology at Boeing.  Of course, this made us pause in our tracks and research! It turns out that there are several different chemistries that can be used to produce energy, and what the Boeing folks used was based on cobalt, which is very volatile and unstable.  The manufacturer we've chosen (Mastervolt) is using the least volatile and safest chemistry available at this time.  Also, remember that the basic idea of any battery is energy being stored and contained; they can all explode under certain conditions or if poorly maintained, regardless of whether they're lithium or lead acid.  So, given the mix of plusses and minuses, we have decided that our battery bank will be comprised of lithium ion batteries.
Air Conditioning:

Yes, we will have air conditioning!  I know this may seem heretical to many sailing purists, but I sweat buckets at the slightest provocation already, and have to be able to enjoy our times in tropical climes!  We designed the AC for the boat to be three zones, and three corresponding AC units, so we will at least have some granular control over the usage, and won’t be cooling unused areas while they’re not in use.  A small 9K BTU unit will address the master cabin, a 16K BTU unit is for the starboard hull (guest cabins), and an 18K BTU unit is for the master head and main salon area.  After doing extensive review, and visiting their manufacturing facility in person, we will be using AC systems by Flagship Marine.
Solar Panels:

Part of the total electrical input design embraces solar power as well as battery power. 
We will have a total of 1KW of solar power, which will be laid out along the top of the cabin and coach roof.  

Most traditional solar panel choices tend to be fairly heavy (40-60 lbs. per panel) which would have added 250-300 lbs. to the boat. After checking out all the options, we purchased Solbian panels, which are fairly new technology, can be walked on (gently), and best of all, only weigh about 3.5 lbs. each. Our total installation of 12 panels will add only 40 lbs.!


Sails and Sail Management - Our sails and rigging are being provided by Mack Sails, while much of the deck hardware will be the “Black Magic” line, purchased through Harken.  Colin Mack, Travis Blain, and Neil Harvey have all personally visited our Sarasota build several times already to work together with the builder to determine the layout and dimensions needed.  We really feel very lucky to be building XYZZY in South Florida, within easy reach of so many quality experts, and as much as we have depended on the Internet for our research, there have been quite a few times when we felt it was important to be able to pay a visit to the vendor’s facility, and see the process.  We chose Mack Sails for a number of reasons, but our key decision points were that they were responsive to our needs and questions, they had experience with the in-boom furling (see below), and they could provide the entire package: mast, boom, sails, and all rigging.  We spoke to many companies who did only one part or another out of all four, but because the sails and rigging are such an integral part of a boat’s performance, we decided we wanted the entire package from a single responsible vendor who can tweak the performance as a single system.


 Main Sail Storage:

There are really three ways to deal with mainsail storage and reefing on a cruising boat.  By far and away the most popular method is to use a “stack pack”, sort of a cloth cradle that attaches to the boom into which the main sail folds, and then which zippers closed.  We’ve seen this design on every cruising charter we’ve been on.  However, off shore cruising means that it is important the mainsail be able to be reefed as needed to deal with high winds, with at least three reefing points.  Each reef point has various lines associated with it, which invariably get caught while trying to raise and lower the sail as needed.  In addition battens (the stiff, horizontal inserts that give the main sail its shape) tend to get stuck in the lazy jack lines that support the stack pack, which means more intervention required to adjust the main sail. On most charters, it takes two people to raise/lower/adjust the main sail: one to work the winch and the other to go on the cabin roof to babysit or untangle all the battens and lines.  This would not be a workable longterm arrangement, and we feel strongly that sail adjustments should be able to be made by one person, from the safety of the cockpit.

The next most popular solution for mainsail management is in-mast furling, which means that the mainsail rolls up inside the mast (on the vertical) as it is let out and taken in.  Since the sail actually rolls up inside of the mast, there is no need for stack packs or lazy jack lines, and the sail can easily be managed from the cockpit, by just one person.  But there are definite disadvantages to this solution as well. Because of the furling mechanism, the sail shape tends to not be optimal, which contributes to poor performance.  But more importantly, it can be a safety hazard; it works well when it works, but if the furling mechanism fails, you may easily be stuck with too much sail up, or having to manually take down the sail altogether. Also, the sail that will work with in-mast furling is very expensive.

The last method, which we've chosen, is in-boom furling.  This method really only requires one halyard and one furling line to operate, it has the possibility of infinite reefing points, and the sail can easily be manually dropped completely if the mechanism fails.  These systems have not been popular in the past, but recent improvements have made them much more reliable.  We are installing a Schaefer boom with in-boom furling.

Mast Selection:

 Our mast will be a Selden aluminum mast, approximate. 52' high, putting us about 60-62 feet off the water, to allow passage along the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway). There are many bridges along the ICW, and some are as low as 65 feet from the water, and travelling the ICW is a definite on our cruising list.  We thought briefly about a carbon fiber mast, because they weigh quite a bit less, but given our bad experience with carbon fiber (see "What We Did on Our Summer Vacation" in September 2012) as well as the cruiser belief that carbon fiber masts are the first ones to be hit by lightning in an anchorage, we decided to stay with aluminum!


The original design of the Fusion called for a self-tacking jib which travels along a track at the front of the boat, in front of the mast, but the builder's experience to date has been that the sail was too small for light air (there’s a LOT of light air in the Caribbean), so we opted for a 130% genoa instead, which will also be roller furled.  As wind strength increases, up to about 30% of it can be furled to create a smaller sail area.  If the wind increases even further, that sail can be furled completely and we can raise a Yankee or Solent jib in its place, which reduces the available sail area to about 60%.  For very light air, we will have a Code Zero spinnaker on the bow sprit in front of the forestay to fly, hopefully with some amazing graphics!  Code Zero sails are the very colorful, balloon-like sails that you often see when a sailboat is heading downwind.  

 At this point, these four sails will comprise our inventory.  We are still debating whether a storm jib is necessary, given that the Yankee may give us a small enough area. (A storm jib is a very tiny headsail flown in very heavy wind, just to maintain stability, but not to power the vessel at all.)  Again, we want to be sure that all sail and line handling can be managed from the cockpit by one individual, a safety mantra we've heard repeatedly from cruisers in every class we've taken. If the weather's bad or you need to change sails while the other person is sleeping, being able to stay in the cockpit is most desirable.

And of course we can’t have a sail discussion without involving winches; the leveraging mechanisms that allow a sailor to raise and lower the sails without undo strain.  Similar to a pulley system, a winch gives you a multiple force mechanical advantage over the weight of the sails.  Winches can be manual (insert a handle and turn) or electric (push a button).  Even though many purists eschew electric winches, we are both over 50 years old and know our limitations; we will have two electric winches on the helm station, and two manual winches in the stern (which will have the option to convert later to electric) for the Code Zero.


 In the last couple of months, the work on XYZZY has transitioned from the outside    to the inside, and cupboards, shelving, and cabinets are beginning to take shape.  Talk has (finally!) turned from engines and batteries to wood paneling, Corian colors, cushion choices, and window styles.  Here are some of our pictures from September and October, as the interior is sanded and readied for gel coat and wood veneer, and we prepare for a November visit! 

Crossbeam, Seagull Striker, and Catwalk installed and waiting for tarps

Interior fiberglass gets sanded smooth to be ready for veneer and gel coat


  1. So many decisions! Basically like building a house.
    Hope it all comes together to your liking and in a timely manner.

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