New Boats

Re­views of the Xcat, HH55 and Beneteau Sense 57

SAIL - - Contents - By Adam Cort

If ever there was a Swiss army knife of a boat, it’s the Xcat, win­ner of a SAIL 2017 Best Boats award in the day­sailer cat­e­gory. Not only is this a sail­boat that dou­bles as a twin-hulled row­ing shell, it also breaks down eas­ily for car-top­ping or stor­age, and is avail­able with a va­ri­ety of add-ons—rang­ing from hik­ing seats and a nifty lit­tle dry bag with ded­i­cated at­tach­ments for keep­ing valu­ables safe to a small four-stroke or Torqeedo elec­tric out­board. Ex­tra-long pad­dles are even avail­able that al­low you to use the boat as a kind of two-per­son SUP. How cool is that?

Best of all, ev­ery inch of this fun lit­tle boat is care­fully en­gi­neered, so that for all its seem­ing com­plex­ity it is dead sim­ple to as­sem­ble, dis­as­sem­ble, launch and sail. All-up weight for the boat is 120lb (165lb in­clud­ing the sail­ing rig) and no tools are re­quired to clamp to­gether the hulls and an­odized frame in as lit­tle as 10 min­utes. In sail­boat mode, the Xcat car­ries a mod­ern square-top main­sail (with built-in flota­tion in case of a cap­size) and a siz­able jib set on a full-length bowsprit: an ar­range­ment that pro­vides plenty of power even in the light­est breezes.

The hulls are con­structed of high-den­sity poly­eth­yl­ene (HDPE) molded around an EPP par­ti­cle foam core and then joined on an out­ward-turn­ing flange that serves as a kind of long sharp keel (think of the sharp bot­toms on the hulls of the orig­i­nal Ho­bie Cats) that also pro­tects the rest of the hull when beach­ing. The re­sult­ing struc­ture is easy to clean, virtu- ally in­de­struc­tible and tracks well un­der sail. Ac­cord­ing to the man­u­fac­turer, the boat can even be steered with­out the rud­der by mov­ing crew weight fore and aft, as per the old sail­ing ca­noes of the late 1800s.

As for those oars, they don’t just keep the boat go­ing in a drifter, they keep it go­ing pretty darn fast. Not only that, they in­clude an exquisitely en­gi­neered link­age that al­lows you to row the boat while fac­ing for­ward as op­posed to star­ing at your own wake. The ac­tion of this unique “Row Mo­tion Pro” sys­tem, as it’s called, en­gen­ders no en­ergy loss and even al­lows you to feather the oars be­tween strokes, the same as you would with con­ven­tional oars (which are also avail­able for those who pre­fer row­ing “back­ward” the old fash­ioned way).

Of course, the ques­tion with boats as cut­ting-edge and out­side the norm as this one nat­u­rally be­comes whether or not they can ac­tu­ally sail: and I’m happy to re­port that the Xcat’s per­for­mance on the wa­ter in no way takes a back seat to its novel de­sign brief.

Launch­ing from the beach at Jonas Green State Park in An­napo­lis, the boat im­me­di­ately shot out onto the placid wa­ters of the Sev­ern River in around 10 knots of breeze. Even with my 200lb bulk on board (not to men­tion that of Alex Caslow, owner of Red Beard Sail­ing, which mar­kets the boat in the United States) the boat proved to be nim­ble when com­ing about, and the sin­gle rud­der was easy and re­spon­sive.

Hard­en­ing up through the oc­ca­sional power­boat chop, I was es­pe­cially pleased to see how the boat’s nar­row hulls sliced through the waves while los­ing lit­tle way. Be warned: this boat is go­ing to be wet when it’s blow­ing. But then again, isn’t that half the fun when you’re do­ing this kind of sail­ing?

Both as­sem­bling the boat and break­ing it down after­ward were as easy as ad­ver­tised. As a re­sult, not only will stor­age back home be lit­tle, if any prob­lem, but you can car-top, launch and sail the Xcat pretty much any­where you please, thereby open­ing up a whole new world of gunkhol­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties. Not for noth­ing did this boat snag a SAIL Best Boats award. s


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