Small boats have to satisfy many different expectations these days to stand out in a competitive marketplace. They ought to be fun and affordable while easy to handle and simple to maintain. Stability is high on the list, as is adrenaline, because the family should be along for the ride without white knuckles but when you want to, you should be able to let ’er rip. And from mast up to lines off it should not take more than half an hour.
In the past that was the niche of Hobie Cat, but since the iconic company from Southern California turned its attention toward the paddle sport, there’s a gap which Corsair Marine is now filling with their smallest model, the Pulse 600 trimaran. “The Pulse is for novices, or beach cat sailors who switch to take the family; but it also appeals to those who like to sail fast without a lot of fuss”, says Werner Stolz, Germany’s importer of the boat.
Corsair Marine, which revolutionized the production market for cruising trimarans, was founded in 1984 in Chula Vista, Calif., by the late John Walton, a son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. The first model to roll off the assembly line near the Mexican border, the F27 designed by Kiwi Ian Farrier, became an instant success. It incorporated a patented mechanism to fold the amas in a jiffy for docking in a narrow slip or trailering; living quarters below deck with bunks and a galley; and attractive sailing performance. It spoke to sailors who were done with beach cat gymnastics, but also dinghy and keelboat enthusiasts who wanted a faster pace. Inevitably, race wins followed, but also ocean crossings and other Corsair models that hewed to the same line. Still, the firm sailed into trouble and was sold for a symbolic dollar in the mid-1990s, followed by Farrier’s departure and the move to Vietnam in 2006. In 2010, Corsair was acquired by Australian builder Seawind Catamarans, which shares the same production facility in Ho-Chi-Minh-City.
The Pulse 600 is the smallest Corsair model at this time and was designed by French naval architect Francois Perus, who also drew the Slyder 47, a cruising catamaran that is marketed by a German company. The Pulse is built using a fiberglass sandwich with PVC core and vacuum infusion with vinylester resin. Only the crossbeams that bear the largest loads are manufactured in traditional manual layup. In addition, two carbon fiber frames add stiffness to the center hull, with the forward frame supporting the mast and the aft frame, the curved mainsheet traveler. Surfaces for sitting and stepping on are covered by gray non-skid that is glued on. The Pulse’s wide sailing beam of 14' 9" is quickly reduced to 8' 0" for road transport thanks to the folding mechanism that has remained a mainstay of Corsair trimarans. And at 1,000 pounds when empty, the boat can be towed behind almost any car.
Visually the Pulse is very different from earlier Corsair boats with negative rake to its bows, which are designed as wave piercers, and drastically higher volume in the amas, which are canted inward on top, reminiscent of the Danish Dragonfly 25. The boat’s third prominent feature is the colored, removable hood that covers the stowage space in the bow of the center hull and can be closed off toward the cockpit with a foldable companionway board made from plastic. While the idea is practical, just like the waterproof stowage hatch in the cockpit floor underneath, fitting the board into the guides and locking it can be a test of fine motor skills.
The Pulse 600 is quickly rigged thanks to a gin pole and a manual winch on the forward mast support of the trailer, both being eminently useful for stepping the stick. After the boom with the rolled-up main was attached, the boat was backed down the launch ramp on it trailer. New England Corsair dealer Bob Gleason demonstrated to us how to fold out the amas on the water before he inserted the daggerboard and cassette rudder. Everything on board looked simple enough, perhaps even minimalistic, yet nothing was amiss. The hoisting of the fully battened laminate mainsail on the test boat turned out to be a bit cumbersome, because the bolt rope did not harmonize with the feeder fitting of the rotating aluminum mast. The 31-foot spar interestingly consists of two parts that are riveted together at spreader level. There are two reasons for this, according to Gleason: First, the boat comes in a 23-foot shipping container, which is only possible with a two-part mast. Second, aluminum profiles in Vietnam are limited to a length of 20 feet.
Our short delay was immediately forgotten as soon as the trimaran was let off its leash, as we had a puffy westerly that got the Pulse going and the pulse racing. At 280 square feet of upwind sail area, the boat is not exactly over-canvassed, but sufficiently powerful for its intended use. Along the way a pit stop was made to get drinks and take on another crew member, which required furling the jib, raising the daggerboard and the rudder and sailing right up on the beach. Come to think of it: It’s just like a Hobie Cat, except on three hulls. And that is one of the main attractions of the Pulse: Three adults never step on each others toes, because the deck space is significantly larger than on a beach catamaran of the same length.
It is even possible to designate one crew member as “pit man” to tend to the halyards and control lines in the cockpit of the center hull. That’s a bit of a luxury and not necessary in light and medium air, because two adult men of 350 pounds combined crew weight are absolutely sufficient to sail this boat with dispatch and agility. At the same time the voluminous amas create enough flotation for a good sail with four adults on board. Add a cockpit tent, sleeping bags and pads and it is possible to spend the night in camping comfort, even with a cooler and portable head that would fit in the stowage area of the center hull.
Excitement was building before our first tack: Backwind the jib or not? No need to, because thanks to the single board in the centerline of the main hull, the boat was as easy and quick to turn through the wind as a large dinghy, at least in flat water. Also pleasant was the precise steering and almost neutral feeling of the helm due to the single rudder. Cleverly, the test boat had a long Battlestick tiller extension, which made it possible for the helmsperson to drive the boat comfortably when seated all the way out on the windward ama at the shrouds, with good visibility of the telltales in the jib and of traffic to leeward. Also noted were the hiking straps on the trampoline that induce sporty sailing. The North wardrobe on the test boat was impeccable, although racing sailors might want better access to the downhaul of the mainsail, which is a critical sail control on multihulls. It needed a much longer line to allow operation from the helmsman’s position on either ama.
The fun meter went up a notch when the blue gennaker was let out of the bag that was lashed to the starboard trampoline. Tacked to the bowsprit, it added a whopping 344 square feet of sail area. Initially it had been only 270 square feet, before Corsair upped the size to add light-air power. The sheets were led through Ronstan turning blocks with ratchets, but the lead positions were not finalized when we sailed the boat; Gleason was experimenting with Spectra pigtails attached to the beams to find the optimum angles. Either way, the Pulse immediately added a few knots of boat speed, throwing some spray on deck as the rate of progress climbed into double digits during puffs.
On the way back upwind, the little trimaran had to prove its mettle. As on all light multihulls, it wants to be sailed to the Golden Rule: Windward hull out of the water with crew weight forward. The goal remains always to keep the stern from sagging, which creates an undesired slowdown. In choppy waters and variable wind speeds, it helped to crack the sheets a smidgen and bear off a few degrees to let the bows pierce the waves as they are intended to do. Reassuring for novices are the boat’s stability and mellow angles of heel as the Pulse seemed very happy with two hulls in the water.
And if the wind is holding siesta, a small portable outboard with two or three horsepower can take up the slack, as there is already a fixed bracket installed on the stern. Whether it is a small gasoline engine with a built-in tank like the Suzuki DF 2.5, or an electric outboard with integrated battery such as the Torqeedo Travel 1003, is up to the owner’s choice and conscience. More important is the weight of the engine, because even when tilted up and out of the water each ounce that is along for the ride back there is a slow-down factor. Sticklers might take off the motor for sailing and stow it forward in the cockpit of the center hull.
The entertaining spin on Buzzards Bay proved that Mr. Scholz’ assessment is pretty accurate. The Pulse 600 indeed makes it easy for sailors of different skill and experience levels to satisfy the need for speed while offering more deck space, more hull volume and stability than catamarans of the same size. And all of that without requiring circus acts on a trapeze wire. If a mellower pace is desired, it doesn’t put the Pulse on the spot, because it has the necessary volume to accommodate guests. Regatta aficionados will be satisfied to learn that this little trimaran will be organized as a one-design class.
On the test boat a few details of the sailing hardware would have benefitted from tweaks for racing, but these were minor issues. With a base price of $42,000 including sails (Doyle is standard) and another $2,000 for a road trailer, the Pulse is not exactly a steal. But this figure is in the ballpark for a boat that has the legs to go fast and the space to accommodate a leisure sail with friends and family or even weekend cruising ambitions. But above all, it adds a new dimension to the idea of simple fun-filled sailing off the beach.
For more information, visit Corsair Marine.
|Beam (full/folded)||14'9"/ 8'0"|
|Draft (board up/down)||9"/ 3'11"|
|Mainsail||282.2 sq. ft.|
|Spinnaker||344.4 sq. ft.|
|Price||$42,000 (incl. sails)|