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A New Cat in Town

The current trends in transportation engineering mostly revolve around fabricating fuel-efficient vehicles. An innovative team in the BVI joins the trend by designing and building a one-of-a-kind, minimally consumptive powercat. In the heart of Road Town, in a small shed tucked away in the corner of the TYS yard, they are building the first Rodgers 29, a high-tech, lightweight power catamaran that the build team believe will bring an efficiency of motion and a breath of fresh air to the powerboat market.

Several years ago, old friends Bob Phillips and yacht designer OH Rodgers were in Christmas Cove, St Thomas enjoying an après-race beer during the Rolex Regatta. Bob’s eye was taken by a small ex-racing catamaran that had been cleverly converted to power by the talented St Thomian boat builder, Morgan Avery. Perched on a plastic deck chair under a thin plywood shade, Morgan effortlessly sped by with his centrally mounted 15hp outboard barely straining to the task. Bob simply said to OH, “Design me a 26-foot version of that. I want one.”

 

Roll forward a couple years to last October, and a frustrated Bob has OH’s 26-foot design in hand but has been unable to find a suitable yard to build the molds and the first boat. So, why not do the obvious and build the boat locally? Island Yacht Management (IYM) and Golden Hind Chandlery (GHC) waste no time in teaming up with Bob to do precisely that. It is a natural fit—IYM has the proven track record, having built 12 of the popular IC24’s, and Ramiz Abuhaydar from GHC has the supply lines to source all the materials. In a few short weeks, the IYM team has a model of one of the symmetrical hulls roughed up in ¾” thick pine strips over carefully cut out plywood frames set into a specially constructed base. It was decided to stretch the design to a shade under 30 feet and increase the beam to 12 feet, which is about the maximum beam a regular marina berth can take. The initial burst of progress is tempered by the yacht management season starting. The model of the hull, known as “the plug,” sits there clad in pine, but progress is halted until the New Year.

Shortly after the BVI Spring Regatta, a “Will this ever happen?” meeting is called, and it was time to get the project moving again.

 

The last six months have shown that a full-time project manager would be required to get the job done. Things fell nicely into place, and by July 31, IYM hired Miles Fossey to join the fray along with two young apprentices. Miles has useful experience in model making, boat building and project management. Bob has now set the launch deadline for hull #1—he wants to run the Interline Regatta in mid-October from the cockpit of the BVI’s first Rodgers 29.

So what is it that makes this cat so special? The design brief is to have a strong but lightweight day catamaran that can handle six-foot trade-wind seas whilst carrying up to six adults at around 25 knots with a range of 150 miles. The big difference between the Rodgers 29 and other commercially available powercats is that she has been designed to do all this with only 50hp or 60hp outboards that will burn a total of six gallons of fuel per hour running hard, much less if you are not in a hurry. The hull, decks, and beams will be high-tech, vacuum-bagged foam core construction using epoxy resin, not the commonly used polyester ‘boatyard’ resin. Epoxy resin gives much better strength to weight and is far more durable than cheaper resin systems.

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The team hopes that the finished article will have a wide appeal to both work and leisure markets. Wooldridge says, “If she does what it says on the label, she will be the most efficient way for small groups to travel around the Islands. The large shaded deck space will be an ideal place to hang out, and the fuel efficiency will be unheard of.”He adds, ”We plan to have hull #2 ready for sale in November, and after that, we intend to produce one hull per month.” Hull #1 will be kept in-house for extensive testing and general showing off. She will be at all the major regattas and will also be off on a Caribbean tour. “We hope that demand will exceed supply so we can custom build to our clients’ requirements.”

 

Though many hulls are tried and tested in the BVI, the cat has proven to be the most popular, among day charters, for balance and a raised water line. This project, with BVI apprentices learning a new trade, incorporates a winning formula of the speed and stability of a powercat coupled with economically and environmentally friendly fuel efficiency. And it’s 100% BVI.

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