When the Sint Maarten Yacht Club announced plans to host the brand-new Caribbean Multihull Challenge – the first edition of which will take place from February 8-10, 2019 – the organizers hoped to attract catamarans and trimarans of every persuasion. Among them, of course, they wished to lure some of the coolest, most technically advanced boats on the planet. One of the regatta’s first entrants, the blazingly fast, distinctive 53-foot cat Fujin definitely fills that bill.
And Fujin’s regular Seattle-based crew, which includes Olympic Gold Medalist and America’s Cup veteran Jonathan McKee, can’t wait to return to the fresh tradewinds and sparkling Caribbean waters they’ve come to know well. After all, it was less than a year ago that the boat suffered a major setback after capsizing off the island of Saba some 11 hours into a very windy edition of the Caribbean 600. Now, following a complete refit in Antigua that included a new rig, new electronics and new engines, Fujin will return to the racecourse for the first time in St. Maarten during the Caribbean Multihull Challenge.
Owner Greg Slyngstad, a former Microsoft executive who has settled into a comfortable retirement and now kiddingly refers to himself as “a sailing bum,” knows and loves St. Maarten. He raced in several St. Maarten Heineken Regattas aboard a series of monohulls before commissioning Pacific Northwest naval architect Paul Bieker – who at the time was working with the Team Oracle USA America’s Cup campaign – to design a fast, light, cutting edge 53-foot cat. And thus, Fujin was born. During his Microsoft days, Slyngstad spent some time in Japan and became immersed in the country’s culture, and named the boat after a Japanese god of wind.
“I was looking for a name that was different and I liked the sound of Fujin,” he said (the names for his previous monohulls, also influenced by his time in Japan, were Hamachi and Wasabi). “It’s a very fast boat. We’ve topped off at over 32 knots. It doesn’t have a very big rig compared to most of the big multihulls we race against, so in light air we struggle a bit. But once the wind gets to about 15 knots Fujin is one of the fastest cats out there. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Weighing in at around 7 tons (“less than half the weight of a Gunboat 55,” said Slyngstad), the all-carbon catamaran was built in St. Croix, U.S.V.I., by Gold Coast Yachts. While extremely light, the 53-footer still sports a full cruising interior and is a true dual-purpose racer/cruiser. She’s also a handsome boat with a very singular profile that Slyngstad describes as “a unique Polynesian look.”
Designer Bieker had concrete reasons, beyond appearances, for creating those striking bows. Slyngstad said that, when Fujin is fully powered up, there’s a tendency for the transom to lift, so Bieker added volume and floatation forward to keep the bows from punching into waves and to prevent any chance of pitchpoling. “That was one of the driving forces,” he said. “The other was to cut away the shape behind the actual useful part of the bow to reduce windage. For any boat going upwind, the biggest component of drag is from the windage above the water.” By eliminating a portion of the topsides and replacing it with a sweeping curve just aft of the leading edges of the bows, Bieker created a more efficient hull form and a quite lovely one at that. It was a perfect marriage of form and function.
After the boat’s launching several years ago, Fujin competed in a couple of St. Maarten Heineken Regattas and has also been campaigned in New England during New York Yacht Club regattas and in other events like the famous Vineyard Race from Long Island Sound to Martha’s Vineyard and back. In fact, Fujin destroyed the course record two years ago by shaving some five hours off the previous record of just over 20 hours.
Then came last year’s fateful Caribbean 600. Fujin was just emerging from the lee of Saba when she was belted by a strong lifting puff – the breeze had been a steady 25-35 knots with gusts in the 40s – and “went right over.” After about 10 seconds, the spar broke and the hull inverted, and the entire crew went into the water. Within minutes, everyone had safely scampered aboard the upside-down hull and signals from the personal A.I.S. beacons worn by each crewman were picked up by other yachts.
Soon after, a lobster boat from Saba arrived on the scene, took the crew aboard, and towed Fujin into the island, an 8-hour ride. A couple days later, a crane righted the boat which was then transported to Antigua for the long, total refit. But Slyngstad said that Fujin was covered by insurance and the boat “was good as new.” Or perhaps better, as a couple of small modifications were made from lessons learned sailing over the previous few years.
The Caribbean Multihull Challenge will be the boat’s first real test, and a tune-up for the 2019 Caribbean 600. And Slyngstad and his crew are looking forward to again racing in St. Maarten. “It’s such a great place to sail, with warm water and warm weather,” he said. “The trades are usually reliable and it’s convenient for cruising with St. Barth’s and Anguilla close by. It’s just a great spot.”
And this February, the adjacent waters will be teeming with multihulls, in company with Fujin.