Renowned New Zealand yacht designer Murray Ross’ 16.6m performance catamaran was the perfect example of this.
Built for speed while being spacious and comfortable to live aboard, the boat (originally named Isis) with bright red hulls was launched in 2004 and regarded as a build ahead of her time, showcasing numerous attributes of a designer keenly in tune with high-profile racing yachts of the day.
Fourteen years on, long-time friend and fellow Whitbread and Volvo Round-The-World and America’s Cup sailor Erle Williams adopts exactly the same opinion of ‘cruising’ with the need to have a boat that’s light, strong and easy to handle shorthanded – not to mention the ability to simply sail fast.
As the new owner of the Ross-designed catamaran, Williams has just project-coordinated an extensive six-month re-fit at Bluefix Boatworks in Opua, following the boat’s return to New Zealand from Fiji where it had sat at Vuda Marina on the hard stand for some six years.
Now renamed Apache and sitting in her new home at the Bay of Islands Marina, the boat stands out with clean rigging, sleek grey paint job, matt-black mast, and state-of-the-art electronics and hardware.
As Williams admits though, it’s taken a mammoth amount of work to get to this point through a complete internal and external re-fit.
The boat had previously competed in a handful of Coastal Classics and cruised throughout the islands with Murray himself at the helm, as well as being run as a charter business.
But the last few years out of the water and weathering several hurricanes had taken its toll on the boat, which meant there was much work to be done when she docked into Opua.
“The team at Bluefix has carried out an extensive refit. The boat was fully stripped, repaired, upgraded, re-painted inside and out, re-wired and given a complete engine refit,” says Williams.
A big part of the process has been coordinating multiple marine specialists to carry out work and supply parts on Apache.
This has included KZ Marine Group’s full service of the in-boom LeisureFurl system, machining of standing rigging parts, and supply of a Genoa racefurler. SeaMac supplied companionway bi-fold doors while Doyle Sails has fitted out a new mainsail and genoa.
Fabrication of stainless fittings and machining required was carried out by Total Engineering, and the electrical upgrade by EM Power including the addition of 400 watts of Solar and LED lighting throughout. Kiwi Yachting supplied Lewmar hatches, jammers, winch motors and parts.
Maintaining the boat’s weight has been a big focus during the re-fit.
“For a 16.6m cruising catamaran to only weigh eight tonnes reflects Murray’s awareness of weight during the design process, and we were careful to maintain this.
“We’ve made some good weight gains in the rig by replacing the nitronic rod forestay with a Future Fibre torsional cable and fitting EC6 carbon/titanium standing rigging, both supplied by Southern Spars. I decided going with EC6 was worth the extra cost in the long run, because if looked after it can last 10 to 15 years. It’s light, has minimum stretch and low windage,” says Williams.
The new 60% carbon sails are also 20% lighter and, with the genoa now lashed at the top and the use of modern downwind furling sails which go on the lock, Erle has been able to remove the genoa and spinnaker halyards.
For Williams, it’s taking a different tangent to the high-performance sailing campaigns of his past, but having watched his father build a catamaran while just five years old, carrying out this project fulfilled a childhood dream.
A boat builder by trade, Williams attributes much of the project’s success to the relationships formed with staff members at Bluefix Boatworks.
“You want people around your project that really care. The expertise of the guys up here and their commitment to do a great job was essential and very much appreciated.”
These included Bluefix owners Brad and Charlotte Rowe, along with accomplished boat builder and foreman Tim Hight, experienced engineer Dave Lowes and world-renowned Superyacht painters Tony Millar and Kenneth Johnstone.
“Given the custom nature of this job, it was reassuring to know they had some boat builders experienced in carbon composite and exotic materials on site,” he continues.
Owner of Bluefix Boatworks Brad Rowe says Opua’s servicing history hasn’t always included projects of this calibre and is excited at what the future holds for more of this kind.
“It gives people confidence to know we’re backed by a world-class team of boatbuilders, marine painters, and engineers who work out of a new, purpose built re-fit facility, and have more than enough expertise to offer this kind of work,” says Rowe.
He also says the nature of Opua’s marine industry means it’s easy to source any complementary services, whether they be engineering, fabrications, upholstery or rigging, within walking distance.
As for what Apache’s future holds, there’s plenty of family cruising on the horizon in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and possibly a Coastal Classic or two.
But if there’s one thing that you can be sure of, there’s no way they’ll be going anywhere slowly.