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Three Little Birds - Multihull cruiser and racer

Sep 15, 2010

A new big bird has flown the coop. This unique water fowl would be Three Little Birds, a 36-foot trimaran recently built by Aquidneck Custom Composite Fabrication of Bristol, R.I. The tri is designed to cruise comfortably, as well as race in long and short venues. Three Little Birds is a demountable, high-performance multihull designed for fast ocean passages as well as comfortable coastal gunkholing.

Three Little Birds is the commission of Kevin Baxley, a committed multihull cruiser and racer. “I got the cat bug 20 years ago and haven’t sailed a monohull since,” said Baxley. While in his mid-twenties, Baxley, now 60, sailed on Long Island Sound. Its light summer breezes soon prompted him to sell his 26-foot sloop and opt for the additional speed of lighter weight catamarans.

Baxley owned several Corsairs, an F-27 and an F-31. These gave way to not only one, but two Chris White Atlantic 42s, one built in South Africa and the other in Virginia by Lombardi Yachts. Baxley believes that a trimaran affords him the most connected ride with the sea and so started his endeavor to hatch Three Little Birds. The challenge came in designing a 36-foot trimaran that would sail competitively and serve as a pleasant cruising platform for three people.

David Walworth, a long time sailing buddy of Baxley, was given the design challenge. Based in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Walworth specializes in multihulls which venture beyond convention while never losing sight of the need for safety. Walworth is quick to point out that 200 percent wave-piercing amas are paramount to the design. Each hollow ama, with its fine forward section, displaces twice that of the hull and cannot be stuffed under a wave, making for a safer design.

Walworth believes that the boat will be able to approach true wind speed upwind — when the true wind is in the 8- to 15-knot range. Above that wind speed, the boat speed will likely flatten out due to an increasing sea state. When on a reach, Three Little Birds should be able to hit the low 20s regularly depending upon the wind, but again, eventually sea state will limit the speed. Off the wind, the boat should match wind speed in anything above 5 knots up to 25 knots of true wind. On a beam reach with 25 knots and smooth water it should match that speed. The boat should do very well slightly throttled back while still covering great distances comfortably.

Built to be fast and light, Three Little Birds is a great example of cutting edge marine engineering and building. The lightweight, 6,000-lb hull is constructed using uni-directional S-glass with Nomex honeycomb and SP Corecell A500 foam core. To further reduce weight, it was equipped with a minimalist yet comfortable interior. All structural and interior partitions are carbon and Airex C70 foam cored panels. The dagger boards are a combination of carbon and E-glass. All laminates are vacuum consolidated and post cured. These materials and techniques are mandated in order to limit weight while maintaining high strength. It is clearly a specialty within the boat building community which few builders would venture to undertake.

On deck, Three Little Birds is spacious. All lines lead to a large cockpit for the ease and safety of short handed sailing. All deck hardware is by Harken and Spinlock. The companionway eliminates the dilemma of “one hand for me and one for the boat,” cradling the sailor during rough weather as well as offering convenient access to the interior. Steering can be done from either the cockpit or from the amas via permanently mounted outboard aluminum tiller extensions. The flush deck has four Vetus hatches which provide good ventilation. The demountable amas are attached to the hull with beams, which connect to the hull using removable pins, thus allowing for inexpensive and easy overland shipping.

Down below, Three Little Birds offers unusually roomy space for a trimaran. With dedicated berths for four and standing headroom of 6 feet 3 inches. A clean look is created with surfaces finished in semi-gloss Awlgrip paint and hand-rubbed cherry trim. Canvas doors add minimal weight.

The interior is reached through a custom sliding companionway door hatch and down a composite teak and carbon fiber staircase. To starboard there is a stand-up navigation station. Aft of the nav station is a large quarter berth with engine starting batteries underneath. To port is a full galley with a custom refrigerator that utilizes a Sea Frost air compressor. An integral sink forward and a Force 10 two-burner propane stove are located inboard.

Forward of the galley is an L-shaped settee, upholstered in Sunbrella. A 12-volt freezer and additional storage is located under the settee. More storage lockers are located outboard. A bench settee/pilot berth with more storage underneath is located across from the settee. A hanging locker to port serves to divide the saloon area from the head. The head features a hand-held shower and a Lavac head with manual pump that is plumbed into the multihull’s 26-gallon holding tank. The head has both hot and cold pressure water as does the galley. A housing for the carbon fiber dagger board is located across from the head. Meanwhile, up forward, a full V-berth for two has a four-inch Beckson removable plate located in the collision bulkhead for added ventilation via a foredeck cowl vent.

Finishing off the accommodation spaces is interior LED lighting by Cantalupi and Hella.

Three Little Birds’ rotating carbon rig and fixed sprit was built by Hall Spars. There is a modified Park Avenue boom to simplify handling of the fully-battened square-topped mainsail and the cockpit awning. The jib and Code 0 are set up on roller furlers. Shrouds are 11mm Maffioli Ultra Wire with Dyneema lashings. Sails are by Quantum/ Thurston of Bristol, R.I.

For auxiliary power there is a 21-hp Nanni three-cylinder diesel with ZF saildrive and a Slipstream two-bladed folding prop. Three Little Birds has an estimated motoring range of 150 nm, which may seem low, but given the boat’s ability to move in light air, is adequate. Unlike a catamaran, a trimaran lacks a large cabin top on which to mount solar panels. Therefore, a lightweight, yet powerful house battery bank was chosen. The heart of the electrical system is the 320-amp, 12-volt lithium batteries by Mastervolt.

Electronics by French manufacturer NKE include cockpit repeaters, speed, depth, and wind indicators. An Apple Macintosh computer is used for onboard navigation along with a Garmin GPS. An Icom VHF receiver is located at the nav station with a fully functional command mic in the cockpit. Meanwhile, additional equipment includes an Iridium satellite phone, a passive AIS collision avoidance system by Garmin and a five-inch Ritchie compass.

Aquidneck is a small boat yard with an impressive collection of talent. Headed by Bill Koffler, its success stems from experience and creative thinking, along with willingness to embrace new technology. Aquidneck is a yard that builds some of the finest performance yachts in the world. Most known for their building of Chris White designs, the Atlantic 57 and 42, Aquidneck specializes in building lightweight, strong boats.

Walworth and Koffler have created a unique boat. They have met the challenge of designing and building a fast yet comfortable boat with  a variety of uses. There are sure to be more birds to fly from this nest.


Annie Lannigan is owner of Sarasota, Fla.-based Marine Market & Design Group and has sailed extensively on her 65' Kanter sloop, Te Mana.

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