I’ve been a fan of Tom Wylie’s designs for nearly 20 years. The affair began with the Wylie Wabbit, a 24-foot pure sailing rocket. When he launched the first Wyliecat 30, Mustang Sally, 10 years ago, I fell in love all over again. This spare little boat has a single sail set from a bendy freestanding mast made of carbon fiber by Composite Engineering. The carbon-fiber wishbone boom allows precise control of the sail without imposing huge loads on the sheet. The Wyliecat 65 is a very grown-up relative of the 30.
Freestanding rigs appeared centuries ago, but they have gotten a bad rap in modern times. Apart from the fear of losing an unstayed rig, sailors have been hoodwinked by yacht racing’s handicap rule-makers. Unstayed rigs don’t rate well. Also, rumor has it that they don’t sail very close to the wind, compared with the ubiquitous stayed sloop.
The freestanding rig, as Wylie and Composite Engineering have conceived it, takes full advantage of the strength and flexibility of filament-wound carbon fiber. The mast is severely tapered, allowing it to bend to leeward in gusts, depowering the sail. A properly engineered and constructed rig of this type works very well, letting a given boat carry more sail longer into building wind before the crew needs to reef.
Broken shrouds and spreaders account for most of the dismastings, so a rig that doesn’t rely on these bits to stay in the boat can’t be bad. Caught in a hard chance with far too much sail area exposed, the crew can simply let the sheets fly, and the sail(s) will weathervane, arresting what would surely be a broach aboard a boat with a stayed rig.
The wishbone boom is self-vanging. Its angle relative to the luff and clew of the sail puts tension on the foot. This tension prevents the boom from lifting. These rigs require so little force to trim that you have to experience it to believe it. I must concede two points to the critics-freestanding rigs are rarely lighter in weight overall than a well-designed and built stayed rig. A freestanding rig won’t sail as close to the wind or as fast as a stayed sloop rig. The venturi between the jib and main does give more lift and power.
Wylie designed the 65 as a school ship for an oceanographic research project. He’s also drawn the cruising version shown here. Dividing the sail area eases sail handling and allows the crew to balance the boat for a wide variety of conditions. Holding station under sail is one thing this rig does better than any other, equally important to stealth-mode research as it is for heaving-to in a storm or slowing for lunch. At anchor, you can raise a bit of mizzen to hold the boat head to wind and prevent it from sailing around.
Wylie’s boats have always been fast, and I expect the 65 to carry on the tradition. She’s narrow for her length, nearly four beams to her LWL. A shallow canoe body with thoughtfully distributed volume creates an easily driven boat. Her power to carry sail comes from a low center of gravity and the bendy characteristics of the rig.
The styling, simple and purposeful, reflects the designer’s quest for speed, easy handling and safety at sea. I love its honesty and timelessness.
Contact: Tom Wylie, (925) 376-7338; www.wyliecat.com.