Rob Melotti sailed aboard the Morelli & Melvin designed HH66 catamaran and talked to top designer Gino Morelli

Gino Morelli and Pete Melvin, more commonly known as Morelli & Melvin, are at the centre of almost every development in catamaran performance technology over the last three decades. Their credits include extensive developments with the A Class catamaran, Steve Fossett’s Playstation catamaran, BMW Oracle America’s Cup winner, the Emirates Team New Zealand AC72 that brought the world to foiling, the Olympic Nacra 17 and the junior class, Nacra 15.

So the chance to race around St Maarten aboard one of the team’s latest performance catamarans, the luxurious, high-speed HH66, R-Six, was not to be missed (HH catamarans – a new range of performance cruisers from China). Morelli then joined us on the dock after the race for a bit of a chat.

Gino Morelli on designing performance superyachts

I began by asking his views on the current state of the superyacht market and whether M&M had plans to get into superyacht design. “The performance-oriented superyacht market is still just starting out,” he replied. “There’s a bunch of giant 150-footers that are basically just powerboats with rigs – Mousetrap might be the only one that’s even close to being a decent sailboat.

“I think it’s taken a while for the technology, the rigs and sails, and boat construction to get owners enough confidence that you can build a 100-plus footer. We did the Gunboat 90 – that’s the biggest luxury [boat we’ve done] – and that boat can still fly a hull. Like the HH66, it flies a hull in about 25 knots true – it’s not a powercat with a rig, it actually goes sailing.

“We’re seeing pressure to move up the food chain. From 60s to 80s to 100s. Hopefully we’ll get those jobs. We’re pining for the opportunity to spend somebody’s $20-30million and looking forward to smoking half the traditional superyacht fleet – teaching them what sailing can be like.”

What foiling configuration is ‘best’?

The HH66 has 4m of daggerboard in the water at full draught with about a metre of curvature. This creates around 15 per cent “lift fraction”, which is a reference to the percentage of the boat’s overall weight (around 20 tonnes) that the boards can lift. On our round-the-island race, R-Six did fly for a few minutes with the wind on the beam and boat speed at over 20 knots. But I wondered which of the many semi-foiling, foil-assisted, four-point, three-point set-ups he currently favours.

“We’re working on the TF10 – it’s a trimaran foiler, 10m long, [commissioned by] five guys from NY yacht club. It’s basically a flying Corsair trimaran. Built out of all carbon in Holland by Holland Composites. It’s a fully flying four-point foiler.

“It’s really what we call a gentleman’s racer. So it’s not quite GC32 or AC45 stupidity, but it’s close. You still might want to wear a helmet, but it doesn’t quite have the acrobatics involved.”

“Currently the most user friendly [foil configuration is] what we call the four-point foilers (Read our review of the Formula Whisper four-point foiling catamaran dinghy). Just because it eliminates the need to raise and lower the boards.

“If you’re going across the ocean and don’t change the foil for three days, a three pointer is probably going to win you some miles, but the slight delta in speed between the three-point and four-point boat in any sort of short, enclosed course… for this kind of stuff, four-pointers are much more user friendly, safer, more forgiving – you don’t quite have to be Jimmy Spithill to keep it flying.

“That’s kind of our current track. I keep saying ‘We’re like the Wright Brothers. We just learned to fly, like, a week ago.’

“We go through variations in design in a two month cycle. It’s horrible for manufacturers because the next idea is probably better. It jumps so much.

“We did the Nacra 17 Olympic class cat [designed in 2011] and that was right on the edge when we were just learning how to fly with Team New Zealand. It had the curved boards but didn’t have the T-rudders yet. We didn’t have time to develop the T-rudder before the Olympic trials – and then, they went with it.

“So we had this funny, bizarre boat that’s very difficult to sail but good guys can actually fly it ‘teeter-totter’ on the single foil. It’s a tough boat to sail well.

“So then we developed the 15-footer as the youth training boat – and that boat from the get-go has four-point foils, so it’s immediately faster than the 17. So ISAF, says ‘Hold it. You mean the smaller youth boat is going to be faster than the Olympic boat?’ So we’ve actually detuned the 15 a little bit so it doesn’t quite leap-frog the 17 too quick.

“That’s how fast it’s developing. Our new boat is always faster than our old boat.”

DSS foils on catamarans

“We’ve been fooling around with the moustaches and the top-downs and the DSS foils they all have their sweet spots but the trouble is – what are you trying to fly?

“On this boat (HH66 R-Six) we’re flying dishwashers and washing machines and refrigerators. You know – this boat has 15 per cent lift fraction on its daggerboards – an AC72 has 100 per cent lift fraction. [Gunboat 66] Extreme H2O has got another metre of daggerboard [than the HH66] it’s lighter by at least 1.5 tonnes, it’s got a big rig, so it has about 30 per cent lift fraction. I can see a trend that lift fractions will go up but how many dishwashers, washing machines and coffee makers are we going to be flying upwind?

Gino Morelli

Gino Morelli

Why is St Maarten Heineken regatta so special?

“It’s a combination of things,” says Morelli. “The round island race is one of those benchmark races [because the course hasn’t changed over the years], so there is a true historical record. Also, the racecourse is right there. You don’t have to motor out for three hours getting to the startline.

It’s very easy for people in the US to fly without changing time zones, there’s direct flights from all over the place to St Maarten, there’s plenty of hotels around here.

I’ve been four or five times and my wife comes with me and hangs out and we enjoy the food – it’s very cosmopolitan between the French and the Dutch – I think the BVI’s are probably a little easier for Americans [to get to] but the racing here is hard to beat.”