Fujin is a Paul Bieker-designed custom 53ft catamaran, which capsized in the 2018 RORC Caribbean 600 race but was rebuilt for the 2019 race
After Fujin capsized during the 2018 RORC Caribbean 600 race it would have been understandable if owner Greg Slyngstad had thrown in the towel and walked away. But Slyngstad resolved to refit his boat and race her again. Not only is this all-carbon, high performance, cruising catamaran an extraordinary boat, but it has an extraordinary story to match it.
In 2014, Seattle-based Slyngstad was looking to replace his J/125 with something he could cruise quickly and comfortably around the Caribbean with his family. He had previous experience of sailing only monohulls but could see the advantages of a multihull and so turned to designer Paul Bieker, a fellow Seattle sailor, for a solution.
In a matter of months, a drawing for what became the B53 was on the table. Soon after it was full steam ahead building the new boat in St Croix. With Bieker’s portfolio ranging from foiling Moths to the America’s Cup multihulls, the B53 was always destined to be an interesting boat.
Fujin was launched in 2015 and exceeded Slyngstad’s expectations. Upwind she attains speeds of 13 knots with a tacking angle of 90°, which allowed the cat to keep pace with a Volvo 70 in the Caribbean 600 earlier this year. Reaching, Fujin regularly touches 30 knots.
Fujin is an all-carbon catamaran, with Polynesian-style bows, C-foils through each hull, a rotating mast and adjustable T-foil rudders. There are six berths, comprising of three queen size berths, one in each hull and one in the saloon. All cruising kit can be removed for racing with turnaround to full racing trim possible in less than half a day.
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In 2018, on his second attempt at the Caribbean 600 in unusually strong conditions, Slyngstad and his experienced team were caught out by a gust while rounding Saba during the first night of racing.
Slyngstad explains: “We came out of the lee of Saba, and were getting some big gusts coming down, it was very dark. There was one big stinger, we didn’t dump the sails quickly enough and went beyond the point of no return. It flipped over and laid on its side for about five seconds, then the rig broke.”
Fujin turned turtle but, fortunately, the team were all able to swim out from under the boat and no one was injured. Personal AIS devices alerted surrounding competitors and soon the message was relayed over VHF. Nicky Johnson, a fisherman from the tiny island of Saba, heard events unfolding over the radio and in the absence of any rescue services launched his own fishing boat to help the crew.
Nicky came out with just one crew and in a mammoth effort towed the upside down Fujin five miles back to Fort Bay Harbour in Saba. The tow was difficult. In strong headwinds they were making less than two knots; it took over ten hours.
Once in the harbour the small Saba community pulled together to help right the catamaran, hiring in a crane while local divers prepared under the water and Nicky’s wife even cooked cakes at 4am to bring down to the hungry crew.
Once Fujin was righted the next consideration was where the refit could take place. Finding a boatyard in the Caribbean with experience in this type of vessel would be hard. To head back to the US or to St Croix where Fujin was originally built would require another difficult tow across the Caribbean Sea.
After some research the team discovered NK Marine, operating from North Sound Marina in Antigua. Owner Tom Hellier had a shed that could take Fujin.
Gina McCorquodale, who was already part of the Fujin crew and had been on board during the capsize, was appointed as refit project manager and she, together with her husband Andrew, organised a somewhat easier eight-hour tow to Antigua where work could begin.
In a testament to the original build, structurally Fujin was in good shape post-capsize but every other aspect of the boat was in ruin. “The boat was a mess when it came up,” recalls Gina. “The most shocking thing was the weed. There was a high volume of it in every corner. We were scooping it out in armfuls.
“We managed to salvage the winches by stripping and removing them the second Fujin was righted, but everything else was pretty much destroyed. The deck gear was corroded, all electrics, interior furnishings and the engines needed to be replaced.”
This would not be Gina’s first major refit as project manager, but the normal challenges of co-ordinating contractors, ordering parts, and keeping on top of the work flow were made even more difficult by the extreme summer heat, the difficulties of shipping materials to Antigua (several items needed for the refit could not be transported by air).
“It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle,” says Gina. “I had to co-ordinate the jobs so each of the contractors could work in the right order and with the optimum space. It was important to plan ahead and make sure that materials arrived in time. I had a constant stream of things arriving and the paperwork was endless. If the ship was delayed or we had underestimated quantities there would be a knock-on effect for the whole project.”
On top of this Gina was working as the only woman on the job. “There were very few women in the boatyard,” she said, “One delivered the lunch and the other was a security guard. No-one had previously worked with a female project manager and I had to earn their respect, but over time we got along fine.”
The refit was split into four phases; first stripping down and cleaning, then a full survey, including non-destructive testing of key areas. Only then was it possible to plan how Fujin would be restored, consulting with the insurers and designer Paul Bieker.
As far as possible, Fujin was replaced like with like, with Gina and the team only making changes that would simplify systems based on their experience of racing the boat over the previous year. Greg was happy with Fujin overall and the boat had proved itself structurally strong. But some subtle improvements were introduced, such as moving the mast rotation controls from the forward to the aft end of the deckhouse, allowing them to be adjusted without a crew needing to leave the cockpit.
Instrument displays were added and angled for better viewing from the helming position; the hydraulic system previously used for the mainsheet was removed as with the crew’s experience of sailing the boat it was deemed unnecessary (instead the sail is now controlled by rope and an electric winch).
The foot buttons, which were used to manage the hydraulic main, have also been changed to finger buttons. Windscreens were added to the two helming positions to give protection when Fujin is up to speed.
Fujin was relaunched in the winter of 2018 and the team immediately started pushing her to perform. Slyngstad reports there was some initial nervousness but the crew all understood the capsize had been caused by human error and the whole team was determined to learn from the mistake and move on.
In a rewarding end to the story, Fujin raced again in the 2019 Caribbean 600, finishing as 3rd multihull across the line, only behind the two MOD 70s.
LOA: 16.33m (53ft 7in)
LWL: 16.17m (53ft 1in)
Beam overall: 8.00m (26ft 3in)
Draught: 0.40m-3.00m (1ft 4in-9ft 10in)
Mast height: 23.00m (75ft 6in)
Mainsail area: 108m2(1,162ft2)
Jib area: 46m2 (495ft2)
Asymmetric sail area: 197m2 (2,120ft2)
Diesel capacity: 380lt (64gal)
Water capacity: 500lt (110gal)