Imagine a 30ft boat that rates with a Farr 52 and can be sailed by a crew of four

“I like having a 28ft boat that can be raced with three crew and go as fast as a 40ft monohull, costs 20% of the price and is as exhilarating to sail as a dinghy.” That was Mike Wigmore’s answer when I asked him why he sailed multihulls, and it’s certainly a fair point. The MOCRA rating system is roughly equivalent to IRC when course and conditions favour the multihulls, and ranges between 1.15 and 1.45 – that’s IRC Classes 0 and 1, putting the multis up there with boats double their length.

This is the third season since the multihull fleet returned to Cowes Week, and Mike is delighted to be here. “It’s fabulous to be part of the mainstream,” he said. “I’d sold my boat when I heard that Cowes was going to have a multihull regatta, and immediately went and bought another one.”

This year the MOCRA fleet has been divided in two – MOCRA and MOCRA Grand Prix, to give the lower rated boats more of a chance on the leaderboard. Mike’s trimaranTriptychhas headed the MOCRA fleet on six out of seven races so far, while in the Grand Prix fleet Ben Goodland’s catamaranTeam Eberspächerhas led four of the races – good practice for their start in the Round Britain and Ireland race on Monday. Ben explained the reason for dividing the fleet: “The rating band covers a huge range – it’s like racing a 707 and a Mumm 30 against each other. For the guys in the little boats, as soon as the tide turns and you start to get the chop come up, they really start to take a pounding.”

For Ben though, the strong winds of the past few days have been perfect. “The harder it blows, the faster we go, although it’s a bit harrowing on some of the reaches. There’s an angle of sail on a multihull where you can either foot off to depower or head up, and one way’s the wrong way. You only find out when you’ve done it.” He continued: “The attraction of these boats is raw speed. With a mono, you’ve got a big lump of lead on the bottom and and the boat’s going to come upright again. With a multi, that doesn’t happen – you’re always running on a knife-edge. There’s a real adrenalin factor.”

Intrigued, I took Goodland up on his offer of a sail yesterday morning. Unfortunately the wind had dropped, but even in light airs we were pulling ahead of boats considerably longer thanTeam Eberspächer’s 30 feet. The vocabulary was slightly strange – although I’d heard of the ‘screecher’ and the ‘tramp’ before, this was my first experience of a boat where the natural progression is from jib to screecher to gennaker, rather than the usual genoa – spinnaker approach found on the monohulls racing at Cowes. It was also slightly odd to be doing anything up to a recorded 16.4 knots on a reach with only a few degrees of heel. Although this speed is slow forTeam Eberspächer, who regularly clocked 23 knots while flying a hull in the stronger winds earlier this week, it was enough to show me how multis can lull their owners into a false sense of security until they’re looking at the sea the wrong way up.

Also strange was Ben’s circumspection – even a slight wind increase can tip a multihull into a very fast reach that is far from tolerant to course changes. Heading back to our Squadron – Alpha finish line with the smaller of the boat’s two screechers pulling, we were slowly passing yachts flying gennakers. It wasn’t until we bore off slightly to the line that Ben hoisted our own gennaker, and even so he had a wary eye on the wind. “I have to be careful,” he said. “Doing 18 knots through a crowded fleet is downright dangerous – we have to be able to bear off to depower, and if we did we’d probably end up on the Squadron platform.”

I’ve never been sure about multihulls before – there’s something slightly clumsy about some of them compared with the smooth lines of a Fife or other artistically designed monohull, but I can now definitely see the attraction. Passing things is the obvious key to racing, and multihulls really let you do it in style – you even have to slow down.