Trinity is a custom 45ft performance trimaran designed by Reichel/Pugh to be fully adaptive and wheelchair accessible

Californian sailor Terri Nelson likes nice things. One of her pet peeves, she tells me from her home in San Diego, is that even when checking into luxe hotels, as a wheelchair user she misses out on some of the finer design elements that other guests enjoy.

So it’s no surprise that when she commissioned a custom-designed trimaran, one of the key briefs was that it should not look like an adaptive boat. Instead it needed to combine performance, style, and a certain luxuriousness: a tough brief.

Terri Nelson had sailed for much of her adult life, initially on Hobie Cats, then Catalina 30s, and bareboat chartering with friends all over the Caribbean. Always highly active despite her limited mobility, she enjoyed adaptive snow skiing and, as she puts it, “trying almost everything except parachuting”. For many years she used crutches to get about on land, and found the confines of a cockpit relatively easy to manoeuvre herself around in. After Nelson became a parent she began using a wheelchair more frequently. Her love of sailing never waned, however, and once her daughter had grown up she began to mull the idea of building a custom boat that would be fully wheelchair accessible.

“One day I thought, it’s either now or never. So I looked up who the local marine architects were, and I decided to drive down to Shelter Island and just see if there’s a parking place, because that’s important to me. Sure enough, there was a place right in front of Reichel/Pugh’s office.”

The spontaneous trip led to a meeting with the Reichel/Pugh design team, and the concept of Trinity was born.

Trinity is optimised to perform well in light winds, with Nelson planning to race locally in San Diego. Photo: C/O Reichel/Pugh

“When she came to us, neither one of us had any idea what this boat would look like,” recalls Jim Pugh of Reichel/Pugh. “But it evolved from discussions with her about her past sailing – her experience was on monohulls – and we sort of discussed and sketched up some different concepts. A trimaran offered good feel and sensation while being very stable and sailing at low angles of heel, which is pretty important.”

There are few fully adaptive sailing yachts in existence – the catamaran Impossible Dream was an early reference point, but the design quickly set off in a different direction. “I wanted to race, so Trinity is called a cruiser, but I consider it a performance cruiser,” explains Nelson. “I wanted it all. And Tony [Beale, senior naval architect] at Reichel/Pugh knew that.”

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“That was quite a big challenge,” says Jim Pugh. “Incorporating that accessibility combined with aesthetics and performance, and designing a beautiful yacht was a top priority for her and for us. We wanted to incorporate a design that had the graceful curves and proportions that Reichel/Pugh designs are known for, without compromising that accessibility.”

Trinity is constructed of carbon and foam core with light weight being a key objective, and was built at New Zealand Yachting Developments in Auckland. ‘We had to initially do a very extensive weight study – like you have to with any design, but we didn’t have a lot of comparable data for a design like this,” says Pugh. “Doing that weight study early, and tracking and monitoring the weight through the design and build, allowed us to evaluate decisions as the project went forward and through construction.”

The layout is designed to maximise both usable and wheelchair accessible space. The entire main deck is accessible, including a cockpit forward of the main saloon, the helm stations, and the aft deck, while Nelson’s master cabin and heads are also on the same level. An automated sliding door to the master cabin creates an open plan living area. The (non-adaptive) guest cabins are located down in the ama hulls, along with a second head, with machinery space below in the central hull and a sail locker in the forepeak.

Owner Terri Nelson taking the helm during sea trials in Auckland. Photo: C/O Reichel/Pugh

Access all areas

Full-width retractable doors that slide flush into the bulkhead create a single level area between the main saloon and aft cockpit as well as creating a sense of spaciousness.

The helming and sailing controls are also designed to be entirely accessible to Nelson from her wheelchair, with multiple helming positions: two outboard helm stations, and a third inside forward. “We designed some steering stations and then the yard [in New Zealand] actually built versions of them and sent them up to [California], with the wheel and everything. We had them in our office so that Terri could come in and try them,” recalls Pugh.

Flush sliding doors create a single level space between main saloon and aft cockpit. Photo: C/O Reichel/Pugh

The interior helm station sits next to an inside cockpit area with control lines led under shelter. Overhead windows provide sight lines for sail trim. The mainsheet is hydraulic with an in-boom furling main, furling jib and fully powered winches for push-button control.

The controls are designed so that, in time, Nelson will be able to sail with a high degree of autonomy. “I’m not there yet because it’s still a learning curve for me. I haven’t sailed for a really long time, and this is all new, and I have to figure out how I’m doing things,” she explains. “I’m not a skipper right now, I’m learning the boat, so I’ve got a skipper, and she’s really good. I’m going to gradually get more and more responsibilities, but it’s set up for me to go everywhere.

“Everything is push button. And everything else is [controlled] on an iPad – so the hatches open and close, right down to the screens and the shades.” The powered systems which control the doors, hatches and blinds are integrated into the boat’s C-zone system.

The mast base cockpit area with powered winches and push-button controls allows all sails to be adjusted from a protected internal position. Photo: C/O Reichel/Pugh

One of the key accessibility goals was for Nelson to be able to board the yacht on her own. Hull topside doors aft open to create an adjustable height boarding platform and ramp for access to and from the dock. “Getting off and on is really important, and I want to do it myself. I told them, ‘Make it so that I can go by myself.’ I won’t, I know that – mainly because I can’t dock her. Though I even looked into fenders that kind of go in and out of the hull, but really, you still need somebody else to tie up.”

Besides the access ramp there is also a lowering platform on the transom that Nelson can swim from, cunningly disguised as an aft cockpit seat, and bearing no resemblance to a conventional swimming pool hoist. “The middle of the rear of the boat has the teak seat. You sit on it and it will lower into the water or lower me into the dinghy – but you wouldn’t know that,” she says.

The inside forward helm station is designed for excellent visibility with curved windows outboard and glass panels in the roof. Photo: C/O Reichel/Pugh

Custom details

The interior is by Design Unlimited. Designer Nigel Jones explains: “The layout and functionality of Terri’s living spaces was particularly fascinating to develop. From corridor and open spaces to placement of taps, handrails and customised wardrobe handles there was an extra level of meticulous planning and design reviews that were required to ensure everything worked for Terri as seamlessly as possible.”

Some of Nelson’s favourite details include a custom-designed coffee station to house her beloved Keurig coffee machine, and a wardrobe with stowage that raises and lowers to make stored clothes easily reachable – based on a design she has in her own house.

There are two outboard helm stations, each with joystick and touch-screen controls. Photo: C/O Reichel/Pugh

The soft furnishings echo the seafoam green-blue of the hull, with crisp white and orange leather accents together with black carbon trim detailing. “I really wanted it sporty, I really wanted it to represent performance. And that means more contemporary.”

So far Nelson’s first custom-built yacht is exceeding expectations for sailing performance. “For a big boat, she handles really well. She is sharp and responsive and handles turns extremely well.”

Her sailing plans include some exploring of the local Coronado and Catalina Islands, and likely cruising south to Mexico. However, she’s also keen to put Trinity through her paces. “I want to do some club racing and probably longer races.

I want to put her out in everybody’s face!”

Trinity specifications

LOA: 13.71m / 45ft 0in
Beam: 8.30m / 27ft 3in
Draught: 1.93m / 6ft 4in
Displacement: 11,900kg / 26,235lb
Upwind Sail Area: 109m2 / 1,173ft2
Downwind Sail Area: 253m2 / 2,723ft2

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