WHERE EAGLES DARE
Yachting World|June 2020
PHOTOGRAPHER RICHARD LANGDON SAILS A HIGH PERFORMANCE WINGSAIL CATAMARAN FROM THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC TO FLORIDA
RICHARD LANGDON

It was an experience I’ll never forget: blasting downwind across the Northeast Providence Channel, on a deep water passage from New Providence to Chub Cay. We were sailing inside the Bermuda Triangle, just a few hundred miles off the US coast but in a place that is uniquely wild and sparsely populated, fringed by mile upon mile of shallow turquoise waters.

We were not aboard your typical cruising cat. The Eagle Class 53 is a unique carbon catamaran with a hybrid wing and soft sail. It is super light, and super fast, and we took it on an early season northbound sprint from the Caribbean to the USA. The Eagle Class 53 is currently set up with C-foils, but the purpose of our trip was to safely send her on her way up to Bristol, Rhode Island, where the builder, Fast Forward Composites, will shortly be fitting T-foils for full-on flight.

Our trip began when we touched down at the end of our third flight, landing in monsoon rain in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. After a hair-raising taxi ride though the thousands of motorbikes and scooters that teem across the city, we wearily arrived at Ocean World Marina on the north coast. My first impressions were that the country (which shares an island with Haiti) is more akin to Cuba than the Caribbean. Rather incongruously, the gleaming Eagle Class 53 awaited us in the marina, surrounded by slightly ageing architecture. Meanwhile, huge swells generated by the strong northerly winds broke over the breakwater.

OFFSHORE DAY SAILER

My wife Rachel and I are in the photography business, but both of us have quite a few ocean passage miles under our belts. We knew the Eagle inside out from previous photoshoots, but those usually involved us going back to our hotel after dark. This trip was going to be part photoshoot, part delivery, as we took what is essentially a high performance daysailer offshore. The end destination was Fort Lauderdale in Florida, and along the way we hoped to visit some of the best spots in the Turks and Caicos and Bahamas.

We’d sailed the Eagle 53 many times in 20-plus knots over the previous season, and learnt that she is well behaved, if a little exciting at times. Unlike the America’s Cup flying winged cats, the Eagle’s hybrid wing stays permanently hoisted, and when not in use is freed to feather in the wind. The wing has a track running up its trailing edge, along which a soft mainsail can be raised for extra sail area and a more efficient shape.

However, the soft wingsail is easy to back off when needed, and with a total crew of four including Rachel and myself, captain Tommy and his crew, we were confident that we wouldn’t find any conditions we couldn’t handle.

The 800-mile trip would be in passagemaking mode so we lashed fuel and water cans to the decks as we spent a couple of days preparing, while sheltering from the strong northerlies.

Unfortunately we’d have to miss out on the Turks and Caicos as a series of cold fronts were coming our way, promising strong headwinds for our trip north. We set off instead for Great Exuma, the southernmost Exuma in the Bahamas. In the early hours we slipped our lines and, with a slight push of the wing (a great stand-in bow thruster), glided sideways off our marina berth before heading out through the gap in the reef.

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