Multihull Performance- Mad Max

Mad Max racing at Hamilton Island race week
Mad Max Hamilton Island Race Week 2015. Photo courtesy Hamilton Island Marketing

Mad Max has been dominating the inshore race results in Australia for quite some time now and is the current title holder (2015) of the Australian Multihull Championships having won the series on OMR and taking line honours in every race. 

She beat Seacart 30 Morticia across the line in 5 of the 7 races at Airlie Beach Race Week 2015 and in all six races at Hamilton Island Race Week 2015.

And she has a long history of line honours victories in events like the Marlay Point Overnight Race, the Bay to Bay and the Surf to City.

so what makes max fast?

There are three fundamental elements that determine the outcome of any particular race or series of races. These are the platform, the preparation, and the events that unfold throughout the course of the race. 


The first element, the platform is what you start out with on the day. The hardware, the stuff you can’t change. It’s the hull shapes, the configuration of the boat, the rig, and foils.


The second element, preparation is result of the work you’ve put in to optimise the platform, select the crew, plan the tactics, study the course and the weather conditions you can expect.


The third element is what happens on the day, be it chance or simply the outcome of a judgement call that was absolutely brilliant, a major blunder or something in between.

You might want to call this luck and there may be an element of chance involved, but for this article let's call it Tactics and Techniques.


 Your result can depend on whether you got a good start, whether you pick the right side of the course, tacked on the right shift, whether you chose the right sail combo for the conditions, or maybe whether the crew had an early night and were sharp and focused for the race.

George Owen has been at the helm of Mad Max for several years now and I posed the question to George “What is it that makes Max so fast right now? George was very generous with his response and there’s a wealth of valuable advice George’s comments for the keen racing skipper.

George’s comments are pretty much reproduced word for word with only minor editing, and after deleting a few tips on downwind performance that George wanted to keep up his sleeve.

Catamaran Mad Max Racing

1. The platform

Changes to the Original Platform and Rig

Continuous improvement is important and we are always thinking how to make the boat go faster and how to improve the way we sail.  We've made a lot of changes to the platform and the only original parts of the boat left are the hulls.  Some of the major improvements are:


•We changed the two beams/floating pole arrangement to three beams with prodder – the boat is much stiffer now and wracks far less.

•Marstrom Carbon wing mast and boom. there’s now less weight aloft and the  light boom makes a hell of a difference when gybing in breeze.


•Marstrom centreboards and rudder – the boat can achieve  very good height upwind, is very well mannered steering & tracking wise, and the rudder make steering even at warp speed very precise.

• Synthetic rigging – less weight aloft.

•We fitted a nacelle for the  outboard motor in the centre of the hulls – this got outboard weight into the centre of boat instead of hanging off one hull.


•Compression post  fore and aft between the forebeam and the main beam - to stop the front beam from bending aft when little screecher halyard on tight. This had the added benefit of stopping the centre beam from being forced aft when cranking the rig tight


• Keeping the bottom in good condition. The boat gets a new coat of paint whenever it needs it.

•I spend a lot of time watching videos of the AC45’s, Extreme 40’s, M32’s and any other series for that matter to try and see where improvements can be made.



Boat Hardware

 We are continually optimising the sails and equipment. For example the Karver furlers for the screechers are excellent.  Once we learnt how to feed the furling line into the furler from the correct angle by using Riley split blocks up near the furlers their performance really helped.


We have two RAYMARINE plotters, one in each hull.  The plotters provide mapping but more importantly a dedicated data screen in big numbers – COG/SOG/BTW/DTW/DEPTH.  Down the back near the driver we have RAYMARINE ST72’s  which duplicate the Data Screen when the main plotter is being used in MAP mode.  The data screen is important to track performance & to understand how the tide is affecting your speed/course particularly when the tide is turning and some areas are behind/ahead of the low/high tide time.


The latest addition, the Pontos winches, were great at Airlie and Hamo (Hamilton Island) for (a) hoisting the screechers from the cockpit thus keeping crew weight on the rail and (b) sheeting the screechers.



 We had a new set of Quantum sails at Airlie.  This is I think the 3rd set Ben Kelly has designed for MAD MAX.  This has been a journey particularly with the main.  The 1st main was too full.  This latest set is a bit flat at the top in the light so we have some lighter top battens for the top.  The screechers are very good.  But the sails are the product of continuous improvement.  The screechers were originally spinnakers, and over time have evolved into screechers,  gone onto furlers, are smaller, flatter & faster.


Mad Max has the boards canted outboard at the tips. When we can get the windward hull out of the water the leeward board is straight down.  We had superior height & pace over the seacart upwind & were deeper & faster downwind. The crew are all to leeward on the downwind.

Catamaran Mad Max racing in fresh breeze

2. Preparation


 We have developed a pool of experienced people we can draw on for regattas as not everyone can do all events.  There are a number of things I look for. 


Tactician – An essential role.  Helping to develop a game plan for each race,  keeping head out of the boat for windshifts and pressure lines.  Keeping driver aware of what is happening around him. 

At the nationals we had Ben Nicholas (World Tasar champ), Airlie we had Bob Engwirda (Hobie guru), Hamo we had Ben Kelly.  The one thing they have in common is that they are very good sailors in their own right.  I am very comfortable with them and we communicate well.  There were a number of times where we had a better game plan than other boats like Mortica, and others where good tactical decisions gave us a significant lead.

It is very important that we are harmonious both on and off the water & we don’t have any cliques.   I also look for multihull sailors preferably as Mad Max is just a giant off the beach boat.

Are they racers?  Five racing brains are better than one or two or three or four.  During those races where the breeze is all over the shop if all of the crew have their head out of the boat you are more likely find that one line of pressure that will separate you from the fleet than other boats whose crew just sit there waiting for instructions.

Fitness is another critical factor. Mad Max is a very physical boat to sail well/hard.   It is 10 metres long and 6 metres wide so just getting from side to side, front to back when it’s rough and the windward hull is up in the air is a mission.  Winching sails requires a lot of strength, even the jib. 

When we decided to put the Pontos winches on I said to the boys “someone better start going to the gym”.  At Airlie we had “Pontos Pat” who could get the masthead screecher almost all the way to the top in top gear, and do the last little bit by 3rd gear from the cockpit.  The other boys couldn’t get close to Pat.  I am short on the youth bit so I was going to the gym 5-6 days a week & had a personal trainer six months prior to Airlie

Mad Max catamaran close up shot of crew
Mad Max Surf to City. Julie Geldard Photo.

Catamaran Mad Max racing at Hamilton Island
Mad Max in downwind mode at Hamilton Island. Julie Geldard Photo

3. Tactics and Techniques

The most important thing about strategy is to get in front and extend all the time.


As the highest OMR rater if we get buried at the start or get stuck in a hole (even if we share the hole with the rest of the fleet),  we are dead.  You are bleeding time on OMR.  When we get in front it is difficult to maintain focus when there are no other boats around you.  But it’s the key to success on OMR on Mad Max.



 As Mad Max is often the boat out in front we have to be absolutely sure of the course, find all the marks, be spot on with the lay lines.  And the hardest part, find the finish line. Pat (Considine) and  Lee Randall have both been invaluable in the navigator’s role.


Boat Handling

 One of the first things I learnt racing Hobies was that there is ground to be gained through boat handling, particularly at the windward and leeward marks in round the buoy racing.   

I was watching an interview with Glen Ashby at the current A Class Worlds and he said the same thing.  I think that Mad Max has the best downwind sail sets and retrieves in the fleet. We deploy the screecher at the top mark as per the AC45 & Extreme 40 crews.  The screecher is up and set as we round the top mark.  Good furls are also critical as a poor furl can result in the screecher failing to deploy next time. 


At Hamo we got stuck in a hole. Morticia wriggled through (as light trimarans tend to do) and had a lead of a mile, maybe 1 & ½ miles.  On the subsequent run we caught them and passed them.   

In the photo above by Jules (Julie Geldard) Mortica was up with the TP52’s in the background.  Although the windward hull on MAD MAX is still in the water you can see from the wake there is very little drag.


Even in more breeze we went for more crew to leeward.  Modes

We have learnt that we have different modes for different wind and sea states , and where the cross over points are.  


For example at Hamo where it was often rough we were faster than Mortica upwind but we wanted to increase that advantage.  What we decided was that we needed to “foot” more.  This is difficult as the easiest thing to do when it’s windy and lumpy is to point. 

The reason pointing is easier is that as you go up the face of the wave the wind tends to lift you so the windward hull lifts higher out of the water.  When you go over the wave the wind tends to head you and the hull comes back down.  If you point it tends to even out and life is easy.


So when you foot, everything is exaggerated & steering becomes more frantic with bigger rudder inputs.  But we went much faster and ended up with better height.  The tactician now calls out the SOG numbers as the driver is too busy watching the waves and bows ensuring we keep the pace up. 


Now that we do this we need a short tiller extension on the tiller arms so I can lean out more as the tiller arm steering inputs in this mode are quite big compared to pointing mode & require you to sit right in.



Crew action aboard Mad Max racing at Hamilton Island
Mad Max Hamilton Island Race Week 2015. Photo courtesy Hamilton Island Marketing

Airlie vs. Hamo. Lessons Learned

Another 5 seconds and MAD MAX would have won Airlie.  Woulda/coulda/shoulda???  Why the difference in results between the two regattas?


Airlie is a better regatta (for us anyway) for a number of reasons:


• The water at Airlie is generally flatter.  MAD MAX suffers downwind in breeze and wind against tide seas state.  The front beam buries quite easily


• There is more round the buoy racing.  This year we had two bay races and two windward leewards.  This places more emphasis on good starts and good crew work


•We have done 3 regattas now and know how to avoid/sail through places such as “The Bay of Death” – Bluff Point

Hamo was a learning curve for us with the last race showing we had learnt/improved.  The differences between sailing at Airlie and Hamo were:




• Hamo was all passage races.  Some of the holes around the islands are challenging to get through especially with another 100 cruisers chopping up the air


• Hamo has more tidal influence which is more noticeable when the wind is against the tide


• We had to learn how to sail Mad Max especially downwind in the short standing waves wind against  tide.  “Ugly Corner” (southern tip of Dent) was a case in point.  

A couple of races required us to sail down the western side of Dent against the tide.  We tried frequent gybing along the shore to stay out of the tide but did not seem to do well out of this.

The last race we sailed really hot over to the west of the Whitsunday Passage, overlaid the northern tip of Dent and smoked it back across the passage going a lot faster through the water.



Mad Max and Boatworks leading the fleet in racing at Hamilton Island
Mad Max setting the pace Hamilton Island Race Week 2015. Photo courtesy Hamilton Island Marketing

In Summary

We don’t like coming second and having some serious competition is always a good thing.  It was obvious (to me anyway) that the arrival of Mortica at Pittwater improved Darren Drew’s sailing (on Indian Chief) quite a bit.  Likewise it made us lift our game. 

It’s not one thing but a number of things that must align and you have to be continually on the case if you are going to have success, especially if you have the highest OMR rating in the fleet.

Crew of Mad Max receiving trophies at Australian Multihull Championships

Mad Max crew at the trophy presentation at the Australian Multihull Championships in Geelong 2015.

From the left; David Whitcroft, Ben Nicholas, Tony Considine (owner), George Owen centre with trophy,  Patrick Considine, and "Harry on the right who was a young sailor we met at Geelong".

Construction plan for catamaran Mad Max
Mad Max construction Plan

Original lines plan and construction plan for Turning Point - Design 101, which was designed in 1997 and was the predecessor to Carbon Copy  (Design 126) built by Daryl Dorset. Carbon Copy was later renamed Mad Max under the ownership of Tony Considine.

Lines plan for catmaran Mad Max
Mad Max Lines Plan
Carbon Copy racing in the Bay to Bay Race-01
Carbon Copy racing in the Bay to Bay Race-02

A couple of shots of Carbon Copy under the command of Daryl Dorset - snapped by Gordon Myers at the end of the first day's racing in the Bay to Bay Race - sometime in the late 1990's.

Gordon had crossed the line and pacing the sails when Carbon Copy came charging through on one hull in some fresh breeze.