History

Seafire is a Jim Brown-designed Searunner 40 trimaran, measuring 41′ length on deck and 24′ wide. She has a centerboard, with her mast and cockpit located amidships over the centerboard trunk. She has a transom-hung rudder, and is rigged as a cutter. Her overall length is 43’6″ including the pulpit and rudder assembly. She was first launched in 1979.

The name Seafire comes from the 56th hexagram of the I Ching, an ancient Chinese text:

Fire on the mountain: The image of The Wanderer.  When grass on a mountain takes fire, there is bright light. However, the fire does not linger in one place, but travels on…

Seafire is my family’s second cruising trimaran. The first, Sorceress, was a Nottingham-built Piver Victress, forty feet in length and twenty-two feet wide. We owned her four years, from 1968 until 1971 (from the time I was seven until I turned eleven), and during that time lived aboard on Seattle’s Lake Union for a year and spent two years cruising in the Pacific.

The boat served us well during that period, but had three major weaknesses.  First, because it lacked lateral resistance (no keel of any kind), the boat wouldn’t go to weather particularly well.  Second, there was no significant protection for the bottom in case of accidental grounding on coral (only an inch of plywood).  Third, the aft cabin had only teeny little berths, which would ultimately necessitate my older brother and I moving into the main cabin and sharing sleeping accommodations with my parents (a prospect they found unacceptable).

While we were cruising in the early ’70’s we met Frank Werz with his brand-new Searunner 37, Calafia, in Hilo, Hawaii. The highly innovative Searunner series seemed to address our Victress’s weaknesses very well: a centerboard for enhancing upwind performance, a mini-keel (1’x1′ laminated log on the bottom of the boat) for underwater protection, and an accommodation plan which enabled the builder to have as many as five double berths spread among two cabins.

After returning to Seattle in 1971 we spent some time sailing on Hugh Foulke’s Djarvana, another Searunner 37, and this further solidified our belief in Jim Brown’s designs.

We started building Seafire in 1975, when I was fourteen years old. Mindful of the attractiveness of having a ‘professionally built’ boat, we incorporated as Tahoma Marine. We launched her in 1979 after four years of construction, during two of which my older brother, Joe, completed the merchant marine program at Seattle Central Community College.  Our earlier cruising experiences in combination with my father’s intelligence (he was a Ph.D.), my brother’s mechanical aptitudes and training, and my mother’s ability to source appropriate materials enabled us to produce one of the best multihulls built in the Pacific Northwest.

Seafire is built from marine plywood with inner layers of fir and outer layers made of a very hard variety of mahogany. She was put together and coated with West System epoxy (a brand-new technology at that time).

Her construction is pretty much true to the original design, having the planned sail area and much of the interior layout.  The only significant alterations were:

  • Positioning the engine one frame aft, in an open, easily-accessed compartment, rather than in the tiny compartment on the port side of the centerboard trunk, enhancing servicing access and ease of replacement (my brother, a heavy-set mechanic, demanded that we do this).  Over the years, multiple mechanics have thanked us for this alteration.  An addition benefit was moving the weight distribution aft slightly, enabling increased anchor chain storage in the forepeak.
  • Doubling the galley area from the standard 40-inch length (one frame-span) to 80 inches.  My mother, an avid cook, demanded that we do this.
  • Assembling the minikeel from laminations of plywood rather than lumber to reduce the likelihood of rot-producing stress cracks.

During the two decades Seafire spent in the Pacific Northwest, she spent her time cruising (from Puget Sound to Desolation Sound, with much time spent in the San Juan and Gulf Islands) and racing. At various times she has been moored at Des Moines, Sandy Point (near Bellingham), and Lake Union and Shilshole (both in Seattle).

My wife, Karryn, and I spent a year and a half working full time to get Seafire ready for the five year cruise we did 2001-2006, and during that time modified and enhanced virtually every system on the boat.  We focused on setting things up to be reliable and simple (more towards the Pardeys’ philosophy) rather than easy (the Dashews’ philosophy – high dependence on electricity, power winches, remote controls, furlers, etc.). In doing this, we chose to minimize our dependence on diesel-generated electricity by installing solar panels, foregoing refrigeration and incorporating LED lights wherever appropriate.

Our major enhancements at this time were: autopilot, windvane, radar, septic system (new head, 47-gallon holding tank), watermaker, inverter, new standing rigging, mast overhaul and repainting, SSB radio, new deck and hull paint, new ground tackle and anchoring system, revised electrical system, larger battery bank, high-output alternator, new stove and grill, new hard dodger, new stanchions, bow pulpit and stern pushpit, new seacocks and hoses.

During our extended cruise we added a second watermaker, a wind generator, two additional solar panels, a backup windlass, and systematically improved the equipment and repaired any damage done by the ocean or the sun.

When sailing offshore we didn’t push the boat very hard.  When I was ten and sailing aboard our first trimaran, Soceress, we managed to blow the rig out of the boat on the passage between Tahiti and Hawaii, when we still had about 600 miles to go.  We spent a few days wondering if we’d be starving to death at sea, until we figured out how to put together a jury rig.  On Seafire, I didn’t want to have the same experience, so we sailed with only the small cruising main and a yankee, and slowed the boat down whenever its speed exceeded eight knots.

The terminus of our trip was Samoa; the return passage back to the Pacific Northwest was primarily upwind; Seafire performed amazingly all the way back.

There are a number of areas where Seafire’s outfitting is different from the approach others might take:

  • We stuck with hanks rather than installing a roller furler.  Because the boat is a cutter, reducing headsail area is a simple operation of dropping one sail and raising another.  In addition, because my wife and I when in our 20’s had owned a racing boat with a roller furler, we became distrustful of them in heavy conditions because of the potential for accidentally unfurling in high winds.  These concerns were confirmed while we were weathering a chubasco in Mexico (a chubasco is a summertime thermally-induced storm lasting about eight hours and having winds of about 80 knots) and a boat anchored immediately upwind of us had its genoa unfurl during a gust.  The sail lasted about ten minutes, sounding like a battlefield, until it was fully shredded.  Fortunately, the boat’s anchor held.
  • We’ve stayed with hard dinghies rather than inflatables, and oars rather than outboards.  Hard dinghies have longer lives, particularly in the sun-drenched tropics, and are repairable (we built Seafire’s matching HH Payson-designed Gypsy Nymphs in 1992 and are still using them).  In addition, hard dinghies can be equipped with sailing rigs, a wonderful source of entertainment when anchored in scenic places.  Finally, oars are more reliable than outboards, create stronger bodies, are easier to store, don’t stink, aren’t loud or explosive.
  • We’ve stuck with manual windlasses rather than electric ones.  Again, reliability: we didn’t want to be faced with immobility in the event of an electrical system failure.
  • We stayed with paper charts rather than going with a GPS chart plotter.  Our rationale was that, after two generations of chart collection, we have quite a few charts, and these charts are more reliable than their electronic counterparts.
  • We set up the boat’s electrical system to be powered by solar panels, and enhanced by a wind generator when the wind was up, rather than going the fossil-fuel route and using diesel for power generation (in spite of 13 years of use, Seafire’s engine has only 2000 engine-hours on it).  The most significant thing we had to forgo was refrigeration.  Warm beer is way more fun than listening to a loud noise hours per day, every day.
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