There were plenty of catamarans at the 2019 United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis, Maryland, but the Eagle Class 53 was the showstopper.
“It’s wild, isn’t it,” a broker for a nearby catamaran said to me as I was inspecting the boat.
Sitting at the dock, the all-carbon, honeycomb-core catamaran, with its innovative hybrid-wing mainsail, C-foils, T-foil rudders, bowsprit, two forward steering stations and tall, raking rig looked like a hyped-up thoroughbred raring to get out of the gate.
The boat’s wide-open layout set it apart, too. The on-deck salon with aft galley, bar seating and curving settees are all exposed to the breeze. An attractive hardcover provides shade and some protection from falling rain, but there are no walls or windows and the steering stations are so far forward that the helmsman can look almost straight down at the water. There are no windshields either. The boat is intended to be steered from the windward station, so at speed, when the foils lift the boat, that station should rise above the spray.
The EC53 is not a full-blown cruising catamaran. She has a double bunk and a head in each hull, but the accommodations are minimalist. The engines are cleverly hidden beneath the bunks, but very accessible. More than anything, the EC53 looks fast, and according to her builders, she is. They’ve cruised her at a sustained 28 knots in just 15 knots of wind. She’s gone faster, but they’re still not sure how fast she will go with her current C-foils. T-foils will make her even faster.
Photos | Have a closer look at the Eagle Class 53 catamaran in the gallery below:
The EC 53 was conceived as a weekend daysailer according to Rachel Fallon-Langdon who handles public relations for the builder, Fast Forward Composites (FFC) of Bristol, Rhode Island. “It will only be sailed in warm climates by the owner who wanted to sail safely with family and friends and then have cocktails,” she told Soundings. “But we don’t want to be stuck in a box. It could strictly be a racer, or a cruiser, or whatever people want it to be.”
The EC 53 is the brainchild of Donald Sussman, a wealthy financier, philanthropist and avid boater who is also the owner of the first Eagle Class 53. He was inspired to create the Eagle Class after watching America’s Cup catamarans foiling on San Francisco Bay. Sussman wanted to put foils on his Gunboat 90, but when his captain said it couldn’t be done, Sussman decided to create what he wanted. Now, his Gunboat captain, Tomas “Tommy” Gonzalez, is the owner and president of Fast Forward Composites. Gonzalez put the company together; besides building the EC 53, FFC also builds composite components for the auto and defense industries.
Gonzalez gathered an international design team with America’s Cup foiling experience for Oracle Racing, Luna Rossa and Artemis Racing. Veteran America’s Cup naval architect Paul Bieker oversaw the EC 53 design while collaborating with other foiling-experienced naval architects and composite construction experts.
LOA: 54’2” Beam: 28’0” Draft (C-foils up): 1’ 2” Displ.: 13,200 lbs. Fuel: 65 gals. Water: 55 gals. Power: (2) 30-hp Yanmar diesel saildrives
The innovative hybrid-wing was co-designed by Olympic sailing medalist Randy Smyth and incorporates a battened mainsail that allows for reefing. The wing design eliminates the cumbersome de-rigging process of traditional wings, can rotate 360 degrees, and also be used to control the boat’s movement at anchor.
The boat’s overall design owes its style (ultramodern and futuristic) to T. Eric Goffrier, the Seattle-based designer who drew the interior and exterior arrangements for the Gunboat 90 and who has styled other yachts, including super-yachts. “Tommy said, ‘We want to build this extreme but safe boat that gives an America’s Cup-type experience’” Goffrier told Soundings. “Tommy’d seen an Eagle Ray while snorkeling and he wanted something that would be smooth and glide.”
The first EC53 glides on C-foils, but Fast Forward Composites is currently working on the T-foils that will raise the hulls completely out of the water and turn the 53 into the EC 53T. That should make her even faster and smoother. The T-foils are slated to be ready this summer. Sussman’s EC 53 already has an automated rudder T-foil system in place that controls the level, angle and pitch of the boat to ensure it remains safe. “Tommy said it had to be extreme and safe,” Goffrier said.
Fast Forward Composites is already looking beyond the EC 53. “I’m working with Tommy on some other concepts for an 80 and a 118,” Goffrier said. We’re in the initial stages, but people have already expressed an interest.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2020 issue.