This week Trudeau Classic Yachts releases the HepCat. It’s an agile, two-person catamaran that pays homage to the Hobie 16, the most popular of the small, beachcat-style production designs.
The 2007 TruCor BeachCat was the first attempt to model a sailing catamaran in Second Life. The boat was innovative, full of fun, and an instant success. It was so good that many of us still talk about that boat in glowing terms, full of affection and enthusiasm.
Time passes though, and after four great years that little beach rocket deserved the Canyon Ranch treatment; it was time to call it back home to Trudeau Yacht Yard for a fashion makeover, rigging update, and some inspirational scripting.
Well kids, put on your sailing gloves and get ready for a roller coaster ride. The new Trudeau beach catamaran is named HepCat, and it came out of Home Port Rehab with a new attitude, packed with more good things than you can find under your seat at Oprah.
If you loved the old BeachCat, however, don’t worry; the new Trudeau HepCat still has all the features that made that earlier boat a marvel. HepCat is ultra-light, hair-trigger responsive, and OMG is it fast. 🙂 J Trudeau probably summarized it best in one of the notecards that come with the boat:
1. Raise sails
2. Hang the HELL onto something!“
The picture below shows HepCat and the old BeachCat side by side. Although the two vessels are roughly the same size, you’ll find there’s a big difference when you get closer.
HepCat is remarkably detailed and finely sculpted, with a host of accurate and often humorous features. Let’s start with the hull.
It’s worth noting that with any sculptie hull there’s a potential for a mismatch between the boat you see and the actual ‘collision mesh’ that bumps into things. This problem can lead to a number of unseemly complications, like accidentally hitting buoys, docks, boats, other people, or – good grief – even unintentionally triggering a raceline.
The image to the right above shows a basic test of the HepCat build, bumping the boat into the Linden buoy in Farragut. HepCat’s hull makes the grade quite nicely; there’s a very close correlation between the boat you see, and the boat that goes ‘bump’ in the night. 🙂 Nice sculpting!
Here’s just one example: Click on the image to the right to see a close-up of the trapeze. It has a wire line that extends from the mast and ends in a red “T-grip.” An adjuster lead then connects to a quick release on the harness spreader worn by the sailor, and there’s even a safety line that secures the trapeze to the boat. Wow even the details of the knots are impressive, particularly since the only time any of this is visible is when a sailor moves out to the extreme hike position. Grin, when that happens, believe me, your going to be fighting to keep the boat flying upright. You won’t have time to admire the detailed craftsmanship that went into the rig, but its nice to know it’s there. :-).
Speaking of which, the boat and rigging are all full mod, so you can adjust your harness fit to suit your shape, and fine tune the sit positions so your feet go under the toe-straps on the tramp. 🙂
The boat comes with a host of built-in sail patterns by Bunnie Mills, based on traditional designs. However, if you want to personalize your own HepCat, the texture templates are downloadable from the Trudeau website.
Speaking of options, the boat comes with two independently controlled sails (main + jib), a Settings Notecard full of adjustables, and three different HUDs you can choose from, based on your sailing style.
OK! Let’s talk sailing!
HepCat can be sailed solo, or with one crew. Both skipper and crew can adjust the sails and other controls, and each sailor has eight hike positions (four port, four starboard) to help balance the boat while underway. Be warned: HepCat is a very tender and not too forgiving, so pay attention or you’ll spend most of your time capsized! 🙂
Rudders and Drift
But before we get to that “C-word” issue, let’s talk ‘Rudders.‘ HepCat has two of them, one on each pontoon, and the boat will sail slightly faster with the rudders in the UP position due to reduced drag. However, rudders tend to be rather useful for turning, 🙂 so most sailors will probably set their rudders DOWN much of the time.
Most SL sailors also know that recent Trudeau boats have a ‘lee helm‘ bias, tending to turn downwind with a fixed tiller setting. That’s also true for HepCat, but only when the Rudders are UP. Since the rudder contributes to boat stability, that lee drift thing is cancelled when rudders are DOWN. (By the way, that noise you just heard in the background is Alain Gloster jumping for joy over this change 🙂 ).
When you raise sail, the sheets are slack and the sails are full-out, flapping in the wind. You dont need to follow any numbers or calculate any angles; just pull in the sheets until the sails smooth out and fill with air. You’ll get a satisfying WHOMP when the airfoil takes shape, and the boat will surge ahead. As the boat accelerates the apparent wind angle will move towards the bow, so you’ll see and hear the sail start to luff again; that’s a reminder to pull in that sheet a bit more. 🙂 Pretty easy stuff, and no numbers!
Of course, if you really want numbers you can have them, and sailors can adjust sail angle using the HUD, arrow keys, or through chat commands. Having separate controls for each sail actually adds a new dimension to racing this boat, since it provides yet another way to ‘fine tune’ your rig to maximize VMG without dumping everyone in the water :-).
Kudos to Bunnie Mills; we each spent time trying to get polar performance data on this boat, and we gradually came to the same conclusion. HepCat has so many adjustable settings and features that impact sail performance that any single set of numbers on a curve ends up misleading. We decided the sailors should stop looking at numbers and ‘just go sail the damn boat‘ to figure out what works best for them, while matching their personal style.
Having said that, here’s a chart anyway to prove we did it, and to give some broad pointers about how HepCat handles.
HepCat’s performance is shown as a dashed, purple line, and it’s contrasted with data from a radically different catamaran, the upcoming ACJ-45 (solid blue and red lines).
The HepCat numbers show the boat hits maximum speed on a beam reach, actually matching or exceeding wind speed over Real Wind Angles 90°-140°. Woots, this is a Rocket, in the tradition of the old TruCor BeachCat. Please remember though that increasing boat speed causes a shift in the angle of the Apparent Wind that drives the boat. That means a HepCat sailing 90° off the Real Wind will likely end up close hauled and tightly sheeted due to Apparent Wind effects. That’s the reason the ACJ-45 above seems to sail much faster on upwind headings than HepCat. WildWind boats use an adjustment factor in their sail algorithm that decreases apparent wind influence.
But forget all that, OK? Instead of worrying about points on a graph, just get out there and sail the boat for yourself and see what you think. In RL sailing forums, the same sort of technical discussions often come up for lengthy debate, until somebody pops in and says “Why are we typing online? Let’s go SAIL.” 🙂
Before we leave the world of numbers though, here’s a small graphic that shows HepCat’s shadow effect. A windward ‘Shadow boat’ was parked at 0,0 and a test boat moved to different leeward locations to measure shadow intensity.
The scheme is the same one discussed in earlier posts, and shows that HepCat casts a teardrop-shaped blanket over other Trudeau boats passing leeward. The maximum shadow distance is around 30m, but the shadow intensity is very small that far out. Meaningful shadow in a race only occurs when boats are less than 20m, and there’s a small bias for shadow effects behind the windward boat.
Heeling, Hiking and the “C” Word
Heeling has a big effect on HepCat’s performance, and it pretty much follows the Goldilocks Rule: “Not too little, not too much, make it Just Right.”
The boat has maximum drag when both hulls are in the water. But with correct sheeting and crew positions, the boat will begin to heel. As soon as the windward hull lifts out of the water, the drag cuts in half, and HepCat gets a pretty powerful extra speed surge.
Of course, there’s a downside (How come in life there’s always a downside?). As the heel angle increases, the sails become less efficient. Sailing HepCat is a constant fun challenge to use every trick you know to keep the boat at optimal heel, without flattening out or flipping over!
So how far can you heel the boat before it capsizes? Well, if you try hard enough, a two person crew can flip a HepCat with the sails lowered. That tells you roughly the angle where you hit The Tipping Point (apologies to Malcolm Gladwell).
In the picture to the right, the boat is heeled as far as it will go and stay upright. As soon as one of the sailors moves lee, the boat suddenly capsizes. That may suggest a 40° tilt is pretty much the point of no return, and should be avoided unless you want to get wet. 🙂
Having said that, It’s also worth noting that the heel effects and capsize are incremental; it takes a few seconds for sailing mistakes to turn into serious heel, and a sailor hit by a sudden gust might well be able to avoid a knockdown if they have quick reflexes. 🙂
One Size Does Not Fit All
A few paragraphs above, we discussed performance graphs for HepCat, warning those numbers probably had limited value. Here’s one reason: HepCat’s hiking effects depend on the height of the Avatar. 🙂
That may seem unfair to some, but wow, its what happens in real sailing. A big gorilla with lead weights in his pants can counterbalance a heeling rig a lot easier than the smaller (but smarter) girl at the tiller in the boat next to him.Well, welcome to HepCat, where ‘size matters.”
The figure to the right shows the hiking effect of two different sized avatars. In the top view, the Avatar is 7.16ft tall, and hiked all the way out on the trapeze. That throws the boat out of balance and gives it a heel of 25°. But now look at the bottom view, where a much smaller avatar (3.99 ft) is in exactly the same position. The very short crew person doesn’t affect the boat balance at all.
That means how HepCat sails and how a crew adjusts to different conditions is suddenly a personal matter :-). What works for one team might not be the best strategy for another sailing pair. Luckily this boat is full of options and sailing adjustments, and it should be great fun finding out who comes up with the best strategy for teamwork and performance to tame the ‘New HepCat in Town.”
One final thing. Although this boat looks like a super racer, HepCat is really intended as a fun beach catamaran. The real life one-design Hobie 16 leads the same kind of double-life, lying on the beach on Saturday and flying full-tilt across some raceline on Sunday.
Trudeau’s built that style into HepCat; it even comes with a great ‘beaching’ command, so you can run it up on some secluded island. TCY’s even set up a beach for you to try it on, so go take a look. If you’re lucky you might meet some big gorilla with lead weights in his pants that can hike for you. 🙂