Category Archives: HepCat

“Lee Helm” follow-up

I wanted to post a brief update on the Lee Helm issue in SL boats;  I wrote about it last year, but Orca Flotta’s recently posted about it, and one of the boats I first discussed just got a major upgrade (the Nemo II).

This seems a good time to chime-in once more on the issue.

Deviant Helms

Many sailboats in Real Life have unbalanced rigs that make it difficult to sail on a fixed, upwind heading. Some boats will pull into the wind (called a weather helm), and others are rigged to fall away (called a lee helm). These effects are common and not necessarily bad; often a weather helm can be an advantage.

Anyway, eighteen months ago I wrote a short note about this, arguing that certain SL boats behaved as though they had a ‘lee helm’ bias. Go read that post to get the details. 🙂

Mothgirl Dibou kindly commented on the issue. She suggested the SL lee helm effect was a function of the sailing engine’s heel algorithm. As the boat tilted, the bow swung away downwind. I may not have explained that correctly, so go read her comment yourself! 🙂

I’m bringing the issue up here because I initially only found a lee helm in two boats, the TAKO and NEMO. Since then I looked at many more scenarios and it turns out a large percentage of popular SL boats have a lee helm, including Fizz-engine boats, Tako clones, and several Trudeau releases.

Here’s an example sailing Trudeau Twelve. If you set a fixed, upwind course and let go of the helm, over a couple minutes the boat gradually swings leeward. The graphic below shows apparent wind angles, but the real wind angle changes are even greater; the boat physically rotates leeward by several degrees each minute.

This is a small issue, since few skippers will walk away from the helm for several minutes, hoping the boat will sail itself. 🙂

Having said that, let me also comment that several boats in SL don’t show a helm bias. Those “helm neutral” boats include the Wildwind fleet, the boats based on the BBK engine, the Quest fleet line-up, and the recent Trudeau HepCat catamaran.

Although Nemo I had a strong lee helm, the new Nemo II is now on the hem-neutral short-list. 🙂 In my hands, Nemo II sails pretty straight against the wind, and the graphic below makes that point.

If you sail Nemo II close hauled starting from the Hepurn raceline and aim at the NE corner of Mare Sailing Center, you can let go of the tiller. 🙂 The boat will hold a straight line course the whole way. (Note that the boat speed and wind angle are unchanged in the two views below, even though the boat sailed two minutes uncontrolled, and passed over a sim border en route.)

Click (or double click) to enlarge

Anyway, I’ve probably said enough about Lee Helm. It’s a small point for most SL sailors, and I’m pretty sure there is no good-bad to this issue. It’s just a feature of boat design, and as I said earlier, many RL boats also have a helm bias.

There are now many yacht yards and boat builders in SL, and each new vessel that comes down the launch ramp has its own style, character, and ‘goal.’ It’s great that sailors now have so many options to choose from. In that context, lee helm is just a trait that’s built into many boats, and I think it’s far from the most important challenge sailors face on SL’s high seas. 🙂

Beachcat memories

Kentrock's scheduled new HepCat races from Spoondrift !

This week Trudeau Yachts released HepCat, a new catamaran that will replace the venerable BeachCat. Before BeachCat goes out to pasture, however, I thought it deserved one final lap-around-the-block here. 🙂

BeachCat Legacy

Verken Raven does Cat Tricks

Four years ago the Flying Tako ruled the waves, and new, serious sailcraft were rare. The 2007 TruCor BeachCat helped change that. It was a radically different design that was full of fun and exciting to sail. That impression was shared by the whole sailing community, and BeachCat became an instant hit, grid-wide.

The picture above on the right shows Verken Raven showing off  ‘Cat Tricks‘ soon after BCat was released. (But Please Note: Verkin is a trained professional; do not try those stunts at home!)

Vin demonstrating turning radius

Vin Mariani sails a small catamaran in real life, and he fell in love with the BeachCat, helping JT with beta tests that made the boat’s handling more realistic. BeachCats were Vin’s ‘platform of choice‘ for a series of great articles he wrote on SL racewind; he followed them up with a an homage to the boat titled The Secret Life of BeachCats.

However, most skippers wanted to sail the boat, not write about it, so many people organized BCat fleet races including Bea Woodget, JC Kepler, BennyThe Boozehound, Julia Ceres, Hay Ah… (this list is very long).

Did I mention the BeachCat was FAST? Although Slanty liked to argue the point, PHRF testing showed BCats had faster race lap times than nearly any other boat in the SL fleet; it was roughly 27% faster than a Tako! The boat was so fast, sailors had trouble getting the race buoys to rez ahead of them!

BCat’s speed and agility made it a good choice for Hotlaps competitions, and for many months sailors tried their luck to break the solo speed records at different clubs. M1sha Dallin, Bea Woodget, and Liv Leigh were the fast lap divas in BeachCat, leaving Pensive Mission, Jane Fossett, Francois Jacques, and just about everybody else in the dust. 🙂

However, although it was a great solo racer, Beachcat was really designed for crew. Two sailors could work together in a race, or sail it just for fun. In fact, in early versions of BeachCat the jib only popped up if a second sailor came aboard to help control it. 🙂

To try out those options, in October 2007 a bunch of sailors got together to organize crewed BeachCat races. Many sailors joined in, and J Trudeau worked with the fleet to refine the BCat’s racing options.

The crewed races turned out pretty great, and they set the stage for other crewed regattas that followed.

However, now that little BeachCat is lowering it’s sails and coming out of the water for the last time. It had a wonderful run.

In tribute to those four years, as well as all the sailors who had so much fun sailing the boat, I thought I’d end this note with a repost of an article from BeachCat’s racing heyday, way back in October, 2007. 🙂


Wednesday BeachCats

This article was originally posted to on October 25, 2007

As many sailors will recall, the original TruCor Beach Cat was launched seven months ago as part of a charity fundraiser jointly sponsored by NYC, SYC, MBYC, and KS. The boat was an instant success, and bright beach cat sails are a common sight skimming across the waters of Second Life. The skipper and crew animations, bright colors, and the boat’s tendency to capsize make it a great choice for a casual sail, either alone or with a friend for crew. In fact, from the beginning the beach cat was designed for two people. With a solo skipper, the boat was fun and fast with its single mainsail.  When crew came aboard, they loaded a separate HUD that could raise and control a jib.  Both skipper and crew balanced the boat by shifting position on the net, or hiking to windward on the trapeze harness.  My favorite part about this is how the beach cat determines the balancing effect of the skipper and crew by estimating how much each avatar weighs based on the sailor’s height and gender.

I know you’re all wondering: “What does it do with Chaos Mandelbrot’s Penguin?” Believe it or not, I know the answer to that question! Chaos keeps a spare human AV in his back pocket; it fits the harness jacket better and it doesn’t get feathers on the net.

When you add crew and a jib, the Beach Cat develops explosive acceleration.  That fun little boat suddenly transforms into a sailing rocket controlled by a two-person team. So it’s no surprise over the past few weeks sailors have been meeting on Wednesdays in the Bismarck Sea to race their crewed Beach Cats.

Even before the first race boat hit the water, the response was so enthusiastic on the SLSF Forum that the group decided to split into two convenient racing times, 11:00am and 5:00pm.  Although the group is very young, the races have been great fun so far and many sailors have pitched in to develop the Beach Cat as a one design SL racing class. There’s a lively discussion of gestures, racing rules, and racing upgrades in the Forum Beach Cat Racing thread.

Yesterday’s races continued this trend. Schnoogge Broome once again served as guest Race Director for the 11:00am races; he was capably assisted by NYC’s own Cynthia Centaur. A flock of Beach cats (a “pride” of cats?) descended on the start line, skippered by Sallysue Cahill, Jogi Goldblatt, M1sha Dallin, JeanCarlo Kepler, Cynthia Centaur, Jane Fossett, Schnoogge Broome, and Glida Pilote. Most Beach Cats were crewed, but a few sailed solo, using chat commands to manage the jib.

The first race used the tried-and-true NYC B-1A race course that circumnavigates the beautiful Bella Lavella Island in the southwest United Sailing Sims. SallySue Cahill (with crew Svar Beckersted) and Cynthia Centaur (with crew Francois Jacques) crossed over the start line first, more than half a minute ahead of the third boat, solo skippered by Jane Fossett. Fossett quickly made up for the poor start, however, sliding past a number of collisions on the course to take the lead during the long broad reach going south past the Eastern shore of the island. Fossett took the first race,  finishing more than a minute ahead of JuanCarlo Kepler, with the Centaur-Jacques team in third place.

In the second race on B-1a, the Cahill-Beckerstead boat showed it’s stuff, winning with over 20 seconds to spare. Fossett, Centaur-Jacques, and Kepler came in far to their rear.

For the third race, Director Broome chose the NYC Tako Cup 2007 Course. M1sha Dallin was first across the start line, with the rest of the pack in hot pursuit. Fossett and Dallin took the turn together at the red marker in New Georgia Sound, then fell parallel overlapped on the reach leg going south. In a remarkable demonstration of short attention span, Fossett then continued on the old B-1a course, missing the turn in Vella Gulf. Actually, Fossett may have made a brilliant, intentional team sacrifice to deprive the Dallin boat of victory.  It partially worked; M1sha followed along all the way to the green markin Kula Gulf before M1sha realized Jane Fossett had no idea where she was going.

Whether you believe that explanation or not, the Dallin boat flipped around in Kula Gulf and quickly got back on course, expertly making up the lost time and finishing first. The Centaur-Jacques team was a minute behind, folowed by the Kepler boat.

The final race of the morning returned again to the B-1a course, and this time Schnoogge Broome joined in. The first leg of B-1a is an upwind beat that moves from Bismarck Sea across the Bougainville Strait on the way towards the first mark. Although the beach cat has nimble handling, the forceful acceleration on close haul headings can make this passage pretty treacherous. It’s therefore no surprise that even the most experienced teams had a tough time. Cahill-Beckersted tacked at the Northeast corner of Bella Lavella and then suddenly capsized when their sails swung over.   Without a moment’s hesitation they jumped to right the boat again,  but it was too late. The Centaur-Jacques boat had an upwind strategy and were running in the Cahill team’s footsteps.  There’s a memorable moment in the race when Svar casually looked aft… to see Cynthia Centaur barrelling full steam into his stern.

While they sorted out the damages, Schnoogge Broome was having a great run and crossed the finish for first place. JeanCarlo Kepler came in second, and Cynthia Centaur finally limped in for third place. What a great morning of races!

The 5:00pm races were equally exciting. Lyssa Varun, Bea Woodget, Sallysue Cahill, Hpathe Boucher (unregistered), Pensive Mission, and Jane Fossett skippered race boats. Four races were run, all on B-1a.

The races showed remarkable team coordination and skill, although the Cahill boat sadly suffered from connection problems.

Fossett led the pack across the finish line in the first three races, with the Mission, Woodget, and Varun boats alternating for the other places.

In the fourth race, however, the Mission team woke up and really showed their stuff.  Wow! Pensive took charge, adroitly weaving among the boats on the upwind leg with a dancer’s grace.

There was no stopping Pensive; he must have been thinking of that beer waiting for him over at Mowry. Pensive was through the crowd and in open water after he reached the first red mark.

In the long downwind run across the southern end of the island, Pensive had established a commanding lead and went on to win a full minute ahead of Lyssa Varun, who took second place.

What a great night of sailing!


Trudeau HepCat Catamaran 2011

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.

BeachCat Memories

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.

click to enlarge

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!

It’s also clear that much attention was devoted to accuracy of many fine details in HepCat.

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.

HEPCAT Sailing

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 🙂 ).


HepCat uses the TruSail system worked out by JT and Bunnie Mills and featured in the recent crop of TCY releases.

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.

Using a fixed 5.0m/s wind, the chart shows boat speed for Real Wind Angles 20° – 170°.

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. 🙂

click to enlarge

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. 🙂