Those wide-winged, twin-hulled, five-story-tall creatures screaming across Biscayne Bay caused double takes from sailors in ordinary boats, who thought perhaps they were seeing an illusion on the water.
What they were seeing — if they didn’t blink — was the fleet of Marstrom 32s, the fastest sailboats competing Saturday in the finals of Bacardi Miami Sailing Week. The M32 was the race car of the regatta, a breathtaking new catamaran making its debut in the five-class event.
The M32 actually exceeds the speed of the wind, and can reach top-end velocity of 35 mph. On the ocean, that feels like a Ferrari ride.
Taylor Canfield has sailed just about every kind of boat under the sun, from Optimist dinghies as a kid growing up in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, to Foundation 36s at the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia. None can compare to these quick cats.
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“Because of the intense speed, there’s never a dull moment,” he said. “Skipper and crew have to be on all the time. One small mistake and you’re in the back of the pack.”
Canfield, who lives in Coconut Grove, made few miscalculations over 14 races in three days, and his consistency enabled him and his crew of four to win the regatta without winning a single race.
Going into the final race, his USA 1 boat held a three-point lead over Michael Dominguez’s Bronco from Rhode Island, with no other boats in contention for first place. So Canfield had to keep Dominguez from running away from him, which turned the race into a one-on-one match race. Canfield was the 2013 world match-racing champion, and 2014 runner-up. He’s a master tactician. He forced Bronco away from a good start and pinned Bronco in tough positions.
“He’s a stud and knew exactly how to pressure and control us,” said Dominguez crew member Anthony Kotoun, who used to coach Canfield.
The M32 is the brainchild of Sweden’s Goran Marstrom, renowned designer of multi-hulls. The craft is built of light carbon fiber by Aston Harald Composite near Gothenburg.
“Marstrom had a vision to make something very simple but keep it high-performance quality,” said Mattias Dahlstrom, principle race officer.
The wind was blowing at about 11-12 knots on Saturday, and the M32s were going twice that fast, often with one hull dramatically lifting 6 to 10 feet out of the water, thus reducing friction.
“This is the future of sailing,” said Canfield’s father, Bill, a race official and former head of the St. Thomas Yacht Club. “Kids want to go fast and don’t want to sail traditional monohulls.”
The M32s resemble a mini-version of the 2013 America’s Cup AC72s that were a big hit with spectators and TV viewers. Up on its foils like a hovercraft, Team Emirates New Zealand reached a peak of 55 mph in 21.8-knot wind in San Francisco.
“This is a new type of sailing where you’re always chasing your apparent wind,” Canfield, 25, said. “I’ve raced a lot of keel boats and was looking for something different. My goal is to do America’s Cup someday, so it’s time to transition into catamarans and foiling.”
Canfield’s girlfriend is Rolex U.S. Yachtswoman of the Year Stephanie Roble. As a Boston College student, he helped his college team win five national championships. He says the M32 is the most physically demanding boat he has sailed. It’s quite a sight to watch agile sailors bound from one netted rack to the other when the boats tack, apply muscle to the winches, then hike out over the water at a spectacular height.
Owner and helmsman Dominguez, who works for Providence Equity, switched from a Melges 32 to the Marstrom two years ago.
“I decided I wanted to go faster and have even more fun,” Dominguez said. “It’s a rush. You feel like you’re flying. The short course and the hand-to-hand combat of the racing appeals to people who don’t know the finer points of sailing. Everyone can enjoy watching these boats move and maneuver.”
And zoom across the bay. One boat was named Liftoff. It came close to doing just that.