By Graham Jones
What do you get when you cross an Ideal 18 with a 505…? After two action-packed test-drives on Lake Ontario last summer, my answer is speed, excitement, convenience – and the new Electra Sport 20. Hot of the drawing board of the design team of sailmakers Hubert Raudaschl of St. Wolfgang, Austria, and Heider Funck of Toronto, this sleek sport-boat made its Canadian debut as it screamed around the race course in Toronto’s Humber Bay this past summer. Four years ago, Funck began to dream about building a small performance-oriented, One-Design keelboat that would be fast, easy-to-handle and also simple to pack up at the end of a day’s racing.
What Funck is now marketing in Canada and Europe is something akin to an Ideal 18 on steroids. In his words, “we are hoping that the Electra will be appealing to so-called Masters sailors who have graduated from the Laser class and are looking for a new boat to race One Design.” In its first incarnation, the Electra was conceived as a one-person One Design with a 100 per cent, self-tacking jib on a small furler and a mega-roach, fully battened main. With a tight set of class rules that will force owners to race their boats out of the builder’s box, Funck envisions his boat sailing in a pure One-Design setting in both single-handed and double-handed classes.
Ironically, the first Electra sold in Canada (three are currently sailing in Austria) is being used for cruising (not racing) on Lake Muskoka in Ontario’s cottage country. And in reality the Electra will be a fantastic cottage boat on larger lakes like Muskoka because it excels in the lighter airs and flat water that typify inland sailing. While Funck originally intended the Electra to sail with a maxi-roach main and self-tacker, this sail plan has been modified since launch time to fine-tune the boat’s overall performance. With its original sail plan (the powerful main and small jib combo more often seen on performance catamarans like the Tornado), the ES lacked the forward punch to power the Electra upwind in a chop. As it was, the small-battened jib could not re-accelerate the boat if the bow hit a wave the wrong way. To give the boat more horse-power, Funck has more recently added a larger overlapping 130 per cent Mylar jib.
I tested the Electra with both headsail combinations on separate occasions, first in mid-summer and then later in the autumn and found that the combination of the bigger lapper, as it is called, and less-radical roach profile on the main is the most balanced, all-purpose setup. After he returned to the loft floor to cut-down the roach of the main and design the new lapper. Funck began experimenting with a spinnaker for the Electra Sport. With new-found boats peed upwind, the Electra’s downwind legs still needed turbo-charging. While white-sailing in club races, Funck found he could sail significantly faster off-wind than a Shark skipered by one of the world’s purportedly craftiest Shark sailors, Sid Dakin. Still not satisfied with this showing, Funck rigged a pole and spin-gear and went out sail-testing with a slightly modified Shark spinnaker he had built at his loft. While I did not have an opportunity to sail with the chute, I did get a chance to watch a video of the Sport in flying sails mode. Some of the thrilling footage taken from a chase boat showed the Electra tearing along in perfect control on a screaming three-sail reach in around 15 knots of breeze (in the strong puffs, the tender was definitely the chase-boat).
Even in these moderate conditions the Electra appeared on the edge of sailing through is blow wave and as Funck pumped the mainsheet, he seemed prepared to catch a plane to double-digit boat speeds! The broad smiles on the faces of the skipper and crew as they later surfed on the rooster-tail of the photo-boat, suggested that the Electra was breaking sailing’s equivalent of the sound barrier that cold October weekend. From, the view on the power boat, it wasn’t hard to notice the impressive wall of sail flying from the Electra’s single swept-spreader rig (an Isomat section one smaller than that used on the Ideal 18).
In spite of its large sail plan, the Electra Sport is surprisingly stiff. With this big multihull-style rig, the boat will scoot along in the predominantly light air of inland sailing in and around the Great Lakes. In heavy air, two crew with legs in hiking straps and bums over the side in half-hike positions will be able to keep the Electra under control without fear of the dreaded wipeout. The 300 lbs of lead in the boat’s elliptical keel also make the job of keeping the Electra flat a lot easier on the back. With new wheels off of the wind, Funck decided to enter into more local PHRF flying sail club races in the Toronto area. Shortly after, a local boat measurer convinced Funck to measure the Electra for MORC so the boat could race on weekends in Toronto’s growing interclub MORC fleet. For the rating conscious, the boat’s initial PHRF number is around 230 seconds-a-mile and just above 20 feet in MORC, with a spinnaker and a 130 per cent genoa.
The first time I saw the Electra sailing around the cans last summer was during a breezy (30-knot-plus) interclub point-to-point race. I was charging upwind on a J-35 under a blade and a single reef as the Electra zipped by surfing downwind at high speed. Twelve miles into a 19-mile race the Sport was sitting on top of the MORC fleet racing towards the finish.
Standing beside the boat in its slip, the ES looks low-slung and high tech, with a windowless cuddy-cabin, blunt bow and immaculate tooling and finish. I stepped on the Electra for a second time late in Ontario’s sailing season. All afternoon before my test sail on the Electra, flags all along the lakeshore were flying straight off their poles, snapping loudly in a puffy north-est blow. As I pulled on my wet-weather gear, the breeze whistled through the rigging of the boats in the basin in ever-intensifying crescendos. Subconsciously, I was preparing myself for what I though was certain to be a gear-busting, hike-your-brains out, tie-up-at-the-dock-soaked-to-the-bone boat trial. Was I surprised.
With Joe Blair (a sailmaker from Funck’s loft), I pushed off from our slip under jib alone, and began to short-tack out between the two rows of docks at the club. Our hoist of the main was made easy due to the Electra’s standard lazy-jacks which hold the main neatly on the boom. Furthermore, both main and Genoa halyards travel through Harken deck organizers and lead to the edge of the dog house and are easily accessible to both crew and skipper. After we had the main up, and wailed on the vang, I quickly scanned the rest of the sail controls in the cockpit. Judging from the field of white caps out in front of us, I would have no time to think out in the open.
The Electra’s powerful mainsail and mast are controlled by a 4:1 Harken ratcheting fiddle block mounted on a central barney-post. Without a traveller, mainsail twist is controlled reaching and running with a 6:1 purchase that cleats underneath the boom. The cunningham and all other secondary sail controls lead to either side of the hatchway, but are not double-ended to opposite sides of the boat. Genoa sheets lead to a single fairlead and then back to a Harken cam cleat. To help hiking crew re-enter the Electra, the builder, Paul Contouris from P. C. Mould of Erin, Ont., has mounted a flush set of Harken hand-holds. These little units, as we were to find out, came in handy. Before I knew it, we had sailed beyond the lee shore and were quickly accelerating out into in the confused water of Humber Bay.
As it was too late to consider reefing the main, we both dug our boots deeper into the hiking straps and held on for the ride. I immediately discovered that the round gunnels are perhaps one of the Electra’s smartest features. These smoothed over the excruciating bum and thigh pain created by hiking on some boats across steep metal toe rails and sharp cockpit coamings and made leaning out comfortable. Out in the lake, we broad reached in gusty 25-knots winds, literally hopping fro wave to wave, surfing down one and popping onto the next. The Electra’s flat run aft promoted surfing as we slalomed around the three-foot chop. I was particularly impressed with the responsiveness of the boat’s large elliptical rudder as we banged-off a couple of sweeping, windsurfer-type gybes.
The rudder is evenly balanced and consequently the boat never develops any weather helm pull on your steering arm. While the helm of the Electra has a similar feel to that of the J/92, it is almost too balanced and forgiving. Because it doesn’t really develop helm, the boat feels like it is always in perfect rim even when it perhaps isn’t. It would be simple to induce a bit more feedback in the helm, however, by setting the rudder shaft slightly ore forward in the rudder blade. Although it’s difficult to predict how fast we were travelling, based on the size of our boiling wake and my am-I-on-a-keelboat-or-a-Sea-doo? sensation, I imagine that we were surging up to nine or 10 knots.
Because of its large cockpit and open transom, the Electra gave me the impression that I was sailing on a boat much longer than 20 feet. By comparison, the cockpit of a 24-ft Shark, with its nasty high coaming and unfriendly angles, feels like a crowded sandbox. With two of us sitting hip to hip in this long cockpit we had ample room for another, say, Lightning crew if they wanted to come along for the ride! Another plus about the Electra’s cockpit is that it kept the two of us almost completely dry even in the hairy conditions we sailed in that blustery afternoon. After what seemed to be barely more than 10 minutes of reaching out in into the lake, the Electra was well on its way across the Lake Ontario towards St. Catharines. As both of us wanted to be packed up before dark, we decided to turn the corner and head home.
Upwind in any small keelboat in more than 20 knots of breeze is never a picnic, but the two of us in a drop-hike position were able to carefully claw our way back to Mimico Creek where we began our test. While our speed was not nearly as impressive as it was between 90 and 180 degrees apparent, we still fought our way upwind smiling all the way. One regret is that Funck has not installed a cockpit floor-mounted traveller to help dump off the Electra’s large main in the puffs. However, I’m confident that his and a couple of other hardware upgrades will significantly improve both the layout and sail-control systems of the Electra.
Originally published in Canadian Yachting’s Winter 1993 issue.
LOA 20 ft.
Beam 6 ft. 3 in.
Draft 3 ft. 3 in.
Ballast 300 lbs.
Weight 750 lbs.
Sail Area 1,095 sq. ft.