By Peter Bentley
Hobie Tiger: madforsailing test
The Hobie Tiger: Hobie's Formula 18 speed machine
The Hobie Tiger represents something of a departure from the traditional market for Hobie Cat. First launched in 1996, interest in the Hobie Tiger got off to a bit of a slow start in the UK, but successes in the Formula 18 circuit, for which it was developed, have stimulated a lot more interest. Twelve Hobie Tigers featured in the top 20 in the 2000 Formula 18 Worlds, including the winner, Mitch Booth.
The madforsailing test day was quite demanding in around 20 knots of breeze and bigger gusts (it always is when we’ve got a gnarly cat to review). But our (though not initially) fearless team included Tim Robinson and Ian Walker, both of whom were impressed with the ease with which this big high performance catamaran could be sailed.
Our hot-shots identified a number of good features for the scoreboard. Fast and powerful, the Tiger was small and light enough for two people to handle, not only on the water, but ashore too. Reasonable freeboard ensured a fairly dry ride and the Tiger was more docile to handle than expected. While bearing away unleashed a wild animal onto a screaming reach – it was at least a wild animal with acceptable domestic habits.
The construction was of a high standard and equipment was premium quality. The Tiger was clearly more durable than some of the more exotic racing machines. There were nice details like the textured neoprene strips along the gunwales that provided secure trapezing for both our heroic duo.
The team highlighted a few dislikes. The Tiger was a bit difficult to get to bear away, having the boards fully up made it a lot easier. But the raised daggerboards have a back edge that Tim Robinson described as a salami slicer – there’s some risk of personal injury in the event of a big deceleration. It’s important to brace against this in wild conditions.
As for many catamarans, rigging was a bit complex and time-consuming – beware of getting the strings in a muddle. The trampoline proved slightly slippery, probably due to its newness on our boat. The furling zip-luff jib hoisted easily enough, but determining the precise halyard tension was something of a problem.
Globally, there are several hundred Hobie Tigers, not just in their mother country, the USA, but also in South Africa and Australia. They usually turn-out in good numbers for the British Formula 18 events – and perhaps that is the story; the Hobie Tiger is not so much for the open meeting regular looking for big one-design fleets, but more for the adventurous cat junkies following F18 activity. Essentially, the Hobie Tiger is a great thrill machine for anyone looking for silverware in the Formula 18 circuit.
Ease of Sailing
Fast and powerful she may be, but the Tiger still remains small and light enough for two people to handle, not only on the water, but ashore too, and that’s always a good way to start a boat test.
Having said that, with the test-day booked weeks in advance, it was only Tim’s fearless bravado that had got us out on the water at all. When we arrived, the breeze was at a steady 20 knots with bigger gusts dropping down with some regularity. But having got out there, the Tiger was a pussy cat – ok, no more cat puns.
The steering upwind was positive, although the telescopic glassfibre tiller extension is not light. Basic upwind technique involves the crew cleating the jib and taking the mainsheet, leaving the helmsman to concentrate on the all-important steering.
As with most true high performance boats, the difficult bit came with bearing away at the top of the track. Only after two abortive tries, which ended in trips down-the-mine, did our minders from Hobie tell us that the trick was to almost fully raise the boards before trying to turn the corner.
Sure enough this worked, effectively unleashing a wild animal (ohh, sorry …) onto a screaming reach. But unusually for a big cat, the Tiger remained well mannered in two-sail reaching with excellent control combined with exceptional progress.
The bit where they had to get the kite up to test the asymmetric systems was on the back of everyone’s mind, but again the reality was less intimidating than the idea. Ian had to do most of the work at the front of the boat, with a single line cleated on the forward crossbeam that hoisted both the sail and extended the tack.
Once sheeted, acceleration is truly electric – to such an extent that the kite became very difficult to trim in the rapidly changing apparent breeze. But despite ploughing into the back of numerous Solent rollers at high speed, control was never fully lost, and easing the sheets proved sufficient to prevent the boat’s best efforts to emulate a twin-hulled submarine.
Getting the kite down also presented few problems, though the halyard did have a tendency to re-cleat itself if the tail was inadvertently allowed to drop into the fast flowing water below.
Despite their unfamiliarity with the boat, both our test crew were impressed with the ease with which such a big, high performance cat could be sailed.
Systems and Layout
Rigging, as with any cat, is a relatively time consuming – but simple – process. When we tested her, the Tiger had to be broken down for road legal towing, but a tilting trailer to get her inside the width limit in one piece was under development.
Assembly commenced with fitting the main beams to the hulls, and then sliding the bolt-roped edges of the trampoline into the front beam and side tracks. The rear of the trampoline was held inside the rear beam using an original system consisting of a slide-in, slide-out nylon rod. The trampoline was then tensioned across the back and port side. Both cross-beams fitted into moulded recesses and were secured with two bolts at each junction.
The arrangement had the look of solidity about it, which was born out once afloat with no noticeable twist or shimmying between the two hulls. The mast sat on a traditional Hobie ball step and was easily raised by just two people, but you need to get the wires carefully laid out beforehand.
Similarly, running all the control lines and sheets required care as it would be all too easy to get a sheet under another line by mistake. The finished job looked somewhat akin to a knitting basket with a multiplicity of lines running in seemingly random directions. It comes good on the water though, Tim and Ian were both impressed with how well everything worked.
We’ve mentioned our concerns with the furling zip-luff jib, which hoisted easily enough, but gave trouble over determining the precise halyard tension. The rig tension is derived from the mainsheet, and so it’s necessary to sheet the main in tight before setting the jib halyard. If you put too much tension on the halyard before you sheet the main in, then there’s a risk of breaking the halyard, but too little will leave the Tiger with a sagging forestay and make progress upwind difficult.
It is possible to adjust it out on the water, but with the cleat right out at the jib tack, it’s a pretty precarious business. But a couple of waterproof pen marks and some experience would go a long way to solving the problem.
Getting the mainsail up and locked required minimal effort, the halyard lock was built into the headboard and provided the halyard was led correctly it snapped into place automatically.
Out on the water, we found that despite the absence of ratchet blocks in the 2:1 jib sheet system, the loads were not unmanageable, largely on account of the relatively small jib. The mainsheet loads were cut down to size with the assistance of Mr Harken’s best ratchet blocks.
While the moulded non-slip and the trampoline proved slightly slippery, probably due to their newness, the textured neoprene strips along the gunwales provided secure trapezing for both helmsman and crew. And they needed it, with the boards raised and rear edges looking like a ‘salami slicer’, according to Tim, it’s important to get locked in. Mr Robinson used the board to brace a foot against on the wilder legs.
Stunning, basically, particularly downwind, where the acceleration was phenomenal.
Construction is to a uniformly high standard throughout. Polyester resin, glass reinforcement and a foam core were used to make the hulls with an almost invisible joint down the centre-line. Standard sections from the Tornado and Hobie 20 respectively were used for the mast and beams, with a selection of premium quality equipment from various manufacturers.
Clearly more durable than some of the more exotic racing machines, the high standard of build quality means you should have few maintenance problems.
Quality of Race Circuit
Unlike almost all previous Hobies, the Tiger is not intended primarily for one design racing and her biggest appeal – aside from the Formula 18 circuit – will be in open class racing where she has already scored notable successes, including the Round Texel Race.
There is plenty of racing to be had on the F18 circuit, and with the popularity of the Texel-style long distance races also slowly increasing in the UK, the Tiger must rank high on the list of potential purchases for someone looking to collect some silverware.
Value for Money
This is a lot of boat, for not a great deal of money, though it’s possible to amp up the price if you move away from the standard package.
Length: 5.51 m
Beam; 2.5 – 2.6 m
Weight: 180 kg
Sail Area: 21.15 sq m + 19 – 21 sq m gennaker
Build Quality: 80%
Ease of sailing: 60%
Anticipated Durability: 70%
Systems and Layout: 60%
Quality of Race Circuit: 40%
Value for Money: 70%