December 17, 2018

Article #9 in our series about the design and build of the Gunboat 68.

Imagine being on a passage, standing a solo night watch. You’re at the helm, comfortably protected from the elements, controlling just how much by opening the doors or the moonroof. From a central helm station, with a 360 view of the horizon through panoramic (tempered glass) windows, you look up through the big moonroof and have a clear view of the massive square-topped mainsail silhouetted against the night sky. It’s a great vantage point, and with the touch of a button you can fine-tune sail trim, adjusting the mainsheet, mast rotation, and traveler.

Straight ahead, you have an unobstructed view of the code zero. Just one step away from the helm, you’re out in the forward cockpit with the winches and all other sail controls at hand, adding a few clicks more sheet tension to get a fluttering telltale to stream smoothly – sailing a performance cruising cat at speed with comfort and ease.

“There’s something definitely special about the solo night watch…” Travis Rice on Gunboat 48 Falcor
ROAM – Lines to Hawaii – Day 5 – Night watch with Travis Rice

With the launch of the first Gunboat 62 TRIBE back in 2001, Gunboat pioneered a new high-performance cruising catamaran segment in the sailing industry. With TRIBE, Gunboat achieved remarkable performance by pulling in technologies from Grand Prix yacht racing. At the same time, the real game-changer was that all this power could be safely handled with a family on board and just one person could manage most maneuvers while on watch. All sail controls were centralized in a secure forward cockpit right next to the interior helm, and Gunboat owners were setting off for short-handed, world cruising without compromising performance.

The forward cockpit is a signature feature of a Gunboat – an integrated command center. The helmsman is close to all of the sail controls, and the proximity keeps family, friends, and racing teams (people) in communication range with each other. At the dock, it provides a private outdoor space in harbors when you’re moored stern-to, and it’s the place where sailing enthusiasts tend to congregate when the boat is in party mode. We knew we were working on the heart of the Gunboat when we designed the Gunboat 68 forward cockpit, with the goal to celebrate and also refine, evolve, and improve on nearly 20-years of Gunboat sailing.

The central helm and forward cockpit area of the Gunboat 68


The design process for the Gunboat 68 deck layout was driven first by ergonomics.  Working with our naval architects, VPLP, we had already decided to make the Gunboat 68 half a meter wider than any previous Gunboat. This allowed us to make the forward cockpit wider and reconfigure it.

Taking into account prior Gunboat experience, to reduce the number of functions carried out on each winch and allow more space between trimmers, we added a fourth winch and shifted the layout. Instead of having all winches in line along the front coaming, we moved the primaries outboard, on each side of the cockpit. In turn, we have wider steps leading up to the side decks, with the top step on each side doubling as a comfortable seat to sit and relax.

The forward cockpit area including the mast, on Gunboat 6801 CONDOR.


With conceptual elements coming together, we then focused on a smart, functional, and safe deck layout. In the forward cockpit of the Gunboat 68, most lines can be led directly to any of the winches. We positioned a couple of snatch blocks at the mast foot for halyards and jib sheets. The tack lines of the headsails are led through the longeron and emerge on deck with a clean lead to any of the cockpit winches. The headsails’ continuous furling lines are deflected around the jib track and can also be led to any winch.

3D Model of the cockpit and mast base area

The same are on Gunboat 6801 CONDOR

Lines that run outboard from the cockpit, such as the daggerboard up and down lines and two sets of spinnaker sheets, required special consideration. We were careful to ensure that these lines run as straight as possible (deflecting lines inevitably induces friction) without creating a trip hazard on the side decks: A sealed tunnel runs straight through the cabin top from the cockpit to the daggerboard casings, positioned without intruding on the accommodation and so that water can flow through them without any risk of ingress into the boat.

We also found a more efficient way of handling traveler lines. The Gunboat 68 carries a line driver winch located inside the aft beam to handle the mainsheet traveler lines directly, rather than running them under the boat all the way from the aft beam to the forward cockpit. As a result you have the ability to ease the traveler from the forward cockpit, helm, or the back of the boat, there is a lot less rope in the cockpit, and two winches are now freed up during a gybe.

New ways to handle halyards: We also added a custom carbon line reeler to wind up and stow excess halyard tails in the forward cockpit, located under deck next to the winch control breaker box

From past experience we know that some Gunboat crews like to run spinnaker and fractional reacher sheets to the aft beam and trim them from there, especially when racing, freeing up the forward winches for other operations – so we added a pair of powerful sheet winches on the aft beam for this. These also handle the davit line and, because built-in redundancies and additional safety were important to our overall design brief, serve as an immediately available back-up for the mainsheet traveler.

Winches on the aft beam of the Gunboat 68. And, there’s still ample space back there for the other well-loved optional features – an entertainment area with sink, drinks fridge, ice maker and propane grill.

There was one additional trend within the fleet that we wanted to address. For some sailors, nothing beats the ‘feel’ of a tiller in hand, and a helm position as far aft and outboard as possible is the only place to be. Gunboat 68 owners can choose the option of adding a tiller and bucket seats on the aft beam while retaining all the advantages of the inside helm and forward cockpit.


Beyond two-dimensional drawings and 3D computer modeling, to ensure that all aspects of the design are absolutely right, there’s no substitute for physical, real-world experience.

We had taken experience from the fleet and were applying it to a new model and wanted the shake-down/trial-and-error phase to land in our court – so we built a full-scale mock-up of the Gunboat 68’s forward cockpit.

We used the cockpit mock-up with our naval architects, VPLP,  to validate the mast  position. Next, we used it with our designers, Christophe and Patrick, to perfect the ergonomics. Then we worked very closely with Rigging Projects’ Scott Gray and Nick Black to position the winches and run the lines. Scott has been involved in deck fit-outs and running rigging on Gunboats since 2012. With his practical experience and Nick’s engineering expertise, we built a highly accurate 3D model and went back and forth, tweaking the full-scale mock-up and the 3D model until absolutely certain that both were perfect.

Party in the forward cockpit mockup! Even in the factory, the forward cockpit became a natural gathering place to talk about sailing the new Gunboat 68.

Gunboat COO William Jelbert and team working closely on all phases of the forward cockpit design, testing, and installation.

As a result, the deck plan of the Gunboat 68 is all about efficient operation, whether you choose the Standard Rig or the supercharged Regatta Rig option. For our first owner, we made his Regatta Rig easier to use by taking some key functions out of the cockpit entirely (mast rotation and cunningham as well as the mainsheet), replacing them with hydraulics. Using tested and reliable, lightweight cylinders and power packs, we’ve designed a deliberately simple hydraulic system (with full manual back-up) that allows push-button control of the mainsail from anywhere onboard.

The ultra-powerful and speedy Harken 990 winches with the curved, self-tacking job track in front of them

The compact and lightweight hydraulic power pack neatly installed in the foredeck locker

When it came to finding a provider for the specialized deck gear we needed, Harken is a long-standing partner and we value their customization and load-testing capabilities. They designed custom cars for the Gunboat 68, tailored to suit the boat’s unique loads and track geometry. For 68-01 we fitted Harken 990 three-speed winches not just for the extra power they offer but most importantly for their incredibly fast line speed in first gear, speeding up operations like hoisting, furling, and gybing for a more nimble and responsive yacht.

“Gunboat often lives outside of the catalog. Harken and Gunboat engineers have worked closely to redesign and combine products in new ways, and we customized   for the loads and type of performance demands of the Gunboat 68 to get it just right! The choice of equipment, materials and build methods is critical to achieving  a nimble, fast multihull that truly performs and also has luxury accommodations and all of the systems. We at Harken are proud to be working with the Gunboat guys in France and having them use our equipment on this SUPER cruising/racer cat!”  –  Peter Harken

Imagining again you’re on board the Gunboat 68: Superb sight lines make the boat even more enjoyable to helm. The much larger cockpit is more comfortable and efficient to work in, and you find yourself gravitating there with a few good friends and a sundowner from time to time. Lines run efficiently and, depending on who’s on board, you’re managing the boat shorthanded with ease or taking the tiller and pushing the polars with a full crew. Top- of-the-industry deck gear delivers in so many ways that elevate the sailing experience and, whether or not you notice the finer details of design, you’re immersed in aesthetic appeal. There’s no doubt the Gunboat 68 has the DNA of the original boats, and with some slight genetic engineering, we’re looking at a new benchmark for the fleet.

Find out more about the Gunboat 68 and read the rest of the article series here.

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