Adventurous sailors tend to be drawn to small multihulls but the new Astus 22.5 would suit the weekend and family user too
Small multihulls like the Astus 22.5 can be remarkable boats in which you can do remarkable things. Like Richard and Lilian Woods: each sailing one of their own Woods-designed Strider 24 catamarans single-handed from Plymouth to Russia in a series of day-hops in 1989 – not long after glasnost and perestroika. Joined by Stuart Fisher in a third Strider, they regularly sailed up to 80 miles in a day and once covered the 70 miles between ports in seven hours.
Or Rory McDougall, who built a Wharram Tiki 21 and sailed it around the world singlehanded. A few years later, he finished a close second in the Jester Challenge before clocking up to 185 miles a day on the return Atlantic crossing.
Then there’s the Norwegian team that circumnavigated the globe in the Arctic Circle, taking in the north-east and north-west passages in one season. They chose a Corsair 31 because it had the necessary speed and could also be hauled up on to the ice if it threatened to crush them.
That’s going up the size range a little, but smaller and closer to home is another trimaran from the same stable, the Corsair Dash 750, that completed every race in a major UK regatta faster than a state-of-the-art 42ft racing monohull sailed by a professional crew. Then, while the 42-footer was still bashing her way back around the coast to her home port after the event, the Dash had been trailed home and parked in the owner’s drive.
Whether it has two hulls or three, whether it’s racing or cruising and whether it’s sailed locally or across oceans, there’s no doubt that small multihulls allow you to do remarkable things. It helps if you’re a remarkable person, of course. I have met and sailed with many of the people in these examples and none of them is your average weekend sailor – not that many weekend sailors aren’t also remarkable people, either as sailors or in different ways. They have simply chosen not to do what sensible people might regard as crazy things with their boats.
So is it crazy to drive over to France, collect a 23ft trimaran fresh from the factory and spend two weeks cruising around the Golfe du Morbihan and southern Brittany before trailing it home? Hein Kuiper didn’t think so, and I agree. After all, Hein is the UK’s dealer for Astus Boats, and it was a brand new Astus 22.5 that he was collecting last summer to bring home as his demonstrator.
Time on the water
Some dealers spend little time sailing the boats they sell, but Hein takes a different view. If you do yourself what prospective buyers are likely to do with them, you’re in a much better position both to sell to them and to help them once they’ve bought.
So it was that Hein and his wife, Hilary, spent two weeks living aboard a sporty, slim-hulled trimaran in Brittany, sailing by day and spending the nights aboard too, usually on a mooring or at anchor. Given that trimaran of this nature will have less room below decks than a typical monohull of similar length, that takes some discipline and you need to accept that it’s camper-cruising.
The main hull of the Astus 22.5 is nearly 23ft (6.95m) long: unusually for a French boat, the designation understates the length. In sailing mode with the bowsprit rigged (so you can fly the gennaker), the total length is 8.3m. The sailing beam is 4.90m (16ft), but it takes only a few minutes, whether you’re ashore or afloat, to reduce the beam to 2.49m (8ft 2in) for trailing or to fit into a marina berth.
In many berths, such as the one in Mercury where I joined Hein for our test sail, you only need to slide in one float. There’s also a ‘marina position’ for the floats, giving a beam of 3m (9ft 10in) for greater stability than afforded by the trailing position.
On meeting the Astus 22.5 in the flesh I saw that, while looking as though she should still zip along nicely, she was distinctly chunkier than her little sister, the Astus 20.5, that I tested in 2021. The knuckle low down in the main hull looks more pronounced, leading to relatively greater volume above the waterline, and the coachroof is significantly higher too.
When you look down below, it’s clear that the difference in internal space is greater than would be accounted for simply by the greater length, significant though that would be in itself.
With the 20.5, fitting in anything more than overnighting accommodation would have entailed unacceptable compromises in performance, so that wasn’t attempted. Given an extra couple of feet or so, the designers (VPLP) had the opportunity to turn the Astus 22.5 into a genuine weekender – or even a two-weeker – so they pushed out the volume while still keeping the boat sporty.
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When I got to Mercury I was anxious to get out and sailing sooner rather than later. Dark clouds were gathering and threatening rain and, in any event, I wanted to sail before exploring below decks.
Light and fresher
As was consistently the case in 2022 – adding to the challenges of arranging boat tests – the weather forecast was wildly inaccurate yet again. Instead of sunshine and brisk winds (thunderstorms being promised for later), we were met in the Solent by drizzle and barely 6 knots of breeze. Hoping conditions would improve, we delayed the photo
boat by an hour or two and did what we could in the breeze we had. The Astus 22.5 made respectable progress in the light conditions, clocking 4-4.5 knots upwind in the slight Solent popple.
Eventually the south-easterly breeze began to build before settling down at 12-14 knots with occasional fresher spells. With the tide running east, the waves were soon big enough to notice. At least we had enough wind to power through them as long as we kept the nose down a few degrees. With a boat like this it’s all about finding the right balance between speed and pointing.
We could sail along happily enough at 6 knots, but leaning on the jib a little more would soon take us to well over 7 knots in the flatter patches of water. Our tacking angle when we sailed slightly freer was typically around 100° by the compass so, on the basis of an average boat speed of 7 knots, our VMG was around 4.5 knots.
Pitching was minimal most of the time and our motion reasonably smooth given the sea state; just the occasional thud when we hit a trough behind one of the steeper waves.
As it happened, the Quarter Ton Cup fleet was also in the eastern Solent. Keeping our distance, we had no opportunity to pace ourselves directly against them upwind but it was clear that, as you would expect, we were sailing a little lower and significantly faster. Had we been racing in the fleet I suspect we would have reached the windward mark first.
As for downwind – well, of course you don’t sail a boat like the Astus 22.5 deep downwind. In such wonderful sailing conditions we didn’t even try, other than briefly for statistical purposes. We couldn’t resist the temptation to reach across the Solent at whatever angle gave us the best speed, heading up in the lulls to maintain the apparent wind and diving down as necessary in the gusts. In the lighter patches we dropped down to 9-10 knots; roughly what we had seen when two-sail reaching in a bit more breeze.
In the fresher spells we maintained closer to 12 knots for good periods and peaked at 14.8. All the time the boat felt perfectly comfortable. With 1,150 litres of buoyancy in each float, together with all that beam and a relatively modest sail plan – even given the square-top mainsail and tri-radial sails on our test boat – we never felt the need to de-power.
When you need to work your way downwind, as we did eventually, it’s perfectly possible without spoiling the fun too much. Just sail a few degrees lower all round, soak away as far as you can in the gusts, and you’ll soon get there. It’s like sailing any performance multihull or dinghy with an asymmetric. I don’t think the Quarter Tonners would have stood much chance.
The cockpit will accommodate three people without a crush, or four if you’re not being too active. With the traveller running across the full width of the aft end, there’s plenty of open space – and that’s before you take into account the trampolines.
You can helm from the cockpit or, for a better view and more power in a breeze, extend the tiller extension and move on to the windward trampoline. Here you can lean against the backstay and brace your feet against the main hull. You stay pretty dry out here most of the time. Very little spray found its way aft. It’s the leeward trampoline that gets wet, especially if you’re pushing on.
Like most performance trimarans, the Astus 22.5 sails at a few degrees of heel so the windward hull is always clear of the water and the heel naturally increases as the wind builds.
If we got a gust when already at full power under gennaker, the rudder blade occasionally lost bite. That was mildly disconcerting, though laminar flow could quickly be restored with a brief wiggle to leeward first. It was the same blade as used on the 20.5. More area was clearly needed and I would have liked more balance too, so I was pleased to hear that Hein had commissioned a deeper, more balanced blade as a trial and, later, that Astus had also decided to offer their own alternative. It will be supplied with the Sport rig in the UK.
On the whole, the balance of boat and rudder were both fine. We carried a bit of weather helm when powered up on a reach, which we might have been able to reduce by partially raising the centreboard. As on the 20.5, it’s a hinging board, with the up/down control lines in the cockpit and the case offset to port to open up space in the cabin.
In terms of rig and hardware, it’s all pretty straightforward. The standard rig is aluminium and you can upgrade to carbon. Fixed bullseyes on the coachroof for the jib are standard too, though I would pay a little extra for tracks. You don’t need to winch the main halyard – just sweating it is enough, then use the cunningham to tension the luff. Spinlock clutches and Harken winches handle the lines.
You need lots of backstay and mainsheet tension to get the best from a boat like this upwind. Both have 8:1 purchases, which are fine as long as you’re not too cautious when using them.
Sleeping and stowing
Space to sit down and stretch out in the cabin can be tight on a slim-hulled trimaran. So too can space to stow your kit, inside or out. Stowage is surprisingly good: there’s an open-fronted locker each side aft in the cockpit and a generously sized locker beneath a hatch in the sole. Then you have hatches in the middle of each float, the modest apertures opening into spaces that will swallow more warps and fenders than you’re likely to carry. Built into the forward end of the coachroof is the anchor locker, with space for a couple of fenders too.
Below decks is a 2m (6ft 7in) double berth in the bow (with a small hatch overhead and space for a chemical loo underneath), mouldings each side for a basic galley, two quarter berths and plenty of sitting headroom (1.6m/5ft 3in in total).
There’s a lot more room than on the 20.5 and even a little timber trim, but thankfully still no hullside or deckhead linings to minimise weight and allow easy access to the fastenings for the deck hardware.
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The Astus 22.5 is great fun to sail. You could spend all day reaching under gennaker for the sheer fun of it, but she’s pretty capable upwind too. If you like speed while still feeling fully in control and not remotely on the edge in most conditions, you will like this boat. I have always thought that monohull sailors are likely to find it easier to adapt to a trimaran than to a catamaran, and I think the Astus will appeal to many who are used to one hull. She comes with a vacuum-infused, foam-cored main hull as standard to keep the weight down to 650kg (just over 1,400lb) so she can be trailed behind an ordinary family car. Construction looks pretty solid, with stiffening members inside the hull where you would expect to find them, and the folding mechanism for the floats works well.