If you’re after a 30-footer that combines offshore ability with shallow draught, good performance and roomy accommodation, a Sagitta 30 might fit the bill. David Harding explains why

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Sagitta 30 review: Good performance and roomy accommodation

For some monohull sailors, multihulls are still from a different planet, or perhaps even a different galaxy. Despite the increasing popularity and acceptance of catamarans as charter boats, many of the old preconceptions persist: multihulls don’t go to windward, they pitch and slam uncomfortably and, if you load them up for offshore sailing, they lose any speed advantage they might have had.

One man who has done more than most to prove that these notions are fallacies is Richard Woods. Involved with multihulls since the 1960s, he has designed dozens of catamarans (and a few trimarans) up to 69ft (21m). He has built and owned around 20 of them himself, and sailed tens of thousands of ocean and coastal miles in both his own designs and those of others.

Unlike some multihull enthusiasts, however, Richard hasn’t limited his activities to two or three hulls. He has raced and crossed oceans on monohulls – even designed a few – and continues to race performance dinghies. It’s fair to say his experience of sailing is quite extensive.

Richard Woods demonstrating the Sagitta’s balance from the upper helm seat. Photo: David Harding / SailingScenes.com

Until about 20 years ago, I used to pop down to Torpoint not infrequently to sail with Richard on his latest design. Torpoint, as any British multihull sailor will know, is the multihull Mecca of the UK – Millbrook Creek specifically. That’s where Pat and Pip Patterson ran the Multihull Centre and where Darren (Mr Dazcat) Newton and Simon Baker set up Multimarine before taking the Multihull Centre under their wing too. It used to be rare to see a single-hulled boat anywhere near Millbrook.

Millbrook is also where Richard lived when, in July 1991, he launched his new 30ft (9m) Sagitta catamaran. He and his then-wife and co-designer, Lilian, had spent two years building the wooden hulls as plugs, then making the moulds and finally building the first boat with materials that were cutting-edge in their day including biaxial and quadraxial glass and Divinycell foam.

Richard concentrated on the design work while Lilian did most of the building in a big tent in the back garden. At the bottom of the steeply sloping garden was a near vertical drop to the foreshore, so the biggest challenge of the entire process was to manhandle a structure 30ft long and 20ft wide through the trees, over the edge and down into the water.

With the relatively short, low coachroof and the mast stepped well aft, all sail controls are within reach of the cockpit. Photo: David Harding / SailingScenes.com

A good reception

The Sagitta was well received by the multihull world. Richard and Lilian sailed it widely, winning a good number of races (including the Fowey to Plymouth two-handed race at an average speed of 11 knots) and finishing second in class in the Round the Island Race.

The Woods rarely owned any of their own boats for more than three years, so in 1995 Sagitta – named as the first of the Sagitta class – was sold. The German owner sailed it to the Mediterranean and kept it there for a few years before selling it to English owners who sailed it back to the UK. A year almost to the day before my latest trip to Torpoint, Richard then bought it back: 32 years and several thousand sea-miles later, Sagitta returned to its first home and original owner.

Easy to raise and lower with uphauls and downhauls, the daggerboards give a performance advantage. Photo: David Harding / SailingScenes.com

Work in progress

In the intervening years, Richard had moved west to live in British Columbia, continuing to design, build and sail. We had been in touch periodically and, 18 months or so ago, I heard that he had returned to the UK. Then, while photographing the Round the Island Race from my RIB in July 2023, I noticed a catamaran called Sagitta passing in front of my lens during ‘that’ squall off The Needles (the one that led to at least three dismastings and 16 MOB incidents).

The last time I had seen Richard in that part of the world was when I joined him on his Eclipse 99 cat for the 2002 Round the Island Race.

Domed decks and coachroof give the Sagitta rounded lines. Re-painting the decks is still work in progress. Photo: David Harding / SailingScenes.com

Partly as a result of the 2023 photos, I found myself in Torpoint a few months later aboard Sagitta, on which Richard had been working since buying it back. It was very much a matter of work in progress, but the boat was fully functional and flying the new sails from Highwater in Plymouth that had taken it around the island faster than a lot of 35-40ft monohulls.

Under its previous ownership, Richard reckons it hadn’t been sailed that seriously. ‘When I bought it, it had no spinnaker, but three corkscrews and a big bottle rack.’

Russian roots

Richard had come up with the idea for the design of Sagitta during his ‘Day Sail To Russia’ in 1989, when he, Lilian and Stuart Fisher had each sailed one of the Woods-designed 24ft (7.3m) Strider cats singlehanded in company from Plymouth to Tallinn (then in the USSR) in a series of day-hops.

He had wanted a new design that was big, fast and comfortable enough to sail offshore yet small enough for a two-handed crew to manage easily. As with his earlier designs, he gave it rounded hulls with a fairly high prismatic coefficient (i.e. full ends) to minimise pitching and ensure good performance in stronger winds.

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It also features a knuckle above the waterline to increase buoyancy, create internal space and deflect spray while keeping wetted area to a minimum. Generous freeboard should ensure a dry ride, with the flared topsides contributing to ultimate stability (Richard came away from studying yacht design
at the Southampton Institute in the 1970s with distinctions in design, structures and stability, and has sat on the ISO stability committee and the Small Craft Advisory Working Group of the MCA).

Other features of the Sagitta include a relatively short, high bridgedeck that starts well aft to avoid slamming. The coachroof is lower than on many cats for easy access to the sail-control hardware together with good visibility from the helm, as well as to reduce weight and windage. It still allows comfortable sitting headroom in the saloon.

A vast cockpit for a 30ft cruising yacht. The beam allows two doors, for easy access to the saloon and both hulls. Photo: David Harding / SailingScenes.com

High or low

Richard’s Sagitta has a sizeable rig with a square-top main, paired below the waterline with daggerboards. The idea behind the design was that it could be tuned up or down depending on whether an owner was interested principally in racing, cruising or performance cruising. Other Sagittas, including many of those built as production boats in South Africa, have LAR (low aspect-ratio) keels and more modest rigs.

For performance, there’s no doubt that daggerboards give more than a slight edge. They also reduce pitching by minimising extra buoyancy amidships and, with the kick-up rudders, they mean less draught in creek-crawling mode.

Despite the tall rig and generous sail area, Richard designed the Sagitta to carry full canvas in up to 25 knots of apparent wind, or occasionally more in race mode. The beam of 19ft 6in (5.95m) provides a lot of power and avoids drag-inducing interaction of the wave patterns between the hulls. It also gives an enormous cockpit. One of the boat’s first outings 30 years ago was with 12 people for a day sail, and they still hit 16 knots.

Shallow draught, good performance are hall-marks of the Sagitta 30. Photo: David Harding / SailingScenes.com

On the day of our test sail from Torpoint, there were just four of us so we had vast amounts of space in the cockpit. At the helm you can sit on the seat atop the guardrails to see over the coachroof. Alternatively, hinge the seat down as a backrest, sit on the deck and look forward through the doors (one each side leading from cockpit to saloon) and the windows in the coachroof.

As befits a boat of this nature, the Sagitta has tiller steering for simplicity and a direct feel. It also means you can always sit on the windward side for the best visibility forward. There’s a tiller extension on each end of the bar linking the two short tillers, so when you tack you clip one extension back on to the bar, hike across to the other side and pick up the new extension. Thankfully the Sagitta tacks positively – with the daggerboards at least – so, as long as you’re not indecisive with the helm, you don’t have to scuttle across too madly.

Tiller steering also keeps you close to the mainsheet which, together with the Sailspar continuous furler for the screecher (Code 0), came from one of Richard’s 34ft Banshee designs in 1988. Naturally there’s a full-width traveller to help control twist downwind.

A vertical batten in the foot of the jib maximises sail area over the foredeck and coachroof. Photo: David Harding / SailingScenes.com

Control centre

Most of the rest of the sail controls are on the coachroof by the foot of the mast, which is only a couple of feet forward of the cockpit. About the only occasion you would have to go on deck is to hoist the spinnaker or when anchoring or mooring. There’s plenty to hang on to, though the domed decks and coachroof mean few flat surfaces under foot.

Forward of the coachroof are a multitude of deck lockers for sails and the anchor, then of course the trampoline between the forward beam and the bridgedeck. From here you can fully appreciate the way the headsail has been cut, complete with a vertical batten in the foot, to maximise its area by hugging the deck and then sweeping up over the coachroof.

In 14-16 knots of wind from the south-southwest that kicked up a lumpy sea beyond the breakwater, we had enough canvas to get Sagitta going nicely, even if at barely half throttle. On a reach we slipped along at 7-8 knots most of the time, which is not bad for a 30ft cruising boat. Richard makes the point that, in a multihull under 40ft, living, cooking, sleeping and navigating at speeds over 8 knots can become uncomfortable.

The saloon is not dissimilar in size to that on a monohull, only aligned athwartships. It can be converted to a single berth, or a large double with the second table (not in use here). Photo: David Harding / SailingScenes.com

In any event, swallowing miles on passage is all about average rather than peak speeds and how hard you have to work to achieve them.

That inevitably led to a discussion about how, on the way around the island with Eclipse in 2002, with a crew of four and a china teapot in the galley, we had found ourselves overtaking Mumm 30s on the beat to the finish.

Richard subsequently had to abandon Eclipse in a Pacific storm so violent that a 450ft US frigate wouldn’t come anywhere near. Eclipse was later found, upright and unscathed, but that’s another story.

Much of the starboard hull is devoted to the galley. Photo: David Harding / SailingScenes.com

Two decades later, beating into the Plymouth chop on Sagitta, we made 5.5 to 6.5 knots with minimal pitching and no slamming, so life was pretty comfortable.

It also helped that the helm was finger-light and directional stability pretty good. Little effort is needed to keep the boat on track, and a modest autopilot will suffice.

Below decks

The layout on Sagitta was born of many miles’ sailing experience. Richard prefers to have the chart table in a hull rather than on the bridgedeck, so it’s to port between the double berth in the stern and the heads and wet-locker forward.

The nav station is in the middle of the port hull, abaft the heads and wet locker. Photo: David Harding / SailingScenes.com

The bow sections of each hull were originally devoted to stowage, reached via deck hatches, but a previous owner had cut away the full-width bulkhead in the starboard hull at the forward end of the galley to create an extra berth. That resulted in cracking in remaining parts of the bulkhead, highlighting the risk of making alterations that have structural implications without seeking the advice of the designer or builder.

Another double berth is aft in the starboard hull, leaving the bridgedeck for seating and the saloon table. The saloon gives an all-round view, which we enjoyed when back on the mooring indulging in a cream tea (naturally in both Devon and Cornish styles, since we had one hull in each county).

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For all their logic, catamarans still aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But if your only experience of two hulls has been on a charter cat that looks like a multi-storey car park (and has the sailing qualities to match), you would find a boat like the Sagitta a revelation. It might not match a Farrier or Dragonfly trimaran for performance in most conditions, but covers the ground pretty efficiently all the same and provides far more living space. The Sagitta is definitely a boat that could convert a few monohull sailors to the pleasures of sailing fast, comfortably and upright in a catamaran.


LOA:9.14m/30ft 0in
LWL:8.55m/28ft 1in
Beam:5.95m/19ft 6in
Draught boards up:0.55m/1ft 10in
Draught boards down:1.5m/4ft 11in
Sail area:46.5m2/500sq ft
Designer:Richard Woods