Those of you who are unfortunate enough to read my monthly pieces for this site will be well aware by now of my propensity for power catamarans. I have now owned several, both for pleasure and for charter work, and have driven a bunch of others. Most of these vessels have been either South African or US built. But for those of you though who remain bemused by my supportive ramblings about these boats, I at long last have some welcome news - you can now actually go and see what all the fuss is about (pause: sound of trumpets, heralds singing etc) ; there is finally an excellent small catamaran built here in the UK. Far removed from the workboats of Cheetah, and much smaller than either the Blyth and South Cats of charter fame, these little Samson Cats are built for the small-boat angler, easy to trail and launch, and constructed of sufficient strength to get you out and home again in anything but a roaring gale. They are also no flash in the pan - the concept has been developed over the last 15 years with various generations of hulls and it only now that Barry Philpott, the brains behind the little cat, has actually got the boat up and running in a proper commercial venture.
They say that first impressions are important, and I particularly think this is so with boats. So as I wandered down the pontoon in Falmouth on a cold and grey February day and finally got to see a Samson in the flesh, I knew there was no way this little cat had enough freeboard and bow-rise to overcome typical English sea conditions. Which was a shame, since further glances indicated a well thought-out deck-layout, a robust construction and an innovative transom/splash-well. Indeed, it looked like it was an ideal platform for a two or three anglers. What a pity then about the performance, right ? WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. STUPID Roddy.
Wonderfully, this little beast of a boat gets chuntering along at a steady 25 knots or so with a couple of small 25hp Yamaha 4-strokes on the back, and it did so in any of the sea conditions I could find out on the Fal estuary that afternoon, culminating in a head sea ride into a 3 to 4' chop at the same speed, no disproportionate banging of bodily parts and with all teeth intact. Considering we were only on a vessel just over 17' in length, it was a remarkable performance. That's the overall impression, and there's more to come.
The Samson concept originally developed on the Isles of Scilly over 15 years ago, where Barry built his first few cats out of marine-ply and other woods, including cedar, for mainly commercial use. Structural constraints meant these early vessels were somewhat more boxy, chunky and larger than the present Samson, although this apparently in no way detracted from their seaworthiness or durability. Over the past 15 years though, Barry has refined his ideas into the vessel now being built by Blue Boats of both the Isles of Scilly and Penryn in Cornwall. The present hull has also benefited from the ideas and influence of Rob Feloy, the well known designer and surveyor.
Constructed of both solid and cored glass, with some bi-axial roving in most of it, the slightly asymmetrical hulls are rolled out and the decks are then laid by hand - a tried and proven UK standard of building small craft like this as compared to the general US affection for using liners. The hull is 5.25m long (17.2'), has a beam of 2.25m (7.4') and a draft of 0.25m ( about 12"). The overall impression is of a fairly square vessel, but because Barry has deliberately lowered the internal free-board, the effect is not too boxy. Too make up shortcomings in the structural free-board department though, Barry has a decent set of stainless railings running around the gunwales which were set at exactly the right height for my legs and gave me a most secure feeling moving around on deck.
Although Barry says his twin hulls are semi-planing, closer inspection reveals a suspicion that they might be almost fully displacement, with a wide outboard chine for the aft two-thirds of each hull and the internal sides of each hull having a small half-hull length multi-purpose spray-rail/chine. It sounds complicated but it isn't, and as the performance of the cat seemed to involve no dramatic change of hull attitude in correlation to increase of speed, I would think that this is the case. Barry has made his hulls fairly shallow compared to the full displacement hulls of a Glacier Bay, for example, but I think that in this case this has meant that the Samson gets away with smaller engines whilst still retaining most of the benefits of the catamaran ride much as you would get in a semi-planing vessel such as a Kevlacat. All in all the ride is what I would pretty much have expected from a catamaran hull of this size, whilst the overall performance exceeded what I thought it would have done. This is in part probably due to the buoyancy which the hulls provided, some 1.8 tonnes of it !
Out on the water, it was slightly disappointing to see that the small Raytheon log was not working correctly and I was unable to provide accurate speed readings - but these things happen on sea-trials. The twin Yamaha F25AETL 4-stroke engines maxed out at 5500 revs, which I would judge was at a speed of somewhere around 25 knots. I would have cruised these engines at about 4700 revs which is when they sounded happiest and the speed was probably around 20 - 21 knots. However, due to the 45 degree angle of the efficiency curve, you could probably run these engines at whatever speed you wanted and get the same mileage out of a gallon of fuel. Barry claims a range of around 70 miles with the standard 25 litre/5.5 gallon Yamaha fuel tanks at about 25 knots. At 15 knots, I reckon you'll get just about the same range - it'll just take you longer.
The engines were the first Yamaha 4-strokes I have run, and it was immediately obvious that they were noticeably louder than either Suzukis or Honda 4-strokes, the sound of them unmistakably throaty and Yamaha-like. However, if you don't buy 4-strokes for the decibel ratings, then I could see no disadvantage of these two little beauties over any other 4-stroke. Rather, you have two distinct advantages - an excellent and long-established service network nation-wide and also the use of arguably the best throttle/gauge package on the market. There is no denying it - once you get used to handling the ergonomics of a Yamaha package it is difficult to get used to something else again. The two 25's came with electric trim as well which was a bonus, enabling me to run the bow up in a following sea so the boat did not track by the nose, and also to trim the bow down in a head-sea which puts the finer sections of the bow into the sea and leads to a smoother ride. One other bonus point for these Yamahas was an oil-warning light actually on the engine cowling as well as on the gauge. Overall, I could find little fault with the engines at all. Installation was neat and tidy, cables and steering being run down each side of the boat under respective gunwales and thence into the centre console. Barry has fitted a Samson out recently with a pair of 40hp engines. That boater goes a little, so I am told. I will report more if I get a chance to ride one.
Out on the water, handling of the cat was crisp and very, very responsive. At slightly slower speeds she almost leaned into a turn but high-speed manoeuvring raised the typical habit of flatness in the turn - a little facet of power-cat behaviour that takes a little getting used to. Barry has no central nacelle or other device in between the hulls so direct head sea performance was exactly what I would have expected - stable, softish but slightly noisy, efficient and sometimes wet when it got rougher. Barry has overcome most of the problem of 'sneezing' by incorporating a lip into the downside edge of the vessel and I could only really make the boat 'sneeze' at the end of the test when we found a few waves big enough to do so. Even then the effect was markedly slight compared to some cats I have ridden on.
Down-sea, the cat ran smoothly with no need for repetitive use of the helm, both at high and low speeds. Barry seems to have regulated the weight distribution on the hull very effectively, and a judicious throttle setting negated any porpoising which can often result in a following sea at speed. Running with either engine whilst the other was trimmed out of the water resulted in positive handling, easy turning in either direction and a single-engine top speed of about 12 knots or so - impressive indeed. Cross-sea performance was absolutely worry-free and the boat behaved best with the chop on her quarters, which is typical of most cats. Despite the 'low' freeboard, I found the Samson remarkably dry, even when quartering up-sea.
This boat was hull no.13 and had been fitted out with a variety of options for its new owner. The centre-console was extremely well made and complimented the seat astern of it quite cleverly. The console had a substantial perspex screen with a surrounding grab-rail, and offered enough room for the flush-mounted log, engine gauges/throttles and the rather sporty wheel with plenty of room left over for other installations. The seat was bonded to the deck and offered plenty of watertight stowage below and a reversible back-rest which was moulded to snugly fit both passenger and helmsman. Forward of the console screen was another integral moulded seat with access to stowage and battery switches underneath. Each engine is designed to be a completely separate operational entity from the other with its own fuel and battery - sensible thinking. A further effective touch was that the entire console could be folded forward accessing the entire electronics, the batteries and the helm. Quite brilliant.
Forward of this amidships seat was a locker offering additional stowage, situated on the centre-line, which was flanked by bonded pads which nestled the fuel-tanks in position. The icing on the cake to this eminently practical layout was a well-made canvas dodger with clear viewing panels which folds down over the bow section when not in use, but extends back and secures to the console grab-rail when upright. Even when in this position it was still possible to helm the boat from a sitting position, thus offering additional protection to anyone on board. As an afterthought, I tried seeing what the wind did to the boat, both with the dodger up and down. When down, the cat drifted beam on with a sensible roll/recovery rate, and with the dodger up it sailed downwind at nearly a knot and a half, complete with steerage !! Exceedingly useful
Barry builds these little boats one at a time and offers them in almost any configuration, ranging from a basic work-boat finish to a deluxe sport package which has lots of glistening gel-coat mouldings. When I commented on the console and seat, he stated that he has a variety of options available. Indeed, lockers in the bow-deck and the sponsons themselves are possible, as is any arrangement of seating. A flat deck with no need to access anything underneath means he can fit almost any helm or console you may care to choose, even if it comes from another manufacturer. Under-floor, the hulls are divided into five separate watertight compartments, and even if they are at present not filled with mandatory flotation, he can add it should you wish. The splash-well is a full transom affair and offers a little more stowage for equipment impervious to saltwater such as fenders and ropes. I particularly liked it compared to the tiny splash-wells so often seen nowadays.
As I mentioned earlier, Barry offers the boat at present with engines as low as a single 9.9hp which gives a maximum speed of about 12 knots, all the way up to those 40's which make it fly along at about 35 to 40 knots. A common commercial fit-out is for twin 9.9hp motors which give a top speed of around 17 knots - an efficient hull indeed.
Barry also supplies a custom trailer should you want one, and I can personally vouch for its effectiveness as I drove the boat onto it with no major problems. Other options include a bimini top, simple electronics, hydraulic steering, rod holders and various other forms of hardware.
Overall, the Samson is a craft which the UK has needed for some time now and it is a boat which offers the thinking man an alternative to the endless procession of mono and cathedral hulls which have occupied the small-boat motor-boater for so long. Here is an extremely fuel-efficient hull, readily adaptive to small twin engines for a safety aspect that is hard to beat. It is also a catamaran, therefore bestowing in its relative short length a great deal of stability, handling and seaworthiness that an ordinary monohull of equal length cannot equal.
Despite my initial misgiving, I found the Samson a pleasure to drive, well fitted out and a prospectively economical and safe boat to drive. There are many people, who have never been on a cat, who think that catamarans are the panacea to all boating ills. Truth is, they are only as good as the person who drives it, within its limits. If you take the time out to learn about a craft and its habits you will become a better seaman. This little catamaran will help you do so easier than in a mono hull and it will also get you where you want to go in a faster and safer manner.
If I was in the market for an easily trailerable boat of 20' or under, I would look at the Samson and almost certainly buy it. Great for the summer without a care, good for the winter with a little care. Excellent for summer days with a family, and a wonderful boat for any inland water including huge Scottish lochs. For inland waters I would almost certainly stick a single 15hp motor on one hull, which will give you about 10 knots or so at cruise, and then I'd put a Minnekota electric outboard on the other hull for supreme stealth and eco-friendly motoring. This would then probably be the most amazing trouting boat for those big reservoirs. Easily trailerable, fuel efficient and a soft ride to boot. What more do you want ?
Bottom line ? you'll drive this boat with twin 15 hp Yammies and a 20 knot performance away from Barry's workshop for under £13,600. Yummy yummybring on Christmas. Actually, bring on the rest of your ideas Barryhmm.
For further information, contact Barry on tel: 0845 601 2256, fax : 01872 862288,
or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Samson 525 Powercat - on road tour, SUMMER 2001
St Mawes Harbour - Easter Saturday 14th and Monday 16th April
Southampton Ocean Village - Friday 20th, Sat 21st and Sunday 22nd April
Helford River - Friday 27th and Sat 28th April
Mylor Yacht Harbour - Saturday 5th, Sunday 6th and Monday 7th May
Fowey/Looe/Rock - Whitsun weekend
Liverpool/Dublin/Belfast/Troon/Glasgow/Oban/Inverness - end of May thru
Dartmouth - June 16th
SEAWORK - June 18th
FOR MORE INFORMATION CALL 0845 012 256