Telstar Trimaran - A Biased Overview by Joe Siudzinski

The Telstar was designed and built by Tony Smith in Britain from the early 70's through about 1980. The UK Telstar production was somewhere around 200 boats - first there was the Telstar 26 and around 1977 the Telstar 8m, which featured a fatter/roomier main hull. There was also a Telstar 35 and a version of the 8m which had outer hulls which pulled in close to the main hull while the boat was in the water, but I believe only one or two were ever built. Tony emigrated to the US and set up Performance Cruising in Maryland. I believe there were 10 Telstars built in the US in late 1980 to mid-1981 (serial numbers 250 through 259 or 260). The factory burned down in mid-1981, so all the molds were lost (Tony started building the Gemini catamarans after the fire). My present boat is a US-built S/N256, which I purchased in 1986. I also have a 1976 26-footer which I am just starting to restore. There is no current Telstar production anywhere in the world.

I partially refurbished my Telstar (it had significant workmanship defects), and, after first satisfying myself that the boat is structurally sound, am now having fun alternately further upgrading the boat and sailing it. I keep it either on a trailer in front of my garage at home or in a slip on San Francisco Bay.

My sailing has consisted of the very rough San Francisco Bay and coastal sailing/racing, many weeks at Lake Tahoe, and extended cruises in British Columbia and Southern California.

Here's my personal opinion of the boat's pro's and con's:

The Advantages

1. Good usable interior volume, especially for a 26-footer. Be aware that there were basically two sizes of Telstars made: initially was the Telstar 26, which was followed by the Telstar 8-metre. The 8m has appreciably more volume than its predecessor. The interior layout had evolved quite a bit during the boat's production life. Mine has a very large berth forward, a dinette which honestly seats 6 people and converts into a double berth, and finally a single quarter-berth. There's a reasonable sink and stove area. Don't forget that in any kind of cruising, one berth is usually dedicated to duffel bags and coolers; two couples do fine on my boat for a weekend hop, and five people are OK. A couple with kids would be just fine for an extended vacation. For daysailing, with people outside, the sky's the limit. Standing headroom is almost 6' in the galley, and a bit less in the main companionway, and is certainly adequate (I'm 6'). On the Telstar 26 the forward berth is a single, so the total sleeping capacity is four people.

2. Trailerable - one of my primary criteria. I enjoy having the boat on a trailer by my garage so I can putter around it. One can go to different places to cruise (for me, the Pacific Northwest, Mexico, Lake Tahoe, etc.) or simply try new places on extended weekends. Launching it is relatively straightforward; although not rushing, it presently takes me an honest 1-1/2 to 2 hours to launch, but over two hours to retrieve. I'm gradually shortening the setup/launch or retrieve/stow time to a target of under an hour [all I have to do is automate and/or streamline each individual step of boat assembly] - no strong muscles are needed for this, either, although the mast is very heavy if you have to lift it (I don't). The trailer setup is unique, in that mine has a subframe on rails which holds the boat and slides down into the water on mating rails on the main road trailer. The whole boat with trailer is around 5000#, so you need something hefty to pull it with. All in all, the boat is easy to set up, but I don't think I would go to the trouble for anything less than a three-day weekend. Sleeping on the boat while it's on the trailer (at rest stops or campgrounds) is also no problem. It takes an hour longer to take the boat out of the water and have it ready to travel than it takes to put it into the water - more fussing about to tie things down properly. The primary setup time consumer is the mast (the wings raise and lock into place in under 10 minutes). The Telstar 26 takes a little longer than the 8M because the wings bolt into place instead of being pinned, and the hinges are multiply articulated which consumes some time for proper hull alignment and securing on the trailer.

3. Shallow draft - I especially enjoyed this feature when Lake Tahoe was down about 6-feet. I merely jumped overboard and pulled the boat through a few questionable places - it was great! The centerboard and rudder retract, so it's simple to run the boat onto a beach.

4. Seaworthiness - Telstars have crossed the Atlantic. Now that I know it'll stay together, I have no qualms about venturing outside for the rough Northern California coastal cruising. The main hull has surprisingly high freeboard and lots of buoyancy forward, although the underwing clearance is small. The outer hulls have good buoyancy, although their stock hatch covers leak terribly, but I've solved that with judicious application of thick closed-cell foam sealing strips. Significant reenforcement of a few structural areas (e.g., rudder) is needed if one wants to continually sail in very rough stuff. The outer hull hinges and strut mechanism are bulletproof! I think it would be very very hard to make the boat turn turtle. I did manage to break the boat's mast in the summer of '89 (near Desolation Sound), but I was in a hurry and was purposely driving the boat very very hard into a nasty chop in 30 knots of wind with full working jib and one reef in the main -- I lazily had the rigging way too slack and it simply allowed the mast to get out of column (it was all my fault, not the boat's)...I've been out in much worse conditions with no problems. I drove the boat so hard at the time because it was still very stable and showed no signs of wanting to fly two hulls.

5. Handling - I was pleasantly surprised: tacks well, points very well (even with a poorly-shaped plywood centerboard), and is sailable on main alone: spent 1988 July 4th evening dodging 100's of boats under the Golden Gate Bridge watching the fireworks in 20+ knot winds while sailing only under reefed main, and it worked fine! I'm told by other Telstar owners that they find it difficult to sail on only the main - I think the trick is to have it reefed, thus moving the center of effort forward.

6. All-round visibility when down below - I even cut out a few more ports on mine, because I singlehand a lot. This I consider a major advantage and one that very few sailboats possess.

7. Deep cockpit - I like the deep cockpit: you don't get the impression that you'll be catapulted from it in rough water. The multi-level seating is nice. I did modify the standard doorway and added a lower slidehatch to preclude possible flooding from the cockpit in case of survival conditions. I also built an all-round aft railing and then added another railing way aft which serves as both a mast support when trailering as well as another seat with excellent up-high visibility.

8. Stowage room - I originally had this listed as a negative; however, after emptying out the boat one day and filling up a good portion of my garage, I now see that the boat has lots of volume which does get used. Under the forward bunk there's a huge cavern, but it's relatively inaccessible so that it's not very practical. I've stuffed a whole bunch of empty plastic milk bottles into mine and have moved the water tank in there (the boat has excess bow buoyancy). At the aft end, there's another cavern, and it's great: all the sails go there, as well as my folding bicycles, and still have lots of room left. Inside, there are a number of nooks and crannies: down low, there are compartments for two batteries and canned goods alongside the centerboard trunk. In the galley area there are a few 'cave lockers'. At the starboard aft end there's a large storage space going under the cockpit seats. In the cockpit, on port, there's a good-sized locker which I use for sheets and dock lines. There's an anchor locker in the bow. Normally coolers, sleeping bags, duffel bags, pots/pans in Rubbermaid boxes, etc. all stay on berths - the forward berth is so big, it accommodates most of the stuff anyway and still leaves room for two people to sleep, so I really shouldn't complain. I'm continually adding more storage volume as I improve the interior. The main anchor, spare gas, buckets, paddles, etc. fit quite well into the outer hulls. I use a two-man kayak as my tender: it straps down nicely on an outer hull. Although I've heard of someone doing it, I don't consider the Telsatar an adequately-sized boat for a liveaboard.

9. Looks - at the bottom of my personal list of criteria, but the darn thing does draw appreciative comments.

The Disadvantages

1. Speed - I'm a little disappointed, although the boat ghosts well, consistently travels at 7+ knots in any decent wind, and I've had it up to 13 knots (under spinnaker in 30-knot winds) and it'll beat most monohulls of equal and some larger size ... the boat just doesn't get up and zoom like multihulls should (the main hull is perhaps too beamy and has some protrusions out the sides, and the struts readily hit the smallest waves) -- but then I'm spoiled by racing C-Class catamarans. My 8M is significantly slower than an F-27. The older Telstar 26 is faster than the 8M because the main hull is sleeker and there is better wave clearance between the hulls. I'm sure that my overloading of the boat with cruising gear and a dodger doesn't help, either.

2. Workmanship - I've already mentioned it; suffice it to say that if the previous owner hasn't done it, you'll need to touch-up and fix lots of minor things, including reenforcing stanchion supports and cleats, beef up rudder case, leakproof windows and other through-deck penetrations, etc.

3. Absence of Buoyancy - I think she'll sink if she gets up-ended. I'm still throwing empty plastic milk bottles into the outer hulls, and with the current collection and the additional buoyancy I've added to the coachroof my boat should be unsinkable.

4. Weight - my guess is that she's around 3500#. This really isn't a factor in cruising.

5. Assembly Speed - despite streamlining a lot of the steps, it still takes a couple of hours to launch the boat off the trailer and having it ready to go. Retrieving the boat takes a little longer. The main culprit is the heavy-duty mast, involving the need to set up an A-frame, winches, stabilizing lines, etc. Flipping the hulls out is quite fast (maybe 10 minutes), although it still cannot compare to an F-27. The launching time is just a little too long and precludes taking the boat out somewhere for just a weekend.

So there you have it - my own biased opinion of the boat. If you would like to discuss the boat further, please feel free to give me a call.

Joe Siudzinski, 27150 Moody Court, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022. (650)-941-4114


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