Sailing Technology Of Pacific Proas
A “Pacific” or “windward” proa is basically a multihull sailboat with a single large hull, and a single float or outrigger for stability. Under sail, the outrigger is ALWAYS kept to windward. So in order to tack, you have to exchange bow for stern! Thus proas have two bows, and two sterns, and can sail in either direction.
Here is an image of how that looks from the top:
Sailing a modern Pacific proa is quite simple: just ask yourself “are we coming or going?” This is because, rather than being symmetrical around a front-to-back centerline the way Western sailboats are, they are symmetrical around a side-to-side centerline, with both ends being the same.
This leads to an interesting feature of Pacific proas; they have reverse gear. Let me explain: regular sailboats, both monohulls and multihulls, go forward just fine. If you want them to stop, you need to let the sails out so they stop moving. There is absolutely NO way to get them to “back up” under sail with any modicum of control, or with any real speed. But proas break all the rules!
The first time I got invited to go sailing on a 40-foot proa, the skipper said “pick you up on the seawall over there.”
So I went and stood on the 5-foot high concrete seawall he pointed out. The proa sailor brought his canoe straight in towards the seawall, at a 90-degree angle to the wall. I became concerned, because I could see his pretty varnish job getting smashed up, or badly scratched at the very least. I didn’t see how he could possibly stop without hitting the wall.
As he got closer and closer to the wall, he let his sheets out so his canoe went slower and slower, until it stopped dead 12 inches away from the wall and hung there. He said: “Hop on”. After I got over the shock of seeing a sailboat that had “brakes”, and got my brain back in gear, I did.
Only to get another shock: he sheeted in again, but in the other direction, and the canoe went in the other direction, straight away from the wall. His proa not only had brakes, it had reverse, too! No such maneuver is remotely possible in a “single-ended sailboat”. What we believe this means in practice is that you can sail into and out of more different situations with a proa without having to use an engine, because they are so maneuverable.
(Below) The 40-foot proa with brakes, reverse, and two bows and sterns that I sailed on in 1984 in Hilo Bay.
Because of this “two bows, two sterns” thing, boat terms for a proa are thus a bit different from the normal boating variety: there’s no such thing as the bow, or the stern; there’s the now bow and the now stern. And starboard and port? That’s a good one! We’ realized we need two sets of navigation lights to meet Coast Guard requirements, and you better have the correct set turned on, depending on which direction you’re going, or it will look to other boaters as if you’re going backwards at night!
How A Proa Tacks (It Doesn’t, It “Shunts”)
(Below) A typical proa hull shape; both main hull and float are very narrow, and slip through the water with little to no disturbance, with a modestly-sized sail rig that doesn’t overload the boat. This translates into FAST without straining the boat too much.
(Below) Not only do they GO, they sail FLAT, too! No standing on the side of the cockpit or cabin side just to be able to walk forward or aft. This proa is doing 20 knots, and the two guys look like they’re sitting on a park bench chatting, instead of sitting on a sailing rocket ship in a nasty little wind chop.