History of the Hoot
The Hoot development team has been Doug Kidder, Chris Maas, Billy Service and Bill Hansen.
The original prototype was a chopped down, modified 16-foot rowing shell that Chris Maas stuck some wings and a windsurfer rig onto. This original boat (the “Rocket”) was a great proof of concept, but was too small and too difficult to sail.
Chris sailing the Rocket
The second boat — the original Hoot — was an entirely new hull made from doorskin plywood and foam. It was heavier, longer and narrower than the final Hoot. This made the boat a bit quicker upwind through the waves, but with minimal rocker and a sharp bow, it was very difficult to tack. We found that midway through the tack, the bow would inevitably chop down into a wave and the turn would stop abruptly. Chris and Billy fixed this one evening by taking a sawzall and chopping a foot off the bow.
First prototype: Hoot testing different wing
Since that doorskin plywood boat, we’ve built production molds — but even those original molds have been tweaked to further refine the performance. Out of those molds we’ve built ten hulls to date. We’ve been testing those hulls and rigs continuously in the San Francisco Bay.
We love testing in the Bay out of the Richmond Marina. Out of Richmond, we can head south into the Olympic Circle in Berkeley where, on a typical summer day, it blows between 15 and 25 with two to three foot chop. The Olympic Circle is notorious for breaking boats — so it is a perfect place to stress test a new boat. Heading North out of Richmond, if we stay behind the narrow island/breakwater we can sail, on a day when it is blowing 15 in the Olympic Circle, in 5 knots and flat water.
Rig development has been the most challenging part of the Hoot design. The original rigs were all stayed windsurfer rigs. We liked that these booms, when angled down, were self-vanging. However, we found that stock windsurfer masts didn't really work to windward and the weight of the wishbone boom made the boats that much more difficult to sail.
We finally settled on a traditional boom using a thin wall extrusion, and added a traditional, adjustable vang along with the windsurfer-inspired downhaul. Between the downhaul and the vang, the sail can be adjusted from huge camber all the way up for light air, to almost completely bladed out with a tight leech, to completely bladed out low with the top third of the sail loose. Lots and lots of control.
At last count we've gone through seven different mast designs — all carbon two piece masts with different flex characteristics from telephone poles to noodles — and approximately 10 different sail designs. The biggest performance difference between the masts has been the amount of adjustability in the sail shape. If the mast is too stiff, you can’t really set the shape for different conditions; if it’s too flexible, windward performance tanks. We’ve finally gotten to a mast/sail combination that feels good all around.
The first sail was an 11 square meter knockoff of a formula windsurfer design. Hugely fast, but too much for this boat. We were testing the original Hoot up in the Columbia River gorge with this sail in 20 knots. It was great fun off the wind, but a handful — and slow — to windward.
Planing in 10 kts in the original Hoot
We’ve been very fortunate to get Bill Hansen, from Hansen Sails, in on this project. Bill is a brilliant sail designer, and has been incredibly patient with us as we continued to tweak the sail.
We settled on a 10 square meter sail some time back and then focused on adjusting the cut. We also added camber inducers to the sail to provide the really powerful shape we wanted for low wind. That has paid off in being able to plane to windward in about 7 knots. We've now gone to a bolt rope sail for ease of handling on the dock.
Pre-production boat in SF Bay
The Hoot name came about because we were searching for something fun. We were debating names when, in the course of a single week, we had two people look at the boat and both exclaim, “That looks like a hoot!” So the name stuck.