Easy, Fun, Affordable and Exciting

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by Thom Burns

Jack Culley, President of Sailboats Inc., suggested that after the 9th annual Barker’s Island regatta he had two new WindRiderTM trimarans I should sail and review. Alexis, my college freshman daughter, who has helped me review many boats, was reluctant to do another “dad” thing after racing on Scott Kerper’s F-27 the day before. After a brunch bribe and an hour and a half limit we were off.

When we approached the dock only one boat was there. The other was at the other end of the Barker’s Island facility, home of Sailboats Inc. I decided that I would ride on the net of the 16 foot trimaran while Alexis sat in the cockpit seat and drove (you steer with your feet) ... to the other boat. What I immediately noticed was how empowering it was for her to have total control of this boat. She was sitting in the cockpit steering with her feet with the mainsheet trimmed in a jam cleat with both her hands free. The camera was behind the windshield out of the weather.

The boat accelerated smoothly in the light air. You could hear every ripple as we scooted over the wavelets and little else. The smile from Alexis was infectuous as we turned upwind toward the other boat and ultimately open water. Alexis dropped me on the other boat and we became a tandem pair.

We tacked directly through the wind as we left the harbor entrance. We noticed that the big rudder could park you as you tried to tack if you turned too sharply. No problem ... one swosh of the paddle and you were off. Because the boat is built so much like a kayak it paddles easily and efficiently. Remember your hands are free! After a few more tacks we had it down and the paddle was put to rest and the real fun began.

We sailed the boats back and forth on all points of sail in winds from five to ten knots with an occasional gust around 12 - 13. It was incredible how quick the boats actually are and how much you feel it sitting a foot or two above the water. Six keel boats ranging from 28 to 40 feet came by on their Sunday sail. We sailed circles around all of them except the gent who was motorsailing. Synchronized sailing took on new meaning as we danced across the water together. Sometimes following, sometimes leading but always effortlessly mimmicking one another’s moves. And then there were the waves.

The WindriderTM which weighs only 235 lbs. is an excellent wave boat. At every opportunity we positioned ourselves and caught the waves of large motor yachts and commercial traffic. With the wind to steady the boat, this lightweight craft would catch the wave and easily stay on it for an effortless, thrilling ride. I timed Alexis on one wave for a minute and twenty seconds. When the wind was right we would actually catch one wave and after riding it run to the next for successive rides.

WindRider 16 Specifications
Length Over All  16'1"
Length on the Waterline 15'8"
Beam 12'7"
Weight 250 lbs.
Total Sail Area 93 sq. ft.
Draft  16"
Capacity 500 lbs.
Designer Jim Brown
Introduced 1995
Suggested Retail Price $3,750
Sail Options
Multicolored (3575-6201-BYG) White (3575-6201-BLU)

By now we had already been out over an hour. I asked Alexis if we should go in now. She flashed a big smile, “naw, lets go down by the lighthouse.” So we sailed upwind to the main harbor entrance. I showed her how to make sure she wasn’t over-trimmed which is extremely detrimental to going upwind in a multi-hull. When she eased the sheet, she took off. One thing I noticed was the attention we got from other boats as we darted about effortlessly. Everyone seemed interested in the little boats that moved!

Finally, Alexis delayed going in again by suggesting we should wait for mom, Gloria Peck, who was returning to Barker’s Island on her friend, Gail Bowdish’s Islander 36, Aerie. Aerie was under power going 6.0 knots, we easily matched her speed in 8.5 knots of true wind.

I embarked Gloria and gave her a lift on the trampoline to the dock. “What a neat boat,” she remarked. There were a couple of folks ready at the dock to demo the boats, more with questions. The excitement seemed catchy, what a great first impression.

I wanted to know more about WindriderTM which I had first seen in Annapolis, MD and now had had a great deal of fun with while test sailing it. I saw Andy Zimmerman, President of Wilderness Systems, two weeks later in Chicago. He invited me down to the factory in High Point, NC. Before going I studied the design more.

Jim Brown, the designer, has been designing boats since 1960. He designed the Searunner cruising trimarans which are popular throughout the world. Jim combines modern marine designs and materials with a student’s passion for native watercraft.

WindriderTM is the world’s first and only rotomolded polyethylene trimaran. It is 16’1” long and 12’7” wide. Each of its three hulls are sleek, aero- and hydrodynamic. This allows for exciting cruising speeds such as we attained under a modest 93 sq. ft. sail plan. The free-standing anodized aluminum mast weighs only 23 pounds and the mainsail is roller furling and reefing for heavy weather sailing and storage.

Simplicity is the one most descriptive word for this boat. WindriderTM breaks down into three main components plus mast, boom, sail and cross beams. The boat is car-toppable or transports on a small trailer which is towable with anything carrying a hitch. Its fixed keel only draws 16 inches and its skeg protected rudder make it easily beachable. The wide stable platform, no WindriderTM has ever been flipped, is great for sunbathing on the trampoline and works as a fishing platform.

As a sailing instructor, I must show the new sailor how to operate a stick which works backwards called the tiller. Then I must show the new sailor how to move back and forth across the cockpit while maintaining good balance and good boat balance. Finally, I must get the new sailor to fly a wing at various aspects to the wind through trimming the sails. On the WindriderTM you sit in a comfortable seat ... no movement is necessary. You steer the boat with your feet ... push left, go left, push right, go right. Finally, with either of your free hands, trim or ease the single mainsheet. If it were to be any simpler you’d be a riding passenger.

This boat is physically less demanding than most. It doesn’t heel very much. When the weather gets cold, a cockpit cowling with windshield and a spray skirt allow a person to extend the season.

We went to North Carolina to visit WindriderTM and its parent Wilderness Systems. Wilderness Systems is a well know name in kayaks which is where company president, Andy Zimmerman got his start. They were named manufacturer of the year by Canoe and Kayaking Magazine. The roto-moulding process itself is very interesting. Simply stated, a batch of raw material is placed in a mold which is then baked at high temperatures while the mold is rotated. The polyethelene is strong and durable. It is reinforced by the design curves and corners, and by specific structural additions such as metal framing. The boats seem real tough and carry a lifetime material and workmanship warranty. The facility and the people at Wilderness Systems are impressive and enthusiastic.


The WindriderTM offers ease of sailing, virtually no significant heeling, good speed, car-toppability, trailerability and most important “fun” in an inexpensive package. When the manufacturer hits a price point of under $4,000 pretty much loaded, I get excited. This is far less than a personnel watercraft. Since the boat has never been flipped, it offers a great deal of security to parents who send their youngsters out on the lake for a little fun. Even if the wind completely dies, it would be easy to paddle back with both hands free. Alexis said, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had on a boat review.” We at Northern Breezes are so impressed with WindriderTM and Wilderness Systems that we asked to represent them in this part of the country, a Northern Breezes first.

Thom Burns publishes Northern Breezes.

For more information:

Northern Breezes Inc.:
Request a catalog: WindRider Catalogs
Visit the WindRider Pages
Visit the manufacturer  Wilderness Systems
Request a demo: Northern Breezes, Inc.
Visit our WindRider Pages

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