ISLANDS RACE NEWS

Howard Enloe: The Multihull Maverick

By Kate Sheahan
Courtesy of Sailing World

Since its introduction in the late 1980s, the ORMA 60 trimaran has seduced the best sailors in the world, especially the solo-sailing cowboys from France. Capable of sustained speeds few powerboats can match, it’s not the sort of boat one would expect your average 78-year-old Texan to campaign, but then again, owner Howard Enloe isn’t your average Texan.

Enloe, who first saw the sea when he was 18, didn’t learn to sail on the traditional mononhull path and, in fact, doesn’t sail monohulls—period. Early in his sailing career he was formally trained on a Corsair trimaran by a handful of multihull experts, including Jay Glaser, Pete Melvin, and Gino Morrelli. Now he’s got the ORMA 60 Mighty Merloe, undeniably one of, if not the fastest racing sailboats registered in America.

"Enloe is a trailblazer," says Mighty Merloe project manager and crewmember Nat Iyengar. "He has put himself out there to experience something significant, which in Enloe's case, is extreme speed."

An engineer by training, and the owner/operator of an ambulance service in El Paso, Tex., Enloe has been nurturing the development of big multihulls for decades.

"He was doing big boats when no one else was," says Merloe helmsman Cam Lewis.

Perhaps his motivation is born of practicality: "Let’s go fast, and get 'er done," says Enloe as he prepared for the 2014 Newport Ensenada Race—the annual dash from Southern California across the border. A few days later, Mighty Merloe was challenging for the lead, sailing the 126-nautical mile course in less than eight hours.

Enloe raced his previous trimaran, Loe Real, in the 2013 edition, becoming only the second boat in the history of the race to finish before sunset on the first day.

"There is no sensibility to what I do," said Enloe with a mischievous wink when we met before the start of the Ensenda Race.

With Enloe committed to multihull sailing, his vision has cast sparks. With the arrival of Tom Siebel's MOD 70, Orion, in California, which straightaway broke Steve Fossett’s 1,000-nautical mile Puerto Vallarta Race course record, there are suddenly two West Coast-based boats, making for high-spirited distance racing.

"They are totally different boats, but pretty even in most conditions," says Lewis. "The MOD 70 is perhaps a better boat in most conditions over 18 knots, they are similar in 12 to 18 knots, and Mighty Merloe is much more competitive in under 15."

The Ensenada Race had an average of 20-knot winds, and after Merloe led for most of the race, the two boats finished within minutes of each other.

"The addition of Orion to the mix has not turned to blood-and-guts competition, but a friendly rivalry," says Enloe. "We do dinners together. There has been some inter mixing of crew. This camaraderie makes the competition more personal, more fun."

Undaunted by monohull traditions, and as a pioneer of sorts, he is interested in all facets of the boat, and his open-source approach to development places a large emphasis on the human factor. To this end he is supported by evolving guest stints from industry experts like Emirates Team New Zealand trimmer Thierry Foucher and veteran trimaran helmsman Tim McKegney, who are mixed with a mainly amateur crew. Crewmembers submit individual debriefs for every day of sailing. Every inch of the boat and every hour of every race is analyzed, scrutinized, theorized, and debated until there’s agreement about what’s fast.

"It’s all a learning curve," says Enloe. "As long as we enjoy an active learning program and everyone has a chance to lend their expertise, it’s fun for everyone."

"Technology is changing faster than the average monohull sailor’s culture is changing. If you were to put all of this on a curve, I’m not sure when or where they’d intersect, but I think it will take generations. So it’s not necessarily about converting people, but bringing new people into the game."

American sailors are ready for something new and something different, he feels. "Speed is something that they want. The America’s Cup demonstrated that a multihull is still a boat; it’s still apparent wind; there’s nothing different. A good Melges sailor can get on a multihull and be good."