Formax, a composite reinforcements manufacturer, has teamed up with Gold Coast Yachts to develop an all-carbon B53 catamaran. Gold Coast Yachts, located in Christiansted on St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands, is building its main structure. The boat has been designed by Paul Bieker and is scheduled for launch in March 2015.

Headquartered in Leicester (UK), Formax specialises in the production of lightweight carbon fibre multiaxials and highly engineered glass fibre and aramid fibres.

As well as being a very fast racer for competitive sailing, the B53 catamaran is a high-tech, well-equipped cruiser with an overall length of 16.3 m. and displacement of 5500 kg, including most equipment.

Formax says in a statement that its custom carbon fibre fabrics enabled Gold Coast Yachts to achieve the weight and engineering specifications for the B53. Philip Steggall Formax’s newly appointed US business development manager, assisted the boatbuilder with this project.

The challenge

Paul Bieker considered a number of composite build techniques for the boat. Concerned that it might not be possible to meet the weight and panel engineering specifications for the B53 through wet bagging, he was also aware that successful resin infusion of carbon fabrics can be difficult, and prepreg would be very expensive, requiring costly materials, tooling and production equipment, and higher labour costs.

Gold Coast Yachts called in Formax’ Philip Steggall, who is highly experienced in all processing techniques, to help decide which manufacturing process would achieve the laminate properties set out by the designer.

Formax fabrics were used to build test panels using wet bagging and infusion techniques. The results from laboratories in the US and Canada demonstrated the superior properties of the infused panels, including a 15% increase in compression strength. Gold Coast Yachts was then able to prove that it could meet the B53’s weight, strength and stiffness specifications using infusion.

For the B53, Formax engineered +45°/-45° biaxial carbon fabrics of 400 g/m2 and 300 g/m2 and a 0°/90° biaxial of 300 g/m2. “The Formax fabric allowed us to get air out ahead of the resin front, instead of entrapping it within the laminate, as is done with wet bagging, and even with prepreg. That’s how we hit the target weight, as well as the strength requirement, for this boat,” explains Gold Coast Yachts’ president Rich Difede.

“Some remain sceptical about the quality and properties of infused carbon laminates,” comments Philip Steggall. “Our work with Gold Coast Yachts proves that infusion, when done correctly, yields a significant strength advantage. Part of the story is training of the personnel and part is material choice. Formax has infusion-specific materials and that’s a huge help to customers,” he adds.