An innovative approach to installing two new diesel Dtorque outboards into a 52 foot Hitchhiker sailing catamaran has given owner Ilan Sebban peace of mind and a better vessel under power and sail
X-IT patiently waits on the slipway for her repower to twin Dtorque diesel outboard engines that will enhance assisted travel and complement her sleekness
At its mooring on Sydney Harbour, 52 foot Hitchhiker catamaran SV X-IT is tethered with a crouched presence that is really only afforded the kind of sailing vessels that look fast even when the sails are packed away.
Wide beam (close to 33 feet), low hull profile and almost spacecraft-like bridge deck structure hide a fabulous diesel secret weapon amidships, made even more effective through an innovative re-think in fitting.
Unless you are looking closely down the hull tunnel though, the casual observer would be unaware of how cleverly a re-power with two new Dtorque 111 diesel outboards has been applied on this very ocean-capable sailing machine.
Sydney-based owner Ilan Sebban matter-of-factly explains the cat’s return sail from its recent Ballina Slipways refit saw it hit close to 19 knots on multiple sections of the trip and averaged 9.5 knots all up under sail.
It was the performance of his new Dtorque diesel outboards that also delivered some impressive numbers too.
“We managed just over 10 knots on the sea trials and did a similar speed under motor on open waters too – I’m incredibly happy with the performance,” Ilan says.
Dtorque mounted mid-hull upon hydraulic plates within sea-breaking pods
Dtorque has performance to prove their name and claims
Just consider those on-water speeds under power for a moment. The twin-cylinder Dtorques, distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Power Equipment, are the world’s smallest diesel outboard with common rail injection and deliver 50 horsepower at the propeller shaft.
X-IT’s previous petrol outboard combination, mounted in the cockpit area of the vessel, were a pair of 60 horsepower outboards.
“There was constantly a smell of petrol about the cockpit area with the old outboards, and unfortunately just too many failures,” Ilan explained.
“And while I like to think of myself as a sailing ‘purist’, so to speak, I’m well aware of the importance of good, reliable engines on board a vessel like mine,” he said.
Nowhere was this better brought home for Ilan than during a return journey from New Zealand a couple of years back when a 10-plus metre storm swell made things more than a bit interesting for Ilan and his crew.
“We ended up under engines, pretty much full throttle for nearly three hours just to keep the boat into a sea that was trying to get the better of us,” he said, “and nothing hit home for me more that there are times when good engines aren’t just a convenience, they are a necessity”.
The Dtorque decision was no quick one, with Ballina Slipways shipwright Michael Cocks and Ilan mapping out the refit for X-IT over nearly two years.
X-IT has been kept very simple in terms of its onboard systems and conveniences – with deliberate intention.
“There is no generator on board, no air conditioning. It is a minimalist vessel which means less things to go wrong when you are at sea,” Ilan says.
Along with the obvious safety of using a less volatile fuel, the impressive 111 Nm of torque delivered by the Neander-engineered outboards was key.
Diesel inboards were not a preference for Ilan due to sailing hull compromises from running gear, and electric propulsion was simply not realistic in terms of longer-distance cruising.
Mid-hull positioned sea-breaking pods to mount the Dtorque engines when in use and protect and reduce drag when retracted from service
Michael Cocks of Ballina Slipways says of the Dtorque installation; “Ilan was having issues with the cockpit-mounted outboards with salt ingress and other issues, so we looked at an inside mid-hull position and made that work.”
Understanding Ilan’s vision and needs for X-IT, Michael was not afraid to take on what is quite a radical installation of outboard power on a larger sailing catamaran.
Sea-breaking pods have been designed and fabricated in front of each outboard position, while jacking plates allow both proper water entry for the outboard legs and full retraction away from the splash whilst under sail.
SeaStar Xtreme jackplates provide complete thrust support and rapid hydraulic response when required
“The stern will usually bury to some extent with outboards to the rear and this midships installation has made the whole boat sit better in the water” Michael explained.
“The close-quarter handling was very good, with all that torque no doubt helpful and the vessel responded well under power. We’re very happy with the outcome,” he said.
Michael also praised a notable lack of vibration under power from the Dtorques – no doubt helped by the 804cc engine’s dual counter-rotating crankshaft design. He was also impressed by running temperatures of the engines during sea trials that never went above around 40 degrees Celcius regardless of revs.
“It’s nice to see smooth, cool-running engines like that,” Michael said.
Ballina Slipway shipwright, Michael Cocks with one of the brand new Dtorque 111 Nm diesel outboard engines
Advantages shine in a smooth-running diesel
With its remarkable torque output (peaking at 111 Nm @ 2,500rpm), these engines offer exceptional capability when powering heavy loads.
While being built for speed under sail and minimalist equipment onboard has keep X-IT’s displacement to around 9 tonnes, the Dtorques’ 50 horsepower output has pushed the hull at up to 10.5 knots during sea trials, (by comparison, the previous 60 horsepower petrol outboards struggled to achieve 6.5 knots at WOT).
Torque performance even surpasses the class-leading 70 horsepower petrol alternative, yet engineers claim a fuel burn of less than 12 litres per hour even under WOT. Considering a similar horsepower petrol engine would use close to twice that amount of fuel at full throttle, it is easy to see where the Dtorques start to show their true worth.
With an aluminium block and the smoothness of the counter-rotating crankshafts, the Dtorques have an expected service life in excess of 10,000 hours – nearly doubling that expected from a similar petrol-powered outboard.
X-IT, ready for her next and many future journeys, comfortable in the knowledge that her Dtorque diesel powered engines are as capable of performing the long haul as she is
A modern classic of the larger recreational multi-hulls, SV X-IT was the last built by the founder of Hitchhiker designs, John Hitch in around 2005.
Primarily a labour of love for Ilan, (and part obsession by his own admission), since buying it from John some six years ago, the Dtorque installation and other improvements to the boat under Michael Cock’s direction has completed what he calls his “ultimate passion”.
“Michael is right, the midships installation of the Dtorques has definitely balanced the boat better and I believe the boat tracks better in this configuration, particularly with downwind sailing,” he said.
You could be forgiven for thinking Ilan was a decades-long sailor in experience when he talks of his on-water enthusiasm and somewhat radical improvements for X-IT. He has two Tasman crossings, multiple offshore adventures, Sydney to Hobart and Lord Howe trips under his belt, but the reality of his offshore experience is far different.
“I was actually born in the middle of France. I had some power boats over the years but only have six years total in sailing experience,” Ilan explains.
“I just get such a thrill when I am out at sea – the further out the better,” he says, “I have rung my wife on occasions when I am out there and said ‘you should see the stars out here at night! It’s amazing!’”
“It’s my intention to sail her to Cape Town next year some time if all goes to plan.”
Such is the enthusiasm of the sailing enthusiast, especially with the backup of some reliable and capable diesel power onboard.
Whatever the adventures for Ilan and X-IT, his Dtorques will no doubt be trusty partners whenever and wherever they are called upon.
Dtorque 111 Nm – 50 HP the first turbo diesel outboard with state-of-the-art common rail fuel injection and unique innovative dual counter-rotating crank-shaft design