Arthur Piver

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Arthur Piver (/ˈpvər/; 1910–1968) was a World War II pilot, an amateur sailor, author, printshop owner and legendary boatbuilder who lived in Mill Valley on San Francisco Bay and became "the father of the modern multihull. "

In the late 1950s and 1960s he designed and built a series of simple three-hulled, plywood yachts starting with a 16 footer and culminating in a 64-footer that was built in England for charter in the Caribbean. (The word "trimaran" was coined by Viktor Tchetchet, a Ukrainian emigrant to the US who tested his boats on Long Island sound in the late 1940s.) Piver crossed the Atlantic on his first ocean-going boat, the demountable 30 foot Nimble, departing from Swansee, Mass, stopping in the Azores, and successfully reaching Plymouth, England. He then began selling do-it-yourself plans. He thought anyone could build one of his boats even if they had no experience.

In 1962, Piver built himself a 35-foot ketch-rigged trimaran named Lodestar and sailed it around the Pacific Ocean via New Zealand. In England, Cox Marine, started building his boats and found a ready market, often with Americans who would sail them home. In 1964, Derek Kelsall bought a Lodestar bare hull, completed it with a flush deck, and entered the Observer Singlehanded Trans-Atlantic Race. After ten days, he was ahead of Eric Tabarly when he struck some flotsam and broke his daggerboard and rudder. He returned to England for replacements, restarted and still finished in a respectable time.

These voyages proved the seaworthiness of the trimaran concept and in a very short time, Piver designs became incredibly popular and inspired many novices to believe they could build their own boats and set off for the tropics. Thus Arthur Piver could be said to be the man most responsible for popularizing the nautical phenomenon of the cruising multihull.

However, it wasn't long before other designers began developing trimaran design. By the mid-60s, these included one of his young fans, Jim Brown with the Searunner series that are still sailing today, Norman A. Cross CROSS Multihull Designs of San Diego, California who had some 1,400 boats building or sailing by the 1980s, Jay Kantola in southern California with his stylish streamlined tris, and Derek Kelsall in England, the first designer to use foam and fiberglass "sandwich" construction and win a long-distance race with his prototype the 42 foot Toria.

Some versions of Piver boats left much to be desired, because backyard boatbuilders lacked the necessary skills or altered the original plans. However, he was driven to maintain his position as the world's top designer. He responded with the AA "Advanced Amateur" range with a sleek, fast profile using fiberglass over marine plywood and using double chines to improve his boats' underwater shape. Plans for the Pi series and custom designs were available for lease only. He sailed his next boat across the Atlantic to compete with the growing fleet of multihulls that was based on the south coast of England.

His new 33' boat Stiletto was no match for the sleek molded fiberglass cats from Prout and Sailcraft and Kelsall's sandwich tris. To redeem himself, he announced that he would enter the next Observer Singlehanded Trans-Atlantic Race (OSTAR) in 1968. (He had failed to make the start in 1960.) Having no time left for a solo qualification passage, he left his boat in England over the winter of 1967, and returned home. To qualify for the OSTAR, he still had to complete a 500-mile solo voyage, which he elected to do from San Francisco rather than in the spring in England. He borrowed a 25' tri from one of his homebuilders, set out, and was never seen again.

The next year, 1969, the Golden Globe solo non-stop round-the-world race was announced and two of the entrants set off in 40-foot Piver Victress trimarans. Nigel Tetley was sailing a full-cabin version, Donald Crowhurst was in a Cox Marine flush-decker similar to Kelsall's 35' "Folatre." Both these voyages ended disastrously and their failures marked the end of attempts to race Piver tris across oceans. Nonetheless, examples of his boxy cruising designs remain in use to this day. They could never sail well upwind but were very stable; many did carry their owners to the tropics and allowed them to fulfill their cruising dreams.

Actually they did a lot more than that. Many properly built Piver tris made grueling voyages. Quen Cultra, of landlocked Illinois, built a Lodestar on his backyard farm and sailed it around the world with no prior sailing experience. He survived massive storms and even being hit by a ship. He wrote a book about the voyage titled Queequeg's Odyssey.

A well built Piver while not as "modern" as new tris will still hold their own and are quite suitable for cruising, especially when modified with a Norm Cross design "fin keel and large area spade rudder".

People who met Piver say he was a social man who enjoyed being the center of attention in his circle of boating friends, and felt that the trimaran was his own personal invention. He was the "singlehander" type---he wrote about singlehanding in his books and made several solo passages. He also did not believe in using motors and only allowed for the inclusion upon insistence from home builders. Provisions were made for motor wells in his later designs. To him the use of motors was not being a true "sailor". He was driven to enter the Trans-Atlantic solo race because it was the only prestigious long-distance race in the world open to every type of boat.

In his brochure he explained how to pronounce his name: "Piver rhymes with diver." His collected papers are preserved at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, VA.


  • Trans-Atlantic Trimaran - Pi-Craft, Mill Valley, CA, 1961; ASIN: B0007E3H2M
  • Trans-Pacific Trimaran - Pi-Craft, Mill Valley, CA, 1963; ASIN: B000GWSOAU
  • Navigation by Simulous - Pi-Craft, Mill Valley, CA, 1963 (Simulous = simple + ridiculous)
  • Noon position - Pi-Craft, Mill Valley, CA, 1963; ASIN: B0007F60V6
  • Trimaran Third Book - Pi-Craft, Mill Valley, CA, 1969
  • Modern Sailboats - Pi-Craft, Mill Valley, CA