Interview with Erik Berzins of Morrelli & Melvin / HH Catamarans

Diane interview Erik Berzins, the lead designer of HH Catamarans. He works for Morrelli & Melvin in California, USA. He touches on his personal story to becoming a designer, some basics about M&M, and a lot about performance cruising catamarans. He covers the current state of innovation in performance as well as near future developments. He talks about eco-friendly designs too and how that constrains design and performance.

Please read on or sit back and watch this excellent interview with our second M&M designer. Please see our prior interview with Ferdinand Van West also of M&M.

Another interview from CatamaranSite. I’m with Eric Berzins, he’s with Morrelli & Melvin, so we’re gonna learn a little bit about what he does there. Eric, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with Morrelli and Melvin?

I’ve been in their business, basically straight out of university. I went to University of British Columbia, where you’re living now, in Vancouver. There’s a naval architecture program there that I was a part of, doing mechanical engineering. Part of that whole educational program, you have to do some internships at a bunch of different places.

So I worked at a shipyard, and then I worked at a company called Acker Caverner. They do big cruise ships, and patrol boats, and stuff. Then I worked at Robert Allen as well, for a few months, and then I did my last one down in California here, at Alan Andrews Yacht Design. He’s a mono-hull kind of race boat designer, small little boutique shop. I did an eight-month internship with him and then returned there after I graduated. I worked there [Alan Andrews] for about five years, which kind of grew my interest and knowledge into the sort of composite, performance-racing scene, which there aren’t a lot of places where you can go to study that.

A lot of the naval architecture programs teach you how to do ships and big boats and that kind of stuff, but this is the sort of high-end performance-racing side of things is a very small group of people. There’s not too many companies that do it. I was lucky to get down here, and then I happened to meet a guy who worked at Morrelli & Melvin, his name was Bobby Kleinschmidt.

At the airport, when we were both flying home at Christmas time, we just happened to get to chatting. They were looking to hire new people because they were writing the rules for the America’s Cup, those catamarans that were being done a number of years ago. They were looking for more people. I went in for an interview, and I guess the rest is history. I’ve been with Morelli & Melvin now for 12 years. Quite a range of projects, and traveling opportunities, and races, and all kinds of stuff.

So tell me a little bit about the boats Morelli & Melvin does, what are they known for?

We specialize in multi-hulls, so catamarans and trimarans primarily. Although, we’ve dabbled in all kinds of other weird things, sort of one-off specialty projects, but our our forte is the performance multi-hulls. While we do race boats in America’s Cup stuff, we also take some of that knowledge and use it to make work boats more efficient. Things like the boats that go and service the wind farms in the North Sea. Big composite catamarans, you can make them more efficient by using our knowledge base and the things we’ve learned throughout designing, like the performance race boat side of things to refine hull shapes, and add foils to them just to make them more efficient, more comfortable, things like that.

So your work specifically, what are you doing? What is your main gig right now?

Me as an individual, or as the as a company?

What are you doing as the company?

We have our fingers in all kinds of pies, at the moment. We’re doing some Cup work, we are designing some custom one-off big catamarans for some clients, we have some trimarans in the works, along with some work boats like survey vessels and things like that, and unmanned autonomous patrol vessels and things like that too. Quite a diverse range of projects on the board at the moment.

What I do personally, is a lot of oversight. I travel to the yards to go troubleshoot problems, and supervise different elements or key components that need to be done in a certain way. I’m sort of a generalist-overview, keep the ball rolling type of person. Then we have a few specialists on our team who are really, really good at finite element analysis, or the flow analysis, and structural things like that.

Right. Our listeners probably know most about the gunboats and the HH models. Can you talk a little bit about those two designs?

Morrelli & Melvin designed the original gunboats, the ones that had the plum stems. They were sort of ahead of their time, very very sleek-looking. You could pick one out from a mile away. Those were built in South Africa. That was before I was at M&M. I kind of joined just at the end of those. Those boats were really, really good.

The HH’s have basically been an evolution of those. We’ve learned a lot since that since that time. Different hull shapes, different optimizations, just different ways of doing things adding a bit more comfort into the boats. A lot of the boats are becoming live-aboards for a couple who retire, and they want to sail around the world. They can do that in some luxury, but still sail really well. The boats were really, really fun to sail. They get up and go, they’re really, really good in light air. The biggest comparison to other cruising catamarans is that you can sail eight knots, and eight knots to breeze, basically a wind-speed boat. You’re under sail 90% of the time.

That makes a huge difference because I know from our circumnavigation, that under twelve knots was an awful lot of the world. We had a boat that sailed well, down to about five knots. That was rare!

Another benefit of the higher-end performance cruising boats, is that it kind of opens up your window, in case bad weather is coming. Your range of places you can go to, you’re not necessarily outrunning the storm, but it opens up the options in terms of navigation. Like, if I go due north, and the front’s gonna go below me, and I could actually get 200 miles away from this big cell that’s coming through. Because you you can do 20, 25 [knots] if you really want to, to get up and get out of the way. It’s not like you’re racing everywhere, but it just opens up the opportunity for more options. You’re not a floating cork that’s gonna get run over by a front.


That’s an interesting thing, people are always concerned that too high of a performance is a danger, but it gives you the performance at the low end, and then you can always reef. We make it easier, and easier, and easier now to raise the daggerboards and put reefs in. You can handle the boat short-handed. You don’t need to sail around with your hair on fire all the time. It’s like having a big engine in your car, you can get there if you need to.

Well that’s pretty cool. Were are these boats being built right now?

The HH’s in particular?


Those are being built in Xiamen, China. It’s a Taiwanese company with a yard in China, and they’re actually opening another yard in the Philippines, because they’re trying to expand their production, and it helps a lot with some of the geopolitical stuff that’s going on. There’s import tariffs and things like that to deal with, so there’s ways around all of these things. But it helps just to diversify where you’re building the boats a little bit, and bringing different workers. Some people have a preference one way or the other.

Can you talk a little bit about the models of the HH?I know there’s a 44, a 55, and a 66. Is that correct?

There’s more than that. We started with a 66, and then went to the 55, and then there was a 50, and then there’s a 44. But now, there’s also a 52, a 60, a 77, and an 88.

HH 50

And these are all in production or are they one-offs?

They’re all in production, except for the 77. The 88 started as a 77, but we kept adding more and more things to it, which seems to be the case all across the board. It doesn’t matter the size of the boat, everyone still wants all the same amount of stuff. We’re only building 40% of the displacement. In terms of the actual construction of the boat, not even. Everything else is stuff that you buy, and everyone keeps putting on the same amenities, and toys, and whatnot. That’s why [for] the 50, there’s a 52 which is a little bit longer, just to have a little bit more payload. Same thing with the 60, it is a stretched 55 so that we can take advantage of the tooling that’s been made already, but add a little bit more displacement. That happened with the 88, it was a 77 stretched to 88 to fit a Jacuzzi on the fly bridge, but it also has a 110-foot rig.


Is that something you need to educate people about when they purchase a boat? To maintain that performance they need to pay attention to the payload?

Absolutely! They might not listen to you, but that’s certainly what we try to strive for. All these boats, especially catamarans, are really sensitive to displacement. The more weight you pile in it, the slower you’re going to go. For some people that makes a big difference, in others it doesn’t. What’s your performance versus creature comforts priority?

We try and limit that, and if you have the mindset like, “if we always try to make something just a little bit lighter, if you take one percent of the weight out of this, and let’s not bring this extra third spare water pump or whatever.” Then you can keep keep it on the lighter end of the spectrum. We account for it in our designs to make sure that, if a boat is overloaded, we’re not all of a sudden going to have some issue.

A lot of people are interested in eco-friendly changes in boats, what’s going on with you guys? What are you doing for eco-friendly options and changes?

There’s been a push, certainly, towards the electric drives or a hybrid drive. The HH 44 has a hybrid Marine teamed up with Beta to do a hybrid drive, which is nice. The issues a few years ago, was that someone would build one component, but not the rest of the system. So it’s like, once it got to the end of this wire, it wasn’t our problem anymore. You couldn’t get an integrated system that worked. It was everyone was doing this.

HH 44

But now that there’s companies that are developing the full package, from the propeller to the engine, and everything in between, plus the batteries and the control systems, it’s definitely progressing and becoming more accessible.


We’re doing a hybrid drive, as opposed to pure electric at the moment. Purely because, just in case something goes wrong, you still can just turn on a diesel and go. It’s also hard to fix a electric hybrid system or electric system if you’re in some tropical island somewhere. Like you’re on the beach in Tahiti, and something you’re trying to find, some weird electronic component, it might not be the easiest thing to do. Whereas, there’s a lot more people who can service a diesel engine in different places of the world. It’s getting there, I think, as the whole world shifts towards more electric and better battery, energy density, and storage options. We’re gonna keep seeing the progression towards that kind of eco-hybrid, or full electric drives.

Right, that makes sense. Batteries are heavy, and all those elements…

They don’t get lighter when you use them. So you have a dead battery, which is the same as a full battery. Whereas if you’re burning diesel, the boat slowly gets lighter. You just got to keep in mind that you need to carry around that full battery displacement all the time. It’s like a full tank of fuel all the time, which isn’t the end of the world, you just need to account for it in terms of the platform, and how the rest of the systems work, and how you integrate it, and if you if you need to make the boat a little bigger in displacement. That’s why we’re kind of sneaking the boats up in size a little bit.


Right. Are there other eco elements that you’re putting into the boats?

You can use bamboo for different interiors. There’s eco-friendly resins that are getting developed now. We still stick to good old epoxy-infused for the hull because we know exactly what it is, and it’s been a long history of it, and it’s familiar. For some joinery, interior non-structural stuff, I think we’ve started on the 88. It definitely has some eco-friendly close-out panels and things like that. But in terms of actual structure on the hull, we kind of keep it old school. I’m sure there’s developments along the way, and it’s going to keep getting better and better. We might switch to more sustainable materials in the future, as it becomes more commonplace.

HH50 Interior

That makes sense. That’s a good segue into our next question, where do you see catamaran design going over the next 10 years?

I think in the past few years, we’ve noticed a big growth in the market. Ten or fifteen years ago, they [catamarans] were always kind of the ugly duckling of the sailing world. There weren’t a lot of marinas that could hold them. The resources weren’t there, the global support wasn’t necessarily there, the awareness or acceptance. But now catamarans are popping up all over the place. I think people are realizing that it’s much more comfortable, the performances there due to big improvements in material properties, especially. You can get a boat that’s the same size, but it’s 25% or 30% lighter than it would have been had you built it out of e-glass and other materials. You can get the performance, you can get the comfort. Now that awareness is growing, I think the catamaran market is going to keep expanding a little bit.

Especially after the pandemic, we’ve realized people are like, “If I don’t do this now what am I going to do? I’ve been dreaming about sailing around the world, I want a retire,” type of thing.

You find that that’s a very big sector of our market. The prices are coming down a little bit on carbon. Carbon used to be this really exotic material that you could never get, but now the price between it and fiberglasses, they’re coming down significantly. You can get the performance. It’s more accessible to get that higher end, nice finish, luxury, comfort. We think that things are going to keep progressing in this path, or at least we hope so.

I think what’s going to happen in the next few years, is there’s been a shift towards adding hydrofoils. We always have dagger boards, and things like that on our boats. But now boats are getting more and more lift percentages on their foils. Whereas some boats are fully out of the water like in the Sail GP in America’s Cup stuff. You don’t want to do it on your cruising boat! We’re taking some of that knowledge. We have curve boards on the on the HH’s, which help take up 10% or 15% of the displacement, which is a fair significant amount of wetted surface area, if you add it all up, right around the hull. Incorporating performance elements like hydrofoils more so into the general design, we’re adding them to power cats as well to make them more fuel efficient for the same purpose. Slowly, that’s incorporating into production line boats. I think you kind of keep getting more and more performance oriented. More efficient materials are getting stiffer, and stronger, and lighter, so that really helps too.

That’s been awesome. You’ve filled us in a lot on the boat. How can people learn more about Morrelli and Melvin, and get in contact with you guys?

We have a website It’s in the process of a redesign, so that’s our old one. The new one should be launching here shortly. And then Instagram and Facebook, or send us an email, We have a pretty good group of people, and can do a pretty diverse range of skills. Small boats like the Macros, like F-18 Beach Cats, all the way up to 150-footers has been our sweet spot.

That sounds like great fun there. A lot of cool innovation going on.

It is! The best part is, we get to go and use the boats and help support. I’m actually off in a couple of weeks to go racing in St Barts on the HH-66 Nemo, which is our most performance-oriented 66. It’s got a double-turboed rig. Two reefs is a standard rig height for the rest of the 66s, and it’ll hold flying at ten, not to breeze. We’re excited to go sailing that.


It’s a good way to close the design feedback loop. I mean, sitting here, drawing something, and sending it out into the universe is one thing, but actually making sure that it works [is another]. You can build it, and sail it, and it’s user-friendly, and it does what you say it does, it’s a big part of it. We’re lucky that our kind of office environment is pretty supportive of us going and doing races, and sailing with clients, and stuff. Gino always says this is the entertainment business! We’re just providing the tools. If you’re not having fun, then what’s the point?

Yeah, no kidding! Well that’s fantastic! Thank you so much for your time! I think we will enjoy this one.

Diane Selkirk

By Diane Selkirk

I love to travel and have spent the past seven years sailing with my family aboard our 40 Woods Meander catamaran - traveling from B.C.'s north coast, to the west coast of the US, Mexico, the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, across the Indian Ocean to South Africa and on to St Helena, South America, the Caribbean and Central America.

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