NEIL PRYDE HELLCAT 7.2M 2017 TEST REVIEW
The Hellcat stays in the Neil Pryde range as their performance freeride offering for 2017. With the same increments as last year’s incarnation, the big difference for the new season is the inclusion of a new clew outline, which has been lifted directly from the brand’s coveted EVO8 race programme. The idea is to have the additional option to drop the boom for more control at the top end of the sail’s wind range. The tallest sail in this test group by quite some margin, the principle is again taken from the brand’s race portfolio, with the longer luff curve establishing a “high skin tension and fast reflex response for maximum acceleration and top-end speed”. Tested here on a SPX95 SDM mast, the Hellcat sets with only the bottom batten touching the mast, the leech falling away significantly in the upper panels, but remaining relatively tight in the mid-leech. There is plenty of shape low down in the Hellcat at rest, locked relatively far back in the draft. A beautifully crafted sail, it has all the hallmarks and trimmings you’d expect of the Pryde loft and comes in two colour ways, both of which are sure to stand out on the water.
“Dual boom length positions now allow setting to an inside position for optimal control and acceleration in the upper end while outside clew position provides maximum lift, early planing and upwind performance. Reduced clew batten length makes rigging easy as it does not interfere with the boom end during rigging.”
With its high aspect ratio, the Hellcat certainly feels its size as soon as you’re on the water. Crisp and purposeful in the hands, it has a real spring and bite when used to pump on the plane, the extra leverage really punching the board clear. Even if you want to take a more sedate approach, you’d be hard pushed to ignore the Hellcat’s desire for action, its bottom end grunt being none the less subtle. Continually accelerating with interest, the Hellcat’s racing heritage is clearly evident, becoming lighter in the hands and more slippery through the air the faster it goes. It is the proactive sailor’s dream engine – stick it on a board that can keep up with it and it will provide all the energy, encouragement … and more to hare around at breakneck speed. The centre of effort is placed high in the draft – comfortable in light to marginal winds, yet needs to be dominated with a strong backhand when the wind and pressure increases. And that is when the lower, more inset clew eyelet comes in. We have to admit to being a little sceptical of its effectiveness before we went on the water, but it is amazing what a small change in boom rake and length can make. Improving the sail’s top end control to keep charging for longer, the speed and instant response are no less formidable, tipping the Hellcat strongly in favour of the more experienced rider, rather than those progressing. Its high geometry and alert nature demand positive rider input in transition, as does its straight-line riding style. If you’re looking for an easy passive ride, look to the Ryde (tested last month), but if you’re an experienced speed freak and want to be challenged, the Hellcat will certainly keep you captivated.
A frothing no-cam race machine with the added advantage of a wide wind range and rigging ease, the Hellcat is ready to take on the most demanding speed enthusiast.
Other sails in this test: