Foiling is the next step for offshore racing

by • December 16, 2016 • older, RacingComments Off469

The F4 piloted by Jimmy Spithill and crew, blasts off from New York, bound for Bermuda. Credit: Matt Knighton / Red Bull Content Pool

A revolution is underway in the sailboat-racing scene – the transition to super-fast cutting edge boats whose hulls rise out of the water on foils. With an increasing number of production built boats now available this is not longer the sole preserve of the very highest echelons of sailing, whether in the America’s Cup or (often the same sailors) in the diminutive International Moth class.

However, to date any attempts to get offshore boats to fully foil have met with failure. Note this is different to the foils used for monohulls such as those in the Vendée Globe race, where the foils increase stability and reduce wetted surface area by lifting the boat a little, but don’t raise the hull completely out of the water.

The F4 piloted by Jimmy Spithill and crew, blasts off from New York, bound for Bermuda. Credit: Matt Knighton / Red Bull Content Pool

It was therefore a big step forward in November 2016, when the Oracle Team USA America’s Cup skipper Jimmy Spithill sailed, with a crew including Emily Nagel, Shannon Falcone and Rome Kirby, from New York to Bermuda in a three day, 662- mile voyage. Their chosen steed was a 46ft DNA F4, a revamped version of the former 40ft Gunboat G4 foiling catamaran that infamously capsized off the Caribbean island of St Maarten in April 2015.

Before departing from New York Spithill said the aim of the voyage was to, “…prove that foiling in the open ocean is the next step in the evolution of offshore sailing.” His team initially had great conditions for the passage, leaving Manhattan on the foils, and staying airborne almost all the way to the Gulf Stream.

However, after the Gulf Stream the wind built higher than forecast, increasing to 35 knots, accompanied by 25ft (7.6m) waves. This forced a quick transition to survival mode, with the boat reefed to the bare minimum of sail at one point. “I was concerned because the first half was a perfect speed run,” says Spithill, but the second half was becoming something of a survival trip. We proved that foiling is the next step in performance offshore sailing – we clearly proved that. But there’s a limit – no matter what, mother-nature will decide at what level you are going to operate.”

The F4 piloted by Jimmy Spithill and crew, blasts off from New York, bound for Bermuda. Credit: Matt Knighton / Red Bull Content Pool

 

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