Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hydrofoil Sailing

The catamarans of this year's America's Cup have called attention to the amazing capabilities of high-tech sailboats. These "machines," as one of the captains calls them, can foil, which is sailing lingo for hydrofoiling. With their hulls lifted completely out of the water, the boats can reach 40 knots -- 46 mph or 74 kph.

The hydrofoil sailboat Hydroptère recently set a new world record for a sailing vessel by averaging 51.36 knots across a 500 meter course -- that's 60 mph or 96 kph.

The feel is very different from traditional sailing. Iain Murray, regatta director of the America's Cup:
Well, look, the ride is incredibly smooth. Most of my time going fast has been in boats bouncing all over the ocean. Whether it be skiffs jumping out of the waves or whatever, it’s a pretty rough ride. These things are not like that. They are very smooth, very progressed, very efficient and very quiet. You know you’re going plenty fast, but there’s no huge sensation of danger.
Because foiling is so different from old-fashioned sailing, the rules for America's Cup were designed to prevent it, but the teams figured out how to do it anyway. Hitting the water at 40 knots can kill you, so the sailors have to wear protective suits and helmets. It's something quite different from the staid old 12-meter racing that used to define the America's Cup.

But it seems to be the future of sailing -- you can get a small, not very expensive boat that will foil, and there is a whole class of racing boats -- International Moth -- that are designed to foil even in light winds.

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