By Gael Pawson
10 Fantastic Foiling Boats
Our UK editor Gael Pawson takes a closer look at some amazing boats that can fly, thanks to hydrofoils.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on uk.boats.com.
Images and video footage of foiling boats in action always carries a special WOW factor. See the boats in person, or even better try sailing one, and the experience is quite simply amazing.
At its most basic you might describe a hydrofoil as a wing that enables a boat to ‘fly’ above the water – the foils below the hull work much like an airplane wing does in the air, lifting the boat’s hull up above the water when traveling fast, so reducing drag and increasing speed. We tend to think of them as cutting edge – and the resulting flying boat is pretty spectacular, but they have been around since the late 1880s!
The record-breaking giant foiling multihull Hydroptere is in a foiling class of its own. Designed by France’s Alain Thebault, she was developed from a series of boats beginning in the early 1990s.
In 2009 Hydroptere broke the outright world speed record by hitting 52.86 knots, and subsequently setting a nautical mile record of 50.17 knots. The ‘flying carpet’ is currently showing off her talents in San Francisco. “L’Hydroptère DCNS is more like a plane than a sailboat. It’s a real challenge to understand such a machine,” says crewman Luc Alphand.
Developed over the course of fifteen years by a team from British Aerospace, the C-Fly is currently in its ‘coastal’ mode – a 7.6m prototype – but the aim of the team behind it is to build a full-sized ocean-going version to challenge the mighty Hydroptere. It boasts ‘innovative wave- piercing hydrofoils’ and is currently seeking funding to move the project to the next stage.
3. International Moth
Always one of the more radical development dinghy classes, the adoption of a foiling design (as opposed to the ‘low-riders’ – non-foiling Moths) completely transformed this class and gave it a huge boost in international popularity. Now you’ll find foiling Moths everywhere from the UK to Australia and the USA.
It’s definitely one of the world’s most vibrant dinghy classes… And actually easier to sail than it looks, I promise! Okay you need to be pretty nimble, but anyone used to weight sensitive modern dinghies can get to grips with straight-line foiling pretty quickly… It’s turning the corners in the air that takes some perfecting! There’s even a specialist centre at Mar Menor in Spain where you can learn for yourself! Alan Hillman’s Pro Vela sailing school can make your foiling dreams come true.
4. Mirabaud LX
The European lakes, with their flat waters, are ideal breeding grounds for radical new boats. Take an 18ft Skiff, more at home on the waters of Sydney Harbor… Add foils and you create a real beast! This flighty foiler was born on the lakes of Switzerland. Unlike some foilers, Mirabaud barely has anything you could call a hull.
For 2012 the boat was also fitted with a wingsail, with which she aimed to set a number of Lake Geneva records. She also competed in the famous Bol d’Or and a range of other European lake races.
5. SYZ & Co
Swiss private banking group SYZ & Co sponsored this foiling multihull,which was launched in 2009 to capture the speed records on Lake Geneva as well as with the aim of winning races. It seems the project is currently mothballed.
6. Foiling Optimist
Just to prove that you really can put foils on anything! British Moth and foiling aficionado Adam May got hold of an old Optimist and he and Katherine Knight popped foils on it! Here’s the video of how they did it…
Inspired by the foiling International Moths, Linton Jenkins of Full Force Boats had the bright idea to build a foiling version of the singlehanded trapezing class, the RS600. The demand came from sailors who were too heavy for the International Moth (which we’d say has an ideal weight of 60-80kg).
The beauty of the foiling 600 is it was designed so you could convert an existing 600 hull – ideal as a lot of boats came on the market when the newer, spinnaker-carrying RS700 was introduced. Linton went on to develop a specifically-designed carbon fiber hull for added responsiveness. Sadly the class hasn’t taken off in the same way as the Moth.
8. AC72 foiling giants
The America’s Cup has always been at the cutting edge of technology, so it’s hardly surprising that the latest generation of boats, designed to the new AC multihull rule, have started to experiment with foiling technology. It’s going to change the game completely.
Right now we’ve only seen these giant foilers out testing – with mixed results! The New Zealand boat seems to have the technology working well, while Oracle Team USA suffered a rather expensive set-back when they capsized and severely damaged their first test boat (see Oracle AC72 Capsize: Amazing Photos and Oracle Team USA Capsize: The Video). We can’t wait to see these giants racing one another – it is going to be amazing!
9. Foiling Radio Controlled yacht
Anything a full-sized boat can do, a radio-controlled yacht can do. Although you need super-fast reactions to sail this mini flier. You can see the boat in action in this Youtube clip.
10. New Zealand ‘R’ Class skiff
In New Zealand they love their skiff sailing, and development classes like the doublehanded ‘R’ Class are prime for new features. The ‘R’ Class started its project to get the fleet foiling back in 2008 and now there are a clutch of boats racing. One of the key elements in growing the foiling fleet has been the class focus on making hydrofoiling affordable and practical for anyone in the fleet, no matter how old their boat. The class has a specially built oven and foil molds for those who want to build their own. And anyone interested is encouraged to employ the expertise and skills of their fellow sailors.
However commonplace foilers become in the future, I’m not sure they’ll ever lose their ‘wow’ factor… and although there are a host of power-driven foiling boats, there’s something especially magical about making a boat fly using just the power of the wind. Sailing a foiling boat is definitely one for the ‘bucket list’.
- Gael Pawson is the editor of Yachts & Yachting Magazine and the founder of Creating Waves. A keen racer, she has sailed all her life, and started writing about the subject whilst studying journalism at university. Dinghies and small keelboats are her first loves, but she has cruised and raced a huge variety of boats in locations across the world.
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