It was little more than a decade ago that the first pioneers of the diminutive International Moth dinghy class started to experiment with foils. It was a slow process at first, with only a handful of people in the world able to fly successfully in a range of wind conditions. However, it wasn’t long before they worked out how to quickly teach others and once good dinghy sailors were able to learn to foil in a weekend, participation among elite sailors exploded.
At the other end of the spectrum, foiling was opened up to a truly amateur audience with last year’s launch of the Solent Whisper 5.9m foiling catamaran developed by Ron Price of Southampton Solent University. One of the secrets of this boat is windward foils that automatically adjust to apply a downward force that gives the boat incredible stability. As a result, novice helms can be coached to start foiling on their first days of sailing. The boat is now in production at White Formula, with a price tag that ensures it will be seen increasingly frequently.
With the America’s Cup now firmly wedded to the principle of competing in foiling catamarans, this style of boat has firmly captured public imagination and excitement. Set against that background the Gunboat’s new 40ft G4 performance cruising catamaran is a very interesting development. In the past decade we’ve seen a raft of performance cruising monohulls with downwind planing performance. Could this boat be the first step in doing the same for foiling cruising catamarans?
In sea trials in the Caribbean in 20 knots of true wind the boat sailed to windward at 16.7 knots and has exceeded 30 knots on a reach. While it clearly cannot maximise interior space in the manner of other 40ft cats, this is still a boat that offers six berths, including two queen size doubles, plus a functional galley with a 100-litre fridge.
As more and more people in the sailing community learn to sail foiling craft, the growth in such vessels, that have so far remained a niche, stands every chance of rapidly making inroads into the mainstream.
Of course, detractors will point to the boat’s highly publicised capsize while racing. While this is not the first time an innovative prototype has experienced such problems, there are surely useful lessons that will be drawn from it. In particular, it’s important to know where the line is in terms of safety and to make sure there’s no chance of it being crossed.
While sailors of traditional monohulls tend to have to push their inherently inefficient boats to get a reasonable turn of speed, the situation with fast multihulls is more akin to driving a modern car. Even comparatively modest vehicles will top 100mph and could, in theory, attain 70mph plus in many residential areas if pushed hard. Of course, for safety reasons we choose to drive sensibly and carefully, with a big margin of safety. This philosophy is equally applicable to ultra-fast cruising yachts.
For more on foiling under sail (and wing), see: Kite Foiling: taking sailing to new extremes or our boats.com round-up of 10 Fantastic Foiling Boats.