As French gun­slingers un­leash their foil-borne craft upon the blue planet’s pas­sage records, we’re all in a sea state of mind.

Sailing World - - Contents -

As new foil­ing giants of the sea em­bark to re­write the record book, there’s a new re­spect for sea state.

Foil­ing ex­pert Gino Mor­relli wants to apol­o­gize to any­one de­vel­op­ing tool­ing for foils. There is so much learn­ing go­ing on, he says, that the best de­signs we have to­day will be ob­so­lete in eight months. And if de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing are mov­ing that fast, so too is the foil­ing scene. Blink and you’ll find that while you were away, open-ocean “fly­ing” be­came al­most nor­mal. Rout­ing strate­gies are chang­ing with the ar­rival of a new gen­er­a­tion of long-dis­tance record hunters, Gi­tana 17 be­ing a prime ex­am­ple, the first 100-foot Ul­time de­signed from the get-go as a full-foil­ing boat for the ocean. While mor­tals marvel at what a few of our brethren, mostly French, ac­com­plish with their gi­gan­tic, volatile, wind- carv­ing con­trap­tions, the ante is raised again.

For­get about tac­ti­cians look­ing for more and more wind. For the new or­der that Mor­relli fore­sees, think sea- state sail­ing. Smooth wa­ter. Foil­ing wa­ter. Mor­relli, pres­i­dent of Mor­relli & Melvin De­sign, says, “If you can fly on foils at 2 or 2.5 times the wind­speed, you’re look­ing for 10 to 20 knots of breeze, be­cause most of the time that’s where you’ll find the op­ti­mum sea state.”

As record hunters tran­si­tion from C-foils and par­tial lift, the per­cent­age of full-foil­ing time looms as crit­i­cal among fac­tors that can be con­trolled, or some­times con­trolled. Racing around the world, tran­si­tion­ing be­tween sys­tems and trade winds on the “ver­ti­cal” tran­sits of the At­lantic — south­bound to the Cape of Good Hope, north­bound from Cape Horn — luck will con­tinue to play a role in find­ing the best con­di­tions. Record-set­ting nav­i­ga­tor Stan Honey points out, de­part­ing from Europe: “You can pick your weather as far as the equa­tor. After that, you’re into long-range fore­casts, and you play the hand you’re dealt. But those ver­ti­cal legs are the most in­ter­est­ing racing there is.”

For the high lat­i­tudes of the South­ern Ocean, Mor­relli pre­dicts that, with foil­ingspeed ca­pa­bil­ity, “you will no longer have to go all the way to the ex­tremes of 60 de­grees south.” And we’ll come back to that.

This is a unique mo­ment, plac­ing seast­ate is­sues front and cen­ter, but the fun­da­men­tal no­tions have been around. They ap­ply to any­thing very big and very fast. Honey re­lates: “When I cir­cum­nav­i­gated in 2010 with Franck Cam­mas, I saw that the French are far along in this kind of think­ing. For Groupama 3 [whose C-foils did not make it ‘ fly’], I cre­ated a ma­trix of em­pir­i­cal ta­bles that ac­counted for the degra­da­tion in speed from waves de­pend­ing on di­rec­tion, height and in­ter­val. An ad­di­tional fac­tor is the an­gle be­tween wave and swell. If wave and swell trains come at right an­gles to each other, they throw up col­umns of wa­ter.” Think “slow.” Slow doesn’t make for records. When Fran­cois Gabart set out on Novem­ber 4, 2017, for his solo round-the­world record at­tempt with Macif, he was sail­ing a 2016 weapon fit­ted with lat­eral foils on all three of the tri­maran’s rud­ders, and an­gled, L- shaped re­tractable foils in the floats. Those foils, de­ployed, present a V-pro­file to the wa­ter. They echo the foils that en­abled self-lev­el­ing sta­ble foil­ing on New Zealand’s 2013 Amer­ica’s Cup chal­lenger, are like­wise ad­justable for pitch, and are ca­pa­ble of oc­ca­sional “flight.” At press time, Macif was do­ing just fine ca­reen­ing across the South­ern Ocean with 700 miles of cush­ion in the 49-day record.

And if you’ve been won­der­ing how long it would take to leave off the gee- whiz cheer­lead­ing and get down to the yes-things-can-go-wrong stuff, we’re here. But so far, noth­ing has gone ter­ri­bly wrong. The key is to en­gi­neer a foiler that can be­come a non­foiler as needed. This is what makes that first full-foil­ing Ul­time, Gi­tana 17, a fas­ci­nat­ing case. A sec­ond-place fin­ish in the 2017 Transat Jacque Vabre can’t be bad when it’s your de­but race, but this is a com­plex beast. Both port and star­board foils failed. They worked for Sébastien Josse and Thomas Rouxel for only one-fourth of

the At­lantic cross­ing. De­signer Guil­laume Verdier — a vet­eran of Emi­rates Team New Zealand’s ef­forts from early foil de­vel­op­ment to suc­cess in 2017 — views that early re­sult with big-pic­ture op­ti­mism: “To go off­shore, we make sure that what­ever hap­pens to the foils (col­li­sions, dam­age) and what­ever the weather, what­ever the wave height, the boat is fine. That’s the game — that and be­ing able to take off on foils when­ever we can in waves of rea­son­able size. We have shown that it is doable in spite of small tech­ni­cal prob­lems on our very new boat.”

Gi­tana 17’ s outer-hull T-foil rud­ders in­cor­po­rate “fuses” that al­low them to kick up in a col­li­sion and, if need be, the rud­ders can be lifted clear for in­spec­tion. Or, in a reach­ing con­di­tion where the wind­ward foil takes a beat­ing, it can be raised, locked into the ama, and dis­con­nected to free the rest of the steer­ing sys­tem to op­er­ate. The rud­der el­e­va­tors are de­signed to be trimmed via soft­ware­mon­i­tored hy­draulics, but the soft­ware was not yet in­te­grated for the boat’s first race. Ev­ery added sys­tem in­creases weight, but when the foils are de­ployed and lift­ing, weight all but dis­ap­pears from the equa­tion.

The next bar­rier is cav­i­ta­tion, some­where in the range of 50 knots, and once a con­cern only to ex­ot­ica chal­leng­ing the 500-meter record. Wel­come to a new world. With higher speeds come higher struc­tural loads, also higher im­pact loads, and our oceans are bur­dened with more de­bris than ever be­fore. Mor­relli says, with a tinge of im­pa­tience: “Right now, as de­sign­ers, we’re work­ing on keep­ing the foils in the boat, pe­riod. We can’t be dis­tracted by tasty con­cepts like twist­ing foils, warp­ing foils, de­flect­ing tips that soften shock loads. Col­li­sion sur­vival is the call. We know how to build foils that are OK hit­ting a two-by-four. We can sur­vive hit­ting a four-by-four. If you’re talk­ing 12-inch tree trunks, it’s game over.”

As he pre­pared for a Jan­uary record-hunt­ing de­par­ture, 13,000 miles from Hong Kong to Lon­don, Gio­vanni Sol­dini de­cided that his 70-foot Maserati would sail with­out its flight-ca­pa­ble Verdier foils. The boat can beat the ex­ist­ing 41-day record with­out them, he says, and “we’ve lost two rud­ders in the past six months, each to a UFO. We’re de­vel­op­ing a sys­tem of Guil­laume’s fuses that will prob­a­bly be ready in the spring. Un­til then we are not adding risks.”

For any record hunter, the key to com­pet­ing suc­cess­fully is to main­tain high av­er­age speeds in mod­er­ate lat­i­tudes. The book is still out on what higher po­ten­tial speeds will mean when other en­deav­ors take the boats to the South­ern Ocean. ( Gabart on Macif at one point crossed 56 de­grees south and was on alert for ice.) Honey likens the pas­sage be­tween the capes, Good Hope to Horn, to a con­veyor belt. With storms cir­cu­lat­ing un­ob­structed around the bot­tom of the world, the strate­gic game has been to cover the dis­tance by rid­ing the lead­ing edge of each of two sys­tems. As storm No. 1 in­evitably spins away to the south, the game is to dis­en­gage and hook into the next. Groupama 3’ s 2010 Jules Verne record, Honey re­lates, al­most did not hap­pen. Sys­tem No. 1 “got ahead of us,” he says, and only be­cause a different sys­tem out yon­der stalled the weather they were rid­ing, “this be­came the one and only time I was able to sail through a front and get ahead of it. I don’t know whether we’ll ever see a foiler go from way be­hind to way ahead on its own.”

And that raises a ques­tion: Hey, Gino, are there more sur­prises com­ing in fly­ing boats?

“We’re 15 min­utes be­yond the Wright broth­ers.” Q

mul­ti­hulls off­shore spec one de­sign clas­sic sails

In search of vast stretches of flat wa­ter and big breeze, Fran­cois Gabart set off in Novem­ber on his solo round the world at­tempt with the 100-foot foiler Macif. PHOTO : JEAN - MARIE LIOT / A L E A / M AC I F

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