While the concept of foiling yachts can be traced to the early 1900s, the first genuinely successful one was Gordon Baker’s Monitor, which in 1950 reached speeds in excess of 30 knots.
During the 1960s and 1970s a number of amateur designed successful foiling yachts were built in the UK and USA such as Phil Hansford’s A Class catamaran Mayfly, the Grogono brothers B Class
Icarus, Sam Bradfield’s Neither Fish nor Fowl and Don Nigg’s Flying Fish. Ocean racing foilers first appeared in 1979 with Eric Tabarly’s 16.4m trimaran Paul Ricard, which finished second in the first Transat en Double. Tabarly then sailed Paul Ricard across the Atlantic in record time, breaking the previous record set by the three-masted Atlantic in 1905. Paul Ricard had an inverted T foil rudder with 45° foils set at the bottom of fine floats; more foil-stabilised than a true flying foiler.
Noel Fuller’s 4.2m Sabrina was one of the first foil yachts built in New Zealand in 1976, again a foil-stabilised yacht. Yachting theorist and author Ross Garret put foils on an A Class catamaran in 1977 and Leon Talaic also built an early New Zealand foil yacht named Mish; both were short-lived experiments. Another was Bernard Rhodes who installed foil stabilisers on the floats of his trimaran Kliss II.
In 1985 David Knaggs, an EX-GBE sailor, designed and built a set of high-aspect ratio foils for a Paper Tiger catamaran. These worked really well and fully foiled the boat, but unfortunately it tended to crash back into the water at speeds above 25 knots.
Seeking to overcome this tendency, in 1986 Knaggs built a 5.7m foiling trimaran with a single beam supporting smallish floats with T foils, with another T foil at the stern for lift and steering. The outer foils incorporated automatic flaps to control the amount of lift, which solved his crashing tendencies.
Foils on ocean racers and sailing speed attempts increased in popularity and acceptance during the 1990s, then started trickling down to popular classes such as Moths in early 2000s. Widespread public acceptance of foilers followed the high visibility America’s Cups of 2013 and 2017.