30 An in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous sport; Olympian Caleb Paine earns an­other sil­ver; a fish­er­man is killed in the Volvo Ocean Race

SAIL - - Contents - Foil­ing mul­tis take their toll By Adam Cort

Al­though sail­ing has al­ways been in­her­ently dan­ger­ous, it’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ob­vi­ous that in ad­di­tion to el­e­vat­ing boat­speeds, to­day’s foil­ing mul­ti­hulls are also dra­mat­i­cally up­ping the level of risk. In the run-up to the 35th Amer­ica’s Cup, re­gatta or­ga­niz­ers were fond of mak­ing analo­gies to NASCAR and For­mula 1 rac­ing. How­ever, let’s not for­get the num­ber of driv­ers who ei­ther died or were hor­ri­bly in­jured in the early years of those two cir­cuits—es­pe­cially as dan­ger ap­pears to in­creas­ingly be a part of a num­ber of mul­ti­hull se­ries’ mar­ket­ing ef­forts.

Case in point: the in­au­gu­ral re­gatta for the new Su­perFoiler Grand Prix tri­maran se­ries down in Ade­laide, Aus­tralia (su­perfoiler.com) was all about crash­ing and burn­ing, with hap­less crews hurtling around head­stays at the end of their har­nesses as they fig­ured out just how fast their 26ft foil­ing tris would go.

“To­day we were re­ally try­ing to push the lim­its, and we cer­tainly found them. We turned our fly­ing boat into a sub­ma­rine. We were lucky no­body got hurt,” said tech2’s skip­per Luke Parkin­son at one point dur­ing a prac­tice day be­fore the re­gatta even had a chance to start.

Af­ter that, on the first day of ac­tual rac­ing, Parkin­son’s “ma­chine” broke apart while it was do­ing around 30 knots, send­ing both the boat and crew fly­ing. Again, no one was hurt, but you have to as­sume it’s only a mat­ter of time till some­one draws a short straw.

As for the full-foil­ing Olympic Nacra 17 class, the time for in­juries is now.

First there was the in­ci­dent when US Sail­ing’s Bora Gu­lari lost part of three fin­gers af­ter his boat pitch-poled last sum­mer. Then in Fe­bru­ary, Dan­ish sailor CP Lubeck re­quired surgery on his leg af­ter his trapeze hook re­port­edly broke, drop­ping him over the side where he was hit by his boat’s rud­der—an in­ci­dent dis­turbingly rem­i­nis­cent of the 2015 ac­ci­dent in which French sail­ing leg­end Franck Cam­mas nearly lost his foot af­ter he was struck by the rud­der foil of his GC 32.

“I have got 30 stitches, so it is a big wound. But I was re­ally lucky,” Lubeck said af­ter­ward. “I got a cut in one of the big ar­ter­ies, so it was bleed­ing a lot when I was in the wa­ter, and it looked scary. The doc­tors have just closed the artery, so my leg will have to sur­vive with­out that one, but it shouldn’t be a prob­lem.”

Soon af­ter­ward, the Nacra 17 Class is­sued the fol­low­ing state­ment: “Rud­der strikes are oc­cur­ring too fre­quently to be called iso­lated in­ci­dents. Fur­ther, the con­se­quences of a rud­der strike are greater than typ­i­cally found in other dinghy or stan­dard cata­ma­ran sail­ing due to the fixed/locked na­ture of the rud­ders and the in­creased speed of the boat on foils.”

It went on to say it was fo­cus­ing on the prob­lem to such a de­gree that it was tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend­ing all other en­gi­neer­ing study re­quests by the class to the boat’s man­u­fac­turer. Fair enough. Hope­fully, this will help.

Even so, it is al­most cer­tain the num­ber of se­ri­ous in­juries sus­tained by sailors will con­tinue to in­crease sim­ply as a func­tion of speed, which in turn should give sailors pause for thought.

Ob­vi­ously, this would not make sail­ing the only sport in which com­peti­tors are rou­tinely in­jured or even oc­ca­sion­ally killed. Nor would it be the only form of blood sport out there—just look at box­ing and the NFL. How­ever, that hardly jus­ti­fies au­to­mat­i­cally ac­cept­ing the sta­tus quo.

Granted, boats have also been drop­ping rigs since time im­memo­rial, and ex­treme de­signs have been founder­ing since the days of Bri­tain’s plankon-edge cut­ters. How­ever, these kinds of ac­ci­dents ar­guably came as part of a le­git­i­mate quest for boat­speed, not just to at­tract a big­ger crowd.

With full-foil­ing, on the other hand, you get the im­pres­sion the car­nage—and re­sult­ing mar­ket­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties—are part of the draw. Is this re­ally where the rac­ing com­mu­nity as a whole wants the sport to go? s

The af­ter­math of the tech2 Su­perFoiler crash: note the lack of port rud­der (right); a se­quence of video stills shows the boat fly­ing out of con­trol: cir­cled in Frame #3 are the tran­som and port rud­der, which broke off pre­cip­i­tat­ing the crash (in­set)

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