Is Foiling truly the “Future for Sailing” – recap of Part 1 – then onto the new stuff.
Before I head off in an entirely different direction of discussion … after going to the first day of Foiling Week 2018.
I look at 98 percent of the sailors I know … and I know a lot of sailors!
There are looks of mass confusion.
How is this sailboat foiling relevant to my sailing experience?
The structural design components of last weeks post were extremely interesting with a number of directly applicable aspects of leading edge (and more mundane) design.
However – on the water, on the day, the only boats really sailing well on foils were the Moths and it was a good day with a 12 to 18kn Sydney Nor’easter. Maybe more mid Harbour.
We saw how some of the boats needed assistance, being towed out away from the shore before risking sailing.
The lack of foiling on the day indicates the skill levels involved. Two America’s Cup Skippers on one of the Superfoilers were sailing around without takeoff in debugging mode. Demonstrating it isn’t so easy.
We have also seen how high performance foiling has repercussion for the helmeted and padded crews and for breaking stuff on landing or when body weight contacts otherwise solid bits of boat at high speeds.
The velocities are significant as falling off the front of an America’s Cup boat shows. And you are only falling off the front because 35 knots has become 20 knots
Is foiling inaccessible hype, or is there another way to look at it?
Introduction to Ian Ward – one of the International Moth foiling developers.
Ian Ward spent decades as one of the main people developing the lightweight structures of Moth Dinghies. All in plywood. High performance 11ft long by 5ft wide dinghies with hullweights of around 40lbs. That is under 4lbs a foot. Compare with most carbon boats and they are not even near that range – and the moth is all sticks, plywood and glue. This is an Australian Moth going upwind.
Ian first started taking dinghy foiling seriously when he became aware of Rich Miller’s foiling sailboard in the early ’90s. A two foil inline system seemed to be workable and minimal. The more foils you have in the water, the more drag and more complication you have to deal with.
Foiling in Moth dinghies happened initially in timber. And timber was the main method for the early foils right through to the era of John Ilett’s self levelling servo main foil and twist grip rear foil control.
Some really neat tricks were used – like making flaps for the lifting foils – cut the back of the foil off with a circular saw then make up the gap with sikaflex or some other structural sealer. Another method for creating flaps was that the foils were sheathed in fibreglass – so cut through everything from the bottom side except the top layer of glass – that layer of glass becoming the flap hinge.
Everyone of course was interested in speed for racing, but Ian took up another direction.
He felt foiling was offering something else – and for normal people.
Ian spent several years working out different foil configurations on his Scow Moth “Horace”. It has been cut up to try many different foil and control systems. He likes Horace because it is a stable platform. Here is Horace.
Ian’s idea is similar to Michael Aeppli and Jim and David French’s views below which I shall attempt to detail after this section – that foiling doesn’t make sense either commercially or for the good of sailing unless most people can do it and in most wind conditions – rather than the 10 knot wind minimums for the America’s Cup boats. Over half of a normal sailor’s time is spent in light winds.
In Ian’s case this has led to the Glidefree plug in foiling kit for Lasers and other conventional dinghies. This is lifted from their website.
I’m not selling trolleys, but it is good view of what happens with the foils lifted.
Here is the video. Watch carefully the beginning when the boat is sailing off the shore. It is just like a normal Laser until two things are done and then it becomes a foiler. So you can sail on and off the beach or the ramp normally, if the wind gets too strong and the foiling starts being scary … you can turn it off!
Ian’s thinking is away from the flat out speed paradigm of most other participants – and it HAS TO BE or there is no commercial opportunity.
The most vocal majority might just have it wrong.
Lecture 3 – Ian Ward – What does a foiler do better than anything else? Analysing the real potential.
He’s an Engineer/Materials Scientist so when he makes an argument it is a careful one. Because of the moths and the experiments with “Horace” he has more real life information on different foiling configurations than almost anybody.
1/ Foiling may not be the solution for maximum outright speed, but it represents an opportunity for high speed in moderate sailing conditions.
I’ve marked the relevant part of the foiling curve in yellow – there is no other boat near it in moderate windspeed.
Vertical Axis is boatspeed. Horizontal Axis is Windspeed. Curves are different types of boats from Yacht, Dinghy, Catamaran, Sailboard and Foiler.
In moderate conditions the foiler has by far the highest speed and unlike the mainstream message it may not be the best for truly fast sailing at all.
2/ Cost for Speed of different boat types
This is a graph of opportunity. Different existing boats types are plotted on a chart of Speed Vs Cost
First line (red dashes) is body hiked dinghies – not expensive but not fast.
Second line (blue dashes) is performance dinghies – expensive and from the previous graph, somewhat underwhelming for the cost in light to moderate conditions.
Third line (purple) is foilers fast and even more expensive.
As we know, any gap in a graph is an opportunity. The yellow circle are the cheapest conventional sailing dinghies – slow and not so expensive. Adding the Glide Free Unit moves them into the Light blue circled area. Equal in speed with the fastest normal catamarans at a fraction of the cost and much faster in medium winds
From the first graph we know a lot of this extra performance is available in moderate wind strengths where expensive non foiling boats are underwhelming.
Before this lecture I had something of a dim view of the Glidefree – it seems very expensive. But the this graph makes it a very reasonable proposition.
Feel like passing a $30,000 performance dinghy in a moderate wind on a 17 year old Laser?
A lot of the photos of the Glidefree are one of the Lasers that was built for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. That is a 17 year old boat.
Some nice things I didn’t know about the Glide Free – the boat sails normally with the lifting foils free to hinge to a neutral position produce no lift (see the trolley image above). When the centreboard is raked forward the foil starts lifting – just pull back on the handle.
This means the boat sails conventionally until the handle is pulled back. So sailing into shore or just get tired of foiling and push the main foil back and it sails like an normal Laser or RS Aero.
The other thing is that the uptake has been quite different from what was expected. The Glidefree units have been bought by resorts, training organisations and sailing clubs. For group use rather than individual use.
In effect they have become a trainer for foiling boats. Problem with foiling boats is that you put someone on a Moth and they have to learn the boat and learn foiling at the same time. On Glidefree foil fitted Laser , RS Aero or even O’pen BIC they already know the boat so they rapidly grasp the principle.
One thing to be aware of is that before you take off – lots of sail area is good, but as the boat accelerates on the foils the apparent wind increases and the boat is overpowered easily.
Ian said heaps of sail to get up on the foils but then you just want to get rid of it – which explains the dominance of the moderate sail area’d Moth in foiling capability.
Michael (Michi) Aeppli – Manufacturer of the Quant 23 foiling keelboat – “Crashes are not strictly necessary!”
The purpose of foiling as a business model for production boats must be ease of use. If it is difficult to use then it is impossible to sell the units needed to be viable. Michael didn’t quite say this to me directly, but it seemed a strong subtheme to my conversation with him and his response to some of the other boats at the club. Quality and refinement of execution are paramount to creating a good business name.
The Quant 23 looks well engineered and executed even from a distance.
He has worked extensively with yacht foil specialist Hugh Wellbourne to build a family of Quant Boats ranging from dinghy size (in development) to mid size yachts.
As well as a good boat brain I get much more sense of a business brain in Michael’s case – that design, production and public perception of the company are much more rolled into the development process. It is not a small matter to run a boat building firm over the years. Design, Engineering, Quality Control, Financial Management, Customer relations, Transport and Delivery – the lot!
Ian Ward’s approach has more of a technical approach. He is an engineer’s engineer. He thrives on working on a problem within a set of difficult contraints – foiling for everyone at moderate cost through the use of materials selection and manufacturing processes.
It is an extremely difficult set of constraints to balance in a minimal approach – a very high technical requirement. It is much easier to throw money at the problem like in the American’s cup, superfoilers, A-Class or even the Waszp to some extent.
After the talks I was talking with a group of people and was telling someone else how I had originally thought the Quant 23 was one of the fakes. Selective videos and photos. A “Foiling Keelboat” seems counter intuitive or counterproductive.
I was put right by Ian Ward who told me last year after he sailed the Quant that it is real and that the real advantage is not the pure foiling idea, but the idea that once moving even a bit it is tremendously stable. The crew just doesn’t need to move around or hike out. That is has a significant speed advantage, but it is not a dramatic feeling and it is the ease of the speed that is the whole point.
Can you imagine two people sitting on the side of a boat with this much sail and doing this sort of speed? With anything else coming in off the trapeze when shy like this is a disaster.
Speed with stability means that normal people can sail it. It is also possible to raise the lifting foils up out of the way and sail normally in light winds.
Here is a great comparison below. The new Quant 17 foiling dinghy. With foils retracted it requires the crew to be working hard – on trapeze and hiking at the beginning of the video like a normal dinghy.
Here is the Quant 17 sailing without foils – crew trapezing and hiking, boat at normal high performance speed.
They then deploy the foils and we suddenly have the crew sitting to leeward and skipper sitting comfortably to windward and crazy high speed in modest wind – there is no drama.
The foils are doing the work providing stability. The crew doesn’t need to be out on trapeze.
Compare it for yourself – normal sailing until 0:25 and then much more speed and a relaxed crew
Foiling is relaxing! But what about the Crashes … Michael’s answer turns out to be Ian’s answer too.
A few minutes later Michael confided that he was indeed selective with footage, but not in the way I had assumed.
He said that the secret is not to foil too high above the surface and avoid the boat and person hurting decelerations!
But selecting shots of foiling high sells the boat.
There is still significant opportunity for speed, but instead of crashing off the foils it transitions to high speed slightly above the water surface (maybe this will be called semi-foiling” a similar non existent state like “semi-planing”)
With this lower foiling position the boat transitions between being in contact with the water surface, if it loses lift then the drop is only small with no bow down pivoting, the boat hull touches the water for additional stability from displacement or lift from the skimming surfaces then lifts back up to be a small distance clear of the water.
No crashes. And the video makes the point about the moderate wind speed – look at the yacht it passes at 0:47. Note how touching down doesn’t change the speed much.
Clearly this is what is happening with the Glidefree too.
Touch down, lift off, touch down lift off without drama.
Compare with the high foiling of the Moths – what goes up must come down – happily the Moth sailors are outside the envelope of the stays, mast and other rigging.
Not necessarily so with other boats where crew can hit gear on the way through. See how shaken the crew looks at the end of the clip sailing in.
Remember too that both the Glidefree and Quant 23 have non flying modes available.
Jim and David French and the Foiling Scow Moth
Jim and David are inclined to be a bit more secretive – they are a tiny business where capital rules. However their aims are not inconsistend with Michael Aeppli’s or Ian Ward’s.
Jim French was one of the main developers and major class builder of the extremely light plywood moths and also moved the class into its first use of carbon composites. Part of his business is oriented around motor sports components.
They have been developing their foiling scow moths within the performance sphere of the state of the art foiling moths which are extremely narrow and uncomfortable at rest. Here are some mainstream foiling moths waiting for an event to start. Not many sailors are interested in this poor low speed handling.
So the Frenches are probably more focussed on the performance side. Here is their trifoil moth. I can’t remember if this was the Nationals or the Worlds.
I asked them directly – why race a scow foiler when it doesn’t quite compete with the narrow skiff foilers.
David told me it wasn’t quite true because on some specific points of sail the scow had a speed advantage.
But their thinking is similar to Aeppli’s – that there isn’t much of a market if only able to sell to elite sailors.
They chose to work with the scow form as well (similar to Ward’s “Horace” testbed) because there are options for trifoil, and bifoil setups on a hull that is fundamentally stable.
Thus again the transitions between foiling and not foiling are not so strong that it requires elite sailors.
Their foil system is a fully flapped self levelling system like the racing Moths. This is a point of difference with the Quant 23.
Their foiling system also involves an on/off “switch” for foiling (pull or release one rope) and the boat is quite comfortable as a normal sailing dinghy. They have also been working on rig simplification to get good performance but removing many expensive items and systems from the boat.
Is Super High Performance going to boost the Popularity of Sailing?
Over the past few decades organisers of most types of conventional sailing boats have invested in the idea that more performance makes sailing cooler and will attract more people to sailing.
However the number of people actively involved and the number of clubs continue to contract.
The Paralympics dumped sailing because of “not enough countries with enough participants in each country”.
Where we do see growth … well it aint happening in high performance boats.
- Australia runs a highly successful “introduction to sailing and teams racing” programs with several schools investing in a joint fleet of six boats. The boats are Puffin Pacers which were designed by Jack Holt in the mid 1960s. They introduce thousands of kids to sailing yearly.
- Around the world people still build their own boats. They build the type of boat they want because they want to. These people generally do not join regular sailing clubs, but if competitively minded will join long distance events in preference or distance cruises in company with other similar boats.
- In the Philippines we have had a yearly program of building a boat I designed, the very simple and slightly strange Oz Goose – 10 Oz Geese on the water is same cost as importing one Laser Dinghy into the Philippines with enough spares to keep it going for a couple of seasons. Interestingly the Paralympic squad is joining us for racing.
These three examples are antidotes to the “not enough people in not enough countries” funding problem that high level competitive sailing is facing.
Without the grass roots of basic participation the expense of running Olympic events for a sport with marginal participation that requires a separate venue and accommodation, lots of infrastructure and personnel – rescue boats, official boats, international jurors as observers, fleets of boats – thirty boats multiplied by 5 different types has a level of cost well above many other events.
Is that sustainable? And building the grass roots is the low cost way of making a difference.
People who get started may end up sailing on foilers – but it has been a 50 year strategy to promote through “performance” which one would say has failed.
Getting bums on boats and a realistic development scheme for huge numbers of people of different ages seems to work but it not possible if boats are too expensive. Not just people with money to pay for coaching and camps, but creating engagement at a mass level.
The place of hightech/high performance and expensive foiling variants
We definitely need the expensive bleeding edge of sailing. It is fun, it is entertaining, the techniques of sailing get a quantum jump and that part does trickle down because technique has very little transmission cost.
There needs to be an upwards path, or rather a group of paths. It might suit the people at the head of organisations who seek Olympic funding (the only way to get money for grassroots sailing) to have the sailing population in seven types of boat but that strategy has also contributed to the downsizing of participation.
And the pressure to get a place has forced the boats to become more and more expensive and gear dependent.
Build the grassroots and then you have people coming through intermediate classes and on to advanced boat like foilers.
But really … sailing will always be successful without the foilers – enough people want to do it that they will find a way quite independent of official sanction or official handouts to the “deserving.
But Ward, Aeppli and the Frenches are aiming at expanding the mainstream by bringing foiling to the rest of us.
The democracy of Foiling – or foiling for everyone.
OK … so I lauded simple basic boats and variation of boat types as things that keep the scene interesting and allow an easy transition from knowing nothing to becoming a participant.
If you know the boat already and can just add foils … then why not!
And remembering that all the original foil development happened in wood by self builders. The technology requirement is not incredibly high though it has been made to appear so. But normal participation in foiling is hobbled by the perception that it is elite, expensive and difficult. That leaves an opening for a different approach.
This is exactly where the Quant 23 and Glidefree are coming from.
I think they are great examples of a type of variety that is needed.
- they are not more expensive and often considerably cheaper than conventional non foiling boats that are considered very fast.
- They have the capacity to sail like normal boats – the Glide Free by pulling the head of the centreboard back and with the Quant by retracting the lifting foils. Docking, beaching, tired crew or for light or very strong conditions is completely normal
- They fly low and transition between hull contact with water and no contact with the water without much or any drama.
- Low flying means they feel like conventional boats to sail and normal people can handle them.
- The Quant 23 has enormous stability added because of the foils so is easier and less risky to sail than a non foiling boat of similar sail area and displacement. Crew doesn’t need acrobatics to hold the boat up
- Low flying just about eliminates the high speed crashes back to water level and risk of boat and crew damage.
- Their performance starts to show advantage over conventional boats well under 10 knots of windspeed.
- At higher speeds they don’t show crazy steering or handling vices.
These points also make it attractive (to me at least) to revisit homebuilt wooden foils on simple boats, don’t fly too high and see what happens. If we do it we will be documenting here.
So all in all the Quant, French and Glidefree philosophies converge at the idea that foiling should feel “normal” be accessible to “normal” people, sail in the range of “normal” conditions and in the case of the Quant go very close to having a picnic and beer boat because of its huge stability.
Try making or even eating sandwiches while sailing 49er or Hobie Tiger!