Race yachts are going to places many would have never dreamed of even a decade ago. Sailing has always been a high-tech sport at the elite level, with designers pouring their time into new keel, hull or sail designs to eke out an advantage over competitors. The pursuit of speed and performance has taken sailing craft designers to new frontiers with hydrofoils. Reducing drag and wetted-area to go faster now involves lifting boats out of the water all together.
The fastest and most lightweight example of foiling is the International Moth class. These tiny vessels foil with their hulls out of the water at great speed of up to 30 knots downwind in 20 knots of breeze. Once enough speed is reached, the wing like foil takes over and lifts the hull out of the water. A spectacular example of foiling yachts was on display at the34th America’s Cup in San Francisco in 2013. The $10 million carbon fiber foiling AC72 catamarans reached record speeds as high as 47 knots or 54 mph when racing around the course.
Foiling isn't a new concept, it has been around for decades, but the use of foils in sailing was relatively limited until the International Moth literally took off. America's Cup yacht designers studied the Moths from all angles. They conducted thorough research and tests and combined marine hydrodynamics, aerodynamics, mechanical engineering and advanced composite material design to produce the perfect hydrofoil vessel.
Sailing has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent years. A sport largely dominated by monohull racing has taken significant steps forward in speed and performance through advances in foiling technology. However, sailors are still coming to terms with the technique and the 32nd America’s Cup, won by Team Oracle, served as a perfect example. The eventual winners took 10 races to figure out how to get the best out of their boat, before storming home to their historic victory. In short, foiling is here to stay, and it's set to add a lot more drama and intrigue in years to come