If you had to bet on a fourteen year old boy sailing a £3,000 foiling kite board versus five fully pro crews sailing £300,000 foiling GC32 cats around a windward/leeward course, which way would your money go?
The very fact that I’ve posed the question provides the biggest hint that the result is going to be the opposite of what you might think.
And if you swayed in favour of the youngster you’d be right, but the race was incredible to watch.
Having seen ordinary kite boards make mincemeat of the Olympic RSX: windsurfer fleet during the Sailing World Cup a few weeks ago in Weymouth, I had already seen just how impressive kite boards can be when pitched against more conventional forms of sail.
But a foiling kite board is of course something else.
Having spent the day watching and sailing aboard the GC32 fleet during the Cowes leg of the Bullitt Racing tour, which was fascinating in itself, the spectacle was made all the more impressive when Guy Bridge (14) and his mother and five time course race World Champion, Stephanie Bridge came out into the Western Solent to play.
Flying around our host vessel the pair from the kite board dynasty, that includes two other brothers and a father that all kite board, made foiling look like child’s play. Clearly it isn’t.
But the really impressive part came when Guy took part in one of the GC32 races.
Sailing in just 6-8 knots of breeze the five boat fleet and Guy performed an America’s Cup style reaching start to a wing mark before bearing away and deploying gennakers. Having raced with the Sultanate of Oman crew earlier on I knew how noisy and quick the experience felt buy Guy was ahead before the fleet had reached the mark just 200m away from the start.
Not wishing to get tangled up with the cats Guy took the kind of wide berth around the mark that would guarantee last place for any of the rest of the fleet that took such a long and exaggerated path.
But as Guy went through the bottom gate the fleet was barely halfway down the first downwind leg.
By the top of the beat the distance had simply increased. The youngster had won, easily.
Foiling is clearly in and developing faster than anyone had expected. These are exciting times for sailing.
The GC32 foiling cats are a good example of how rapidly the sport is rising up above the surface and how ride height and pitch settings are becoming a part of the standard dialogue on board. In just one year since I last sailed one of these boats the mood on board is significantly different too. No longer is there an air of tension as the boat powers up and lifts, today it’s normal practice.
The racing is closer too with crews used to closing speeds more in keeping with the public highway than on a windward leeward race course.
There are six teams in the Bullitt Racing Tour including Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi, an Oman entry skippered by cat expert Leigh McMillan with a standard of racing that is already very high.
And if it hadn’t been for the kite foiling activity many of us who were watching and sailing would have thought that we’d seen a snapshot of the future. We had but there’s a generation coming through that have already moved the game one even further.