The SuperFoiler is a brand new three-hulled foiler designed to bring the 18ft Skiff concept into the foiling era, Crosbie Lorimer finds out more

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The boundary between control and carnage aboard was thoroughly tested on the inaugural SuperFoiler Grand Prix season this spring with a multi-event circuit around Australia featuring these radical new designs.

For a sense of the insane levels of skill and speed of reactions needed to race the new designs, watch here:

In 2013, inspired by the spectacle of the America’s Cup in San Francisco, the Australian father and son team of Bill and Jack Macartney made the bold decision to revisit the highly successful 18ft Skiff Grand Prix concept they’d masterminded in the 1990s, creating a new multi-venue event from scratch, boats and all.

“The extraordinary spectacle of those 72ft America’s Cup catamarans suddenly rising up out of the water was like nothing I’d ever seen before. All of a sudden we saw there was a whole new dimension to it,” said Bill Macartney, “It was at that point that Jack and I said: ‘Look, this is too good to not do something about’.”

SuperFoiler Grand Prix in Adelaide in February 2018, Photo Andrea Francolini/SuperFoiler

Thrills and spills

Twenty years of advances in digital and communications technology since the peak of the 18s circuit has also allowed the Macartneys to bring the onboard thrills and spills of sailing onto screens of all sizes. While the 18s were famously on prime time TV in Australia, for the SuperFoilers event coverage has moved up to a new level with fan zones, open boat parks, drone coverage, live feeds from crew on board, online live-streaming and free-to-air television all forming key elements of the event package.

The costs of designing and building the boats, then putting together such a national roadshow is significant: criss-crossing the continent with four shipping containers and a team of 62 personnel to set up for three days of sailing in five separate venues over seven weeks calls for high level investment and sponsorship; hence the international profile of the six current boat sponsors.

The Macartneys’ design philosophy for the SuperFoiler embraced two core objectives: the boats would be designed from the foils up (rather than adding foils to an existing design) and, as importantly, they’d have three crew, all on trapeze, with an all-up weight of 240kg.

The latter objective sought to combine the physicality that was a hallmark of the 18-footer Grand Prix circuit with the challenge of controlling the rudder and daggerboard foils from the wire. There are no America’s Cup-style sheltered cockpits and video game box controls for these crew!

The helmsperson can assess the degree of rake on the rudders by a 4:1 purchase string pot calibration on the stern of the centre hull. A similar system on the mast displays the rake of the daggerboard foils. Photo Crosbie Lorimer

The resulting craft has a lean, businesslike look that is less concerned with Concours d’Elegance pretensions than in packing in ingenious design that is both complex and simple enough to allow a 26ft, 370kg three-hulled craft to achieve steady, foiled flight in as little as 7 knots of true wind.

Working with the design team of Morelli & Melvin and the Australian builders Innovation Composites, the Macartneys also called on the experience of the world’s best foiling sailors to create and evolve a SuperFoiler capable of 25-plus knots in upwind mode, and a blistering downwind performance that has seen speeds in the high 30s recorded at the early regattas.

All of the foils are directly controlled by electric actuators (there is no stored power nor any hydraulics on board). Rudder rake moves through 6 degrees and daggerboards through 9 degrees and neither rudders nor daggerboards can be canted. Note the emergency air bottle attached to the tiller stock. Photo Crosbie Lorimer

Although the computer design programs employed by Morelli & Melvin greatly condensed the foil, platform and rig design iteration process, evolution continued as the first boat was tested. Sail configurations and daggerboard cassettes particularly received attention to gain sufficient rigidity and power in the cassette to minimise foil flex and offer immediate control on foil rake when it’s needed – all while minimising any extra weight. 

Sail evolution mostly centred on finding the optimal ratio of mainsail area to jib (each boat has a large and small jib option), resulting in an increase to the mainsail area, which is central to ride height and control, with reductions to the larger jib sizes which tended to lose flow at higher speeds.

Hull skin thickness as little as 2mm in places has also kept the shore team, led in its early phases by Softbank Team Japan’s former shore manager, Tyson Lamond, busy with overnight repairs and tweaks to keep the six boats on the water for the three-day regattas.

Morelli and Melvin’s sail design iterations included lowering the rig height to lower the Centre of Effort while ‘endplating’ the bottom of the sails to improve flow across the hulls and platform; a trend that reflects recent designs in Moths. Photo Andrea Francolini/SuperFoiler

The upturned J shaped, non-canting daggerboards offer steadier flight than the L shaped foils commonly seen in the America’s Cup boats. Keeping a smooth trailing edge on the foils remains a major challenge given the manually operated lifting and lowering through the cassettes. Photo Crosbie Lorimer

Maintaining waterproofed circuitry on a boat that quite regularly capsizes and inverts – particularly as the crews learn to master the foil controls – has been an area of focus for the shore team and designers. Some smart and cost effective solutions, such as 3D printing of minor componentry, has all but eradicated post-capsize downtime and also permitted the team to modify the design on the run as they analyse previous component failures.

The six teams that race the SuperFoilers include crew from five countries (Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland and the USA) and range from the ‘dream team’ of Nathan Outteridge, Glenn Ashby and Iain Jensen through to Olympic Silver medallist Olivia Price, who’d never sailed a foiling multihull prior to the lead-up for this event, but teamed up with 2012 Moth World Champion Josh McKnight. Luke Parkinson, skipper of tech2, took a break from two legs of the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race to take part in the SuperFoiler series.

Despite the calibre of sailors crewing on the SuperFoiler circuit, spectacular wipeouts, crashes and gear failure were a frequent occurence. Even the best were aware they were sailing on something of a knife-edge while they came to grips with their wild rides.

Outteridge commented: “If we hadn’t sailed the America’s Cup boats I would be petrified; you are just on the trapeze ready to get catapulted… it is a massive learning moment. This is the 18-footer on steroids!”

Listen to Outteridge here:

Daggerbord and rudder foils can be controlled from the tiller extension while on the trapeze. A single tap moves the foils in half degree increments. Holding down the buttons provides continuous foil movement, typically used to set foils to a neutral position going into gybes or tacks.

Specification

DesignerMorelli & Melvin

Builder Innovation Composites

LOA 7.97m 26ft 3in

Main hull length 7.9m 25ft 11in

Outrigger length 4.5m 14ft 9in

Beam 5.15m 16ft 11in

Draught (daggerboards down)

1.52m  5ft 0in

Displacement 370kg 816lb

Sail area (mainsail) 27.6/32.6m2 297/35 ft2

Sail area (headsail) 7.8/9.3m2 84/ 100 ft2