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
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’.”
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 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.
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.
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:
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