2010-2019 saw unprecedented changes: from conceptual design to simple handheld devices that improved the safety of every sailor. We trace some of the biggest shifts and ask: What next?
When it comes to professional racing events, the years 2010-2019 were undoubtedly the decade of flight. Foiling technology has now filtered beyond inshore multihulls to offshore racers and even luxurious cruising yachts. But most of us do not, nor ever intend to, sail a flying boat. So what of the rest of the sport?
There’s no question that sailing faced huge challenges over the past decade – the global downturn post-2008 was a tough market in which to sell yachts. The past few years have been peppered with news of yacht builders being merged, or sadly ceasing trading. The financial services industry virtually disappeared from sports sponsorship.
But other sectors are thriving. While some regattas have seen entries dwindle, cruising rallies are regularly full to capacity. And although new custom racing yachts seem thin on the ground, production catamaran launches are flooding the market.
One thing the sport has done very successfully over the past decade is diversify. If you want to buy a boat to race offshore doublehanded, or set off on high latitude sailing adventures, you now have not just one or two yachts to consider, but a wide choice of potential designs to choose from.
There is a yacht to suit everyone. What you do with it, where, and when, has probably changed dramatically over the past ten years too… We look at some of the biggest shifts.
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Climate change is already impacting on our sailing: there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that rising sea temperatures, sea levels and air temperatures have contributed to an increased frequency of severe hurricanes over the past 10 years. Since records began, 2016-2019 is the longest sequence of years which all featured at least one Category 5 hurricane.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria decimated cruising grounds and charter fleets in the BVIs, USVIs, and St Maarten, as well as causing thousands of deaths in 2017, and had a significant impact on where cruisers could be insured to over-winter. But other factors are also changing where we sail. Jimmy Cornell has surveyed global patterns in sailing for 30 years.
“Figures obtained from 50 locations around the world seem to indicate that the popularity of long distance voyages may have peaked in 2010,” he explains. “The actual number of boats sailing from Europe to the Caribbean is in decline and so is the number of cruising boats transiting the Panama Canal. This observation is backed up by statistics from Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia.
“There are various reasons for this, but all seem related to safety concerns. Sailors are concerned about conditions having become less predictable, with tropical storm seasons lasting longer and safe seasons no longer a certainty.
“The world is also regarded as less safe on a personal level, not only in high risk areas such as the North Indian Ocean and Red Sea, Venezuela, Brazil, Honduras, and East and West Africa, but also in parts of the Caribbean. One place where numbers have gone up is South Africa as the majority of boats on a world voyage now sail the Cape of Good Hope, with very few taking the risk of a passage through the North Indian Ocean and Red Sea.”
Climate change may also be contributing to the increased popularity of high latitude cruising. “Significantly more sailors are attracted to high latitude destinations, especially in the North Atlantic,” explains Cornell. The number of yachts voyaging to Spitsbergen increased from 55 in 2010 to 72 in 2019, whilst the number transiting the Northwest Passage doubled over the decade, from seven in 2010 to 14 this year.
Cruising in company
Perhaps bucking an overall decline in global voyaging, the past decade has seen a growth in rallies that offer the reassurance of cruising in company.
While the original ARC rally began in 1986, under the steerage of Andrew Bishop and Jeremy Wyatt at the World Cruising Club it has grown to see some 250 yachts sailing across the Atlantic every year. It is so popular that in 2014 the WCC added a spin-off rally, the ARC+ to St Lucia via Cape Verde, and then in 2018 another via Cape Verde to St Vincent.
But one of the biggest booms has been in around the world rallies. The 2015-2018 World ARCs saw entries increase from 24 to 44 yachts, while in 2013 Oyster launched its first World Rally, and is now planning its third iteration. New for next year will be the World Yacht Rally, a full-service rally for 50-footers and upwards.
Piracy on the high seas
Sailing was very much in the mainstream media from 2009-2011 due to one couple’s misfortunes. Paul and Rachel Chandler’s retirement cruise aboard their 38-footer Lynn Rival became an international incident when they were kidnapped by Somali pirates between Tanzania and the Seychelles. After being held hostage for 388 days, the Chandlers were released following the payment of a $440,000 ransom.
Piracy and kidnap of ship’s crews in the Gulf of Aden peaked in 2009-2011, and there were several incidents when yachtsmen were killed in the region. In 2011, four American crew of the yacht Quest were captured by Somali pirates and killed. A Danish family, including three teenagers, and a French family with their young son, were among those captured aboard their yachts.
In 2012 coalition forces launched an aggressive multi-force attack on the Somali pirate networks with huge success: from 2012 until 2017 no large ships were hijacked. Following high profile incidents including the Chandlers’ kidnapping, the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea have been effectively closed to sailors for a decade, as very few yachts choose to take the route. Consequently there have been no recent attacks on sailing vessels.
Since 2016, however, increased incidents of piracy against yachts have taken place in the Philippines, and between Venezuela and Trinidad.
Following the ‘Dogzilla’ giant multihull America’s Cup match of 2010, the event entered a period of rapid change that altered not only the Cup, but offshore sailing – and potentially cruising – forever.
After Oracle USA’s wingsailed trimaran won the 33rd Cup, it was announced that the next event would be sailed in wingsail catamarans: the AC72s. But it wasn’t until a grainy photo appeared on an online forum in August 2012 that the potential of those cats was widely realised. Emirates Team New Zealand was foiling.
Progress among the other teams was devastatingly quick as they worked to catch up, but the risks were huge. In May 2013 Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson was killed as the Artemis AC72 broke up in a capsize.
Elsewhere designers were working to apply foil technology too – but when the Gunboat G4 catamaran very publicly flipped in St Barths in 2015 it confirmed many people’s views that foiling was dangerous and impractical. ‘A ridiculous circus’ one reader condemned it in a letter to Yachting World. The cyclors concept, which saw ETNZ crew pedalling to generate hydraulic power, did little to dissuade such views.
But the foiling revolution was gaining its own momentum. In 2015 the first foil-assisted IMOCA 60s appeared, in 2017 Armel Le Cleac’h won the Vendée Globe in Banque Populaire. Foiling designs were selected for their crowd-pleasing high adrenalin spectacle at events from the Extreme Sailing Series to the 2020 Olympics. Its application is widening: Nautor launched a foil-assisted production yacht, the ClubSwan36, this year.
The wobbly ‘flacks’ (foiling tacks) the Cup teams worked so hard to achieve in the early days have been completely superseded by the stable manoeuvres and near constant flight of the AC50s.
If foiling cats can clock 50 knots in the Solent, the next stage is to realise their potential to demolish ocean-crossing records. The brave new world for the next decade will be that of the Ultimes, giant multihulls designed to fly around the planet.
The Cup, meanwhile, has taken another quantum leap to create the most extraordinary boat yet, the AC75 monohull. Even those at the forefront of the foiling revolution have been surprised by its speed. Marc Van Peteghem of VPLP, whose team led designs including many foil-assisted IMOCAs in conjunction with Guillaume Verdier, and the Ultime MACIF, says: “We had the first foil-assisted boat in 1983.
“But it has moved fast in the last decade because of the progress of the engineering behind it. We now have a dynamic simulator in the office where you can really ‘sail’ virtually and see how the platform, the boat, will behave on foils with different kinds of sea state and conditions.
“The progress that has been made in the engineering, together with the hydro and aerodynamic understanding, and also the modeling and structure, have really helped to make this big step forward.”
Guillaume Verdier, who created ETNZ’s AC72, as well as the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild Ultime, agrees that computer power accelerated foiling development. But, he says, some of the biggest breakthroughs that took place at Emirates Team New Zealand were made possible by a particular combination of people and the attitude of the team [he wanted to namecheck every one for their contribution, but they are too numerous].
“I was very lucky to be there at that moment in time. The beauty of that campaign on the AC72 was that New Zealand decided to bring people from a big variety of backgrounds.” The atmosphere of the team he says, was one of collaboration not competition. No idea was too ambitious.
“The philosophy of Team New Zealand is to say we throw the stones far forward, as far as we can, and see if we can grab it. The idea was that a foiling boat would be a crazy thing to grab. We knew it would be fast but did not think it was stable. But we found a solution.”
Is foiling the future? “It’s opened the flood gates for a new and exciting vision for sailing, and is getting the youth interested and excited. I think, in the long term, it will keep our sport current and thriving,” comments Dee Caffari.
Fellow solo skipper Mike Golding is equally excited by the prospect, but urges a note of caution: “In 2010 I would never have believed it possible that in 2019 I would be in the cockpit of an IMOCA 60 flying at more than 30 knots in less than 20 knots of wind – it’s truly amazing and, of course, very exciting. The pace of change right now is quick.
“There will be costs, there will be injuries and far worse; it’s inevitable. While sailing has never looked more exciting, to prevent ‘disaster’ somehow the sport and organisers need to confront the changes with strong controls.”
How much faster can they go? “There are physical limits,” Van Peteghem acknowledges. “There is cavitation, and we know that above 43-45 knots it’s difficult to go faster because of that. “For the moment there is that physical barrier – you can get foils to go above this physical limit, but they would probably not be good getting to the limit. So there’s a trade-off. But I am trusting we will overcome this limit – we’ll find a way!”
When it comes to the around the world sailing, Verdier says, “We can go much faster.” He compares allowing foiling daggerboards but not rudder elevators on the IMOCAs to allowing a plane with flaps on the wing but not the tail. “It’s kind of crazy to think of flying a plane like that, it makes it way harder to sail and a bit more dangerous.
“We could go about 8 knots faster. Or if you decided not to go 8 knots faster it would make the pitch much smoother on the boat. The guys are suffering, and will suffer a lot. I foresee that the boats of the future will be easier to sail, they will be more efficient with a lower centre of effort and easier to trim. You will be able to go faster, more easily.”
While the Vendée Globe holds the undisputed crown as the premier solo offshore racing event, traditionally the Volvo Ocean Race (formerly Whitbread) held the title for crewed ocean racing. But the past decade saw the race go through a major evolution.
The 2011-12 edition was plagued by keel and mast failures for the VO70s. In response the one-design VO65 was launched for the 2014-15 edition. All seemed set to get around, until Vestas was wrecked on a reef. (After a heroic rebuilding effort the crew rejoined the end of the race.)
But the one-design concept was vindicated in 2018, with the closet finish the event has ever seen – Dongfeng’s overall victory was decided just seven miles away from the final finish of the final leg.
Other legacies from the race included a mixed crew rule that saw women sailors competing equally on every team, while the clean oceans message promoted by Turn the Tide on Plastic captured a global movement.
But going into the next decade the race’s future raises many questions: it will be known as The Ocean Race, with no title sponsor. One fleet will be made up of crewed foil-assisted IMOCA 60s, as yet an untried concept, and the route looks set to include some eclectic stages, including stopovers in Aarhus and the Hague before a finish in Genoa. It starts again in Alicante in 2021.