Conceived as a 32ft one-design racing cat, the GC32 is now on foils and regularly hitting 30 knots. Matthew Sheahan was hooked
First published February 2015.
“Hike her down, guys, and we’ll get her up,” called our helmsman Paul Campbell-James to the five crew of the GC32 Richard Mille. As our backsides slid over the rounded gunwale and our feet took the load on the toestraps, I could feel the power come on.
As the cat accelerated steadily and rose above the water’s surface, the noise of ripples on the carbon hull were replaced by a quiet hum, like an electricity substation, from the foils and rigging. The transition from displacement to flight took just a few seconds and our speed hit 14 knots – in barely six knots of true breeze. At speed in flat water she sliced straight though the wake of a powerboat without missing a beat – a first indication of what was to come.
Given the stress involved in climbing the steep America’s Cup learning curve for the foiling AC72 teams, along with a plethora of spectacular crashes and nosedives in the foiling Moth fleet and the long history of brave attempts and heroic foiling failures elsewhere, there is every reason to feel twitchy about sailing on foils. Yet the racing scene is now learning at an incredible pace as foiling becomes ever more popular.
The GC32 was never designed to foil, but this rapid development in foiling technology and knowledge left her creators in no doubt that this one-design 32ft cat had to fly.
Laurent Lenne, a French entrepreneur based in Amsterdam, was originally looking for a racing cat pitched somewhere between an F18 and an Extreme 40. In 2012 he commissioned multihull expert Martin Fisher to create the GC32 (Great Cup 32) one-design. Originally, she had S foils to reduce displacement, but not to fly.
“When the Kiwis started to foil we knew we had to follow,” he says. “Fortunately, we were working closely with the Flying Phantom guys and C-Class cat builders and were sharing information on designs and sails, which allowed us to go through six iterations of the design in a short space of time.”
“In many ways we now feel safer on foils,” explained crewmember Nick Hutton, who is no stranger to high-performance multihulls. “What we’ve quickly realised is that we have a big reserve, particularly when it comes to burying the bow at the weather mark. The AC45s seem pretty twitchy by comparison.”
As the breeze built and we foiled more readily the GC32 certainly felt very stable at speed. But there were some interesting differences that took a little getting used to.
The first is how quickly heel comes off as the speed increases. Having hiked hard to get her going, you’re sitting upright and inboard before you know it. Then there’s the hobbyhorse heaving motion that sets up as the vertical momentum generated as she accelerates lifts her a little too high initially. With too little foil in the water she then drops down a little to find her equilibrium.
And then there’s the windward heel and the splash that comes with deceleration in a lull as the leeward foil continues to generate lift after the sail plan has reduced power and heeling moment – a strange and unnerving feeling the first few times it happens.
So although the GC32 was never meant to foil, she’s a great example of how rapidly the technology is being embraced – to say nothing of a claimed top speed to date of just under 38 knots. One trip and I’m hooked.
LOA 12.00m/39ft 4in
Hull length 10.00m/32ft 10in
Beam 6.00m/19ft 8in
Draught 1.60/2.10m/5ft 3in/6ft 11in
Mast height 16.50m/54ft 2in
Jib 23.50m2 /253ft2
Designed by Martin Fisher
Price ex VAT €239,000 (£190,715) ex sails
Hull built by: Premier Composite Technologies, Dubai
Rig, spine and beams by: Southern Spars, South Africa
Foils and rudders by: Heol Composites, France
This is an extract from a feature in the October 2014 issue of Yachting World