Monday, January 13, 2014

Wings and Foils... Is it the future?

I have been watching the development of wing sails and foils that lift a sailboat out of the water with great interest. The question is, is such developments a viable option for sailboat manufactures to sell to the recreational sailing public? I say yes or maybe!

Yes because a wing sail can simplify sail controls and improve performance, but maybe not because of storage issues, i.e. to cumbersome to rig and store particularly while trailering. However as you can see in the video below there are such things as soft wings that can be reefed and lowered without need for a crane to remove the wing every time you hit the dock like with the Americas Cup catamarans. Smaller sailboats could use small one piece hard wings that would be fairly easy too store or remove them in spite of being one piece (see the video below of the Hobie Bravo with a small wing... the wing is to small I think).

With foils again is yes because sailboats like the Moth, Hobie Tri-Foiler, the new Phantom 18 foot catamaran, and the Americas Cup catamarans have proven their usefulness and strength. But maybe not because there is some safety concerns with sailboats hitting 30+ knots due to the potential for high speed accidents. I think such concerns can be valid but should not eliminate the use of foils recreationally. With sailing you cannot just turn a key and go, there is a significant amount of skill needed. Jet skis (lots of fatalities) and speed boats, etc. are fast and are produced for the general public. If you really think about the whole speed safety issue the same thing was said in 1970’s by monohull sailors related to the Hobie Cats. Some said the same thing about the foiling Americas Cup boats and no such issues arised (the risks is there none the less). See the last video below about foils used in the Americas Cup.

I believe regardless of what some in the sailing industry think about wings and foils not being viable some manufactures are going to use this technology (see videos below) and those that do not will be left in the past. My prediction is that foils will be used in high end racing such as with formula 18 catamarans and wings will also be used… then this technology will trickle into the recreational sailing market as it already has (see the keelboat and Hobie Bravo videos). There might be another maybe and that is related to the speed of technology development and its costs. If you’re not interested in keeping up with the arms race and the associated costs then going with the traditional soft sail rig will be the way to go. So old classes of sailboats like the Hobie 16 and Lasers will be viewed as stable and cost effective, and will continue on for year to come as new designs come and go. 

Let me know what you think by posting a comment below.

Keelboat with soft reef-able wing sail by Omer

Hobie Bravo with one piece Wing Sail... Home built project

Small Foiling Trimaran... Home built project

Foiling Catamaran produced by Phantom

Combined Foiling and Winged Americas Cup Catamaran... The Coming Back!

Americas Cup Catamaran Foiling

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