Foil Catamarans

Can Foils Add to Cruising Catamarans?

Written by Just Catamarans broker Derek Escher

It was two years ago in May. I was teaching an instructional passage, and we were in Bermuda waiting for weather to allow us to continue north to Newport. Of course, we knew that the America’s Cup was happening. Still, the absolute mind-boggling spectacle of seeing those boats…..doing that! As we entered the outer bay near Hamilton, there, right in front of us, was Oracle, sitting in the water, getting coached up by her chase boats. Now not more than 40-50 yards away, the crew trimmed in the wing sail.

The boat lurched a little, started moving….then bam! Like the Starship Enterprise in the Star Trek movies, it popped up, onto its’ foils, and was off at nearly 40 knots. Warp speed Scotty!

About a week ago, right here in Bristol RI, a 45’ foiling cat was launched. This is not the first recreational foiler, the Gunboat G4 was that, but it is the first that is computer-aided to keep the foils in trim, presumably to make the boat safer. (The G4 has that technology now too.)

The boat is being marketed as a weekend cruiser, not really as a blue water boat. That said, I have a vision of a Friday afternoon coming around, and deciding to head to Nantucket for the evening. 70 miles, 3 hours…… Dinner at 7? I’ll be there!


Or, think of this: A few years ago, Idec Sport, recent winner (3rd time) of the Route du Rhum, was in Newport on “charter” (they leased the boat to go around breaking minor records). A weather window opened that they liked, and they sailed from Newport to Bermuda in 23 hours. 23 HOURS!! 650 miles, or so. Dark and Stormy mate?

idec sport

Idec is a foil aided trimaran, but not really a flying boat. In the recent Route du Rhum, there were four actual fully foiling trimarans. The first, Edmond de Rothschild (Sebastien Josse), led the race early before a portion of one of her amas (float) broke off. About the same time, Frank Cammas cracked a fore beam on Sodebo. Both boats stopped in Spain, but only Cammas was able to continue. He eventually finished third but lost 10 days in Spain. Boat 3, the gorgeous new Banque Populaire managed to lose an ama, then capsize. I think they are still picking the pieces up after the captain, Armel LeCleac’h was scooped up by a passing ship.

Then there was Macif, with it’s movie idol skipper Francois Gabart, who started well and sailed flawlessly until there were about 1500 miles left. He then lost a foil, and a rudder. Despite that, he still managed to lead the race all the way to the south end of Guadeloupe. It was here that the wily veteran Francis Joyon, he who owns the outright around the world record on the aforementioned Idec, reeled in Gabart, crossing the line just minutes ahead. While adding to Idec’s already immense legend, the discussion about the viability of offshore foiling, at least with regard to flying boats, rages on.


The America’s cup boats from the Bermuda regatta have all been bought up and made into a one design fleet that will travel around the world doing “stadium style regattas”. The absolute best sailors will mostly represent their countries, and this likely will become the ultimate spectator sailing. These boats frequently hit 50 knots. That is in15 knots of wind! For you sailing geeks, the wind angle on these boats upwind is 11 degrees. It is 18 degrees on a deep reach.

I have explained before how the apparent wind thing allows these boats to hit these speeds, but it still is counter-intuitive as to how a sailboat can fly, and how it can go at 4 times wind speed. If you are a traditional monohull sailor (and we all are to some extent) this is just not the same sport. But make no mistake, this is sailing at its’ highest order. These boats, however, are intended for flat water and not too much wind, and are thus not blue water capable.

foiling catamaran

So, what should we hope for or expect from all this technology and development? Well, for monohull sailors who might like a little performance bump while staying traditional, clever uses of foil lift on keels and daggerboards can subtly lift boats up a little and enhance their sailing. For cruising cats, the liveaboard, party hearty variety, probably foil technology doesn’t do much. But, it could be helpful to relieve some of the weight issues these boats suffer from and might help some. Foils won’t change the colors of the cat though, so if you buy a cat to have the best floating home possible, this evolution probably is not for you. If you are a performance cat sailor though, and you currently have a daggerboard cat, carbon rig, and you count calories in your daily diet, there may be big things coming.

I can see where foil assist with huge weightlift, not probably really flying, can lead to some genuinely fast cruising and racing cats. I will watch the new local foiling cat closely. I can envision foils that are useable in settled conditions, and able to be stowed away in wild weather. That is probably what we’ll see on the big trimarans: use of foils to charge through the light wind stuff, then sail in a more conventional mode when it gets bumpy and windy. Those big flying tris will be back, and will break a lot of records soon, once they sort out how to keep the boats together. For now though, foilers are still radical, but the technology will come to us soon.

For the record, I don’t think the Leopard below is a real good idea!

Leopard 40 Catamaran new

Speak with Derek Escher to help you find the right catamaran for you.

Licensed and Bonded Yacht Broker Terry Grimbeek

Derek Escher

Licensed + Bonded Catamaran Broker

Mobile: (617) 803-8976
Office: (954) 589-2343

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