The Ultimate ‘Thrillionaire’ Experience

Published on November 15th, 2016

by Bill Springer,
For most people, “exclusive” means everything from partying with A-list celebrities on a superyacht in Saint Barths, to flying on a private jet to watch the Super Bowl from a luxury box in St. Louis.

However, partying on a superyacht or being on the field during the Super Bowl is actually pretty “ordinary” compared to the “exclusivity” that comes from doing something that’s never been done before.

And when pushing the boundaries of what’s possible involves sailing a hydrofoiling catamaran hundreds of miles offshore in huge seas with the two-time America’s Cup champion and skipper of ORACLE Team USA, Jimmy Spithill, “once-in-a-lifetime” is a probably a better description.

Jimmy Spithill and crew test-sail the F4 race yacht with Team Falcon in New York, NY, USA on 22 October, 2016.

F4 leaving the Big Apple. Credit: Matt Knighton / Rob Tringali / Amory Ross

But that’s exactly what happened when Spithill and fellow pro sailors Shannon Falcone and Rome Kirby, along with Tommy Loughborough, Cy Thompson, and Emily Nagel set out on November 5 to sail from New York to Bermuda on a brand-new-offshore-adventure-speed-machine. The F4 is a 46-foot-long catamaran that’s built by DNA Performance Sailing and designed to be incredibly fast since it can lift out of the water on high-tech hydrofoils.

Since Spithill and Kirby are currently training to defend the America’s Cup (on state-of-the-art hydrofoiling catamarans designed to be sailed in relatively light breezes and flat water close to shore) in Bermuda next summer, they know all about flying over the water.

And since hydrofoiling catamarans are capable of much higher speeds than conventional offshore sailboats, their goal for this inaugural offshore hydrofoiling mission was to sail the 662-miles between New York and Bermuda (that many boats take 4-days or more to to cover) in under 48 hours. But then the weather turned against them.

Rome Kirby and Shannon Falcone stare down a 7 meter wave while sailing the F4 race yacht from New York to Bermuda with Team Falcon on November 7, 2016

Shannon Falcone stares down a very big wave while sailing the F4 rfrom New York to Bermuda. Credit: Matt Knighton / Rob Tringali / Amory Ross

With dangerous, gale-force winds topping out at well over 45 mph, and waves measuring up to 25-feet tall, speed took a necessary back seat to safety.

“We went from pushing the boat for performance…into survival mode,” said Spithill, after arriving at ORACLE Team USA’s base in Bermuda. “These were the biggest waves I’ve faced in a multihull and hopefully don’t ever have to experience again.”

Making offshore foiling a reality and sharing his love for speed and adventure by commissioning and helping optimize a catamaran that could make a super fast passage like this was the brainchild of Falcone, an open ocean adventurer and former teammate of Spithill and Rome Kirby on ORACLE Team USA. And this trip to the foiling-catamaran-crazy island of Bermuda was designed to prove that sustained foiling in the open ocean on a multihull can be possible for an avid sailor and adventure seeker. They proved that and more.

“We experienced more than a lot of sailors experience in their whole career,” Falcone adds. “We had awesome foiling on the first day, but it turned to ultimate survival.”

It took them longer than they’d hoped to get to Bermuda but, it appears this is just the beginning. Early reports suggest that plans are in the works for a fleet of these F4 hydrofoiling catamarans to be racing around New England in the summer and the Caribbean in the winter. And my guess is there is going to be an exclusive group of wealthy, successful, and competitive “thrillionaries” lining up to sail on these cats that can fly over the water much, much faster than conventinal offshore sailboats can.

Sure, some VIP’s will score a short ride on the back of an America’s Cup catamaran. And that exclusive group already includes Stephen Colbert, Lindsey Vonn, Mark Ruffalo, Sir Richard Branson and a few others.


Richard Branson was all smiles aboard an America’s Cup catamaran in New York last summer. Credit Land Rover/BAR

But even if you’re are lucky enough get to short ride on an America’s Cup catamaran, it will always be just that. You’ll be a member of the exclusive (and totally fun) club that gets to wear a helmet and be cramed in the back of the boat while the pros get to have even more fun.

Meanwhile F4 owners, charters, and crew can steer, trim sails, or chill out and be dry in the cockpit and even get a comfortable sleep below decks—while the boat literally foils/flies over the water at close to 30 mph.

No helmet required!

No other 48-foot boat can do that.

In fact, the F4 may just be the most exclusive spectator boat at the America’s Cup in Bermuda next year.

Watch this space.


Background on the crossing:

The result of an eight-month engineering collaboration, Team Falcon sailed on the first-ever 46-foot hydro-foiling catamaran that was specifically produced for the open ocean.

The mission had been postponed several times by a hurricane, gale force winds and other nasty conditions. When the weather window opened, the crew left from New York on Saturday November 5 to prove that sustained foiling in the open ocean on a multi-hull is possible.

On departure, light winds quickly filled into a nearly ideal westerly flow of 15–18 knots (17-20mph). The team reached the Gulf Stream Saturday evening, but the headaches came Sunday morning when a new low pressure system formed rapidly. As the team departed the Gulf Stream, they reported 25-knot winds (29mph) and 2-meter waves (6.5ft), both well over projection.

The F4 eventually reported winds between 35 and 40 knots, with 6–8m (20–25ft) waves. Safety remained the top priority, so minimal sails were deployed and progress was exceptionally slow. As had been the case for 24 hours, there was nowhere to go but toward Bermuda, finally arriving early morning on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

“In 72 hours, we experienced more than a lot of sailors experience in their whole career,” observed Falcone. “We had awesome foiling on the first day, but it turned to ultimate survival.”


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