New Era of Olympic Sailing Begins

Published on July 26th, 2017

The progress of foiling will be on the world stage at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in the mixed multihull even as the Nacra 17, sailed in a semi-foiling configuration at the Rio Olympics, has now begun its conversion to a fully foiling catamaran.

Thirty new foiling boats and 10 upgraded boats were delivered last week, with roughly seven new boats to be delivered every two weeks well into 2018.

The first batch of boats has been allocated as one per nation, with the next group of boats going to sailors finishing in the top 10 previously at Nacra Worlds and other sailors with notable podium finishes in other classes.

The first competition for the foiling fleet will be at the 2017 Nacra 17 European Championship on July 30 to August 4 in Kiel, Germany. The current entry list has 37 teams in the new configuration with a separate fleet of 17 teams using the original C-Boards. Among the foiling fleet are USA teams Bora Gulari/ Helena Scutt and Riley Gibbs/ Louisa Chafee. (Update: The late arrival of equipment kept the two USA teams from competing in the Europeans.)

It is expected for there to be 50 boats in the foiling fleet at the 2017 World Championship on September 5-10 in La Grande Motte, France.

With equipment becoming available so late, the situation is hardly ideal, particularly with the first Olympic qualifying event only one year away. However, the mixed multihull has been under severe technological pressure ever since it was conceived specifically for the 2016 Olympics.

The design brief and initial awarding of the boat came six months before the America’s Cup boats of AC34 started fully foiling. Since that moment, this new design has been under constant pressure from sailors pushing it to the limit in order to replicate the performance gains seen of the AC boats. No other area of the sport has seen such rapid development as foiling catamaran sailing. However, under strict single manufacturer one design principles, it has been a difficult road so far.

Just after the 2016 Olympics, the final decision was made to evolve the boat to full foiling and adopt new construction techniques to reinforce the design for higher speeds and loads. Less than a year later, the foiling generation is getting underway.

The sprint is on to learn as much as possible about foiling these boats. The design itself takes inspiration from the America’s Cup boats but practicality from the smaller A-Class designs. Unlike the ‘3-point’ foiling seen at the America’s Cup and other smaller versions, the Nacra 17 is a ‘4-point’ foiling design, meaning it is designed to run with the windward centerboard down and in the water at all times.

This configuration increases stability and decreases crew work in a shorthanded concept without much penalty for speed, which in a strict one design is not the ultimate goal any ways. What is especially nice about 4-point foiling for racing fans is that teams should be able to tack and gybe at short notice and with only a small penalty, which should make keep racing at a high intensity and enjoyable to watch.

Since February, three learning boats have been used constantly giving each Nacra 17 team a one week period to come and sail the full foiling boat. There was a dual purpose of the teams learning about foiling and the design and build team learning more about the boat as soon as possible.

For the first three months, the boats were sailed on the inland lakes of Holland, in relatively flat water though at times breezy and chilly conditions. For the past six weeks, the venue was moved to sail on the sea-side of Holland to learn about sailing in wavy conditions.

A decision was taken early in the process that initial builds would be held back so that the first teams did not receive an undue training advantage. The learning sessions allowed for feedback during this period, with the boats each being pushed by two sessions per day as each boat was double booked each week to maximize the amount of hours it would spend on the water.

Performance wise, the boats are exceeding expectations, with upwind foiling from 7-8 knots of breeze and downwind foiling from 6 knots, with teams able to carry on foiling downwind through lulls once up. At the higher end of the wind range, boatspeeds are reaching 18 knots upwind and almost 30 knots downwind.

With so much foil under the boat, it does feel ‘draggy’ in very light conditions, and the class will have to consider allowing the windward board to be raised on the lightest conditions. It’s also been a challenging spinnaker to design, needing grunt in the draggy light air conditions and also flatness on the foils so that teams don’t get apparent wind headers that knock them off the foils.

The positive news is how the foiling boat is more manageable in rough conditions than the C-Board configuration of 2016, with the elevator on the rudders providing stability sailors previously struggled without. Teams are already foiling through gybes and hoists, with a foiling tack the next to be mastered.

The design and build teams are confident in the boat that has been produced, with a new supply chain philosophy, new build techniques, and a new design all aimed at improving durability, repeat ability, and reliability.

Source: Nacra 17 class

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