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June 2016


There is nothing new in Hydrofoils, but how come the latest generation of America’s Cup boats are so incredibly fast?

Two years ago it was a big deal to hit 40 knots (46mph) in a 70ft Cup catamaran. Now it is normal for teams’ test boats that are almost half that size to exceed those speeds.
Over the last five years the increase in performance for America’s Cup boats is greater than at any point in the 164 year history of sailing’s most prestigious event.

And we can thank the clever Kiwi’s at Emirates Team New Zealand for this dramatic turnaround in performance. Everyone knew that using hydrofoils to reduce the drag of the hulls by lifting the boats out of the water made them go twice as fast.

Yet there was no mention of foils in the America’s Cup rules so the Kiwi’s quietly got on with developing their own systems. By the time the other teams cottoned on, ETNZ were well ahead of the game but a new die had been cast.

With foiling now established for the next America’s Cup in 2017, the focus has been on making the foils more efficient. Creating more lift for less drag, while also achieving a foil that is stable and won’t stall at speed and trip up the boat, has occupied much of the design teams’ time.

Satisfying all these requirements has been a big technical challenge but it is here that motorsport has been embraced to provide the necessary hydraulic control technology.
“The systems required to control the foils are a new area for Cup teams” said Land Rover BAR’s Chief Technology Officer, Andy Claughton whose America’s Cup experience stretches back over 30 years.

“To do this the crew has to manually pump the hydraulic fluid back and forth to effect the controls. The marine industry simply doesn’t have this technology yet”

But motorsport does and it is here that Cup design teams have been applying motorsport technologies. The results have been dramatic.

“The control system revolution happened in Formula one 20 years ago” says former McLaren CEO, Martin Whitmarsh, now CEO, Land Rover BAR.

The reliability of the systems has also surprised both designers and the sailors which has in turn meant that crews can push the boats much harder that they had previously expected.
The overall result is a steep learning curve and a rapid increase in performance.