Just 10 years ago, the anticipated top speed of the new SailGP F50 class – 53 knots – would have smashed the outright world speed sailing record with ease.
Until then, exceeding 50 knots (60mph/100kph) had proved so elusive that it was widely considered to be sailing’s sound barrier. Yet today, the prospect of racing at this pace proves just how far modern design and technology have driven the sport.
But to achieve this has required a clear vision, confidence and a Herculean effort. At 50-feet long, powered by an efficient wingsail and flying on hydrofoils, the DNA of the new F50 catamaran is clear to see.
While the new boat is a derivative of the last America’s Cup and may look the same on the outside, under the skin the new machines are very different beasts and even more advanced.
From their slender low-drag hydrofoils, to complex fly-by-wire control systems and sophisticated electro-mechanical actuators, the new F50 doesn’t just extend the boundaries of modern design and technology, but defines a new generation of racing machines. Just as with any pioneering project, striking the balance between existing technology and new innovations is key.
Yet to create a fleet of six identically matched, sophisticated and complex 50-foot flying cats in time for the opening event in Sydney this February was a colossal task that has required in excess of 100,000 man hours.
The build project was carried out by Core Builders Composites in New Zealand and started by taking three of the former Cup boats that were used in Bermuda in 2017 and stripping them back to basics. In addition, three new boats were built along identical lines to produce a total of six new platforms that would comply with the newly created F50 one design class rules.
The biggest configuration change is in the cockpit layout, with achange from a six-, to a five-crew boat, with only one grinding pedestal now instead of two, and new Lithium-ion batteries now provide unlimited power for the hydraulics.
Introducing electrical power also allowed the new designs to incorporate fly-by-wire control systems that ensure crews can sail the boat faster and more efficiently. This in turn has meant that a new generation of higher-performance daggerboards can now be used.
The daggerboards are faster than the ones in Bermuda because they were able to access parameters, materials and processes that weren’t available in the Cup last time. In essence, slender section, low-drag foils built from high-spec carbon fiber.
This has required building 14 high-speed boards and 14 light-air boards, along with 14 new rudders. The rudders also have two configurations with a high-speed horizontal component and a light-air horizontal component.
But with the six boats completed and on their way to Sydney the pressure is still on for Brad Marsh, SailGP tech team operations manager and his team.
“To run six boats you need a lot of people, or a lot of time. So for us, the scale of the overall project remains the biggest challenge.”
And it is the scale of this project that will be on show come the first event in Sydney, as the world’s fastest race boats embark on an ambitious world tour. A high octane series that many believe will mark a huge step forward for the sport.
The first SailGP event will take place at Sydney on Friday 15 and Saturday 16 February 2019.
Each national team will compete in fleet races, culminating with the top two teams racing for a place on the winner’s podium in a match race on Saturday afternoon.