Unidentified Flying Object

Hydro foiling is transforming sailing. From the Vendee Globe single-handed racing to America’s Cup match racing to the ocean-going maxi-tri Ultime class, hydrofoil technology has boosted the speed of these boats to a previous unimaginable level. The wing keel on Australia II in the 1983 America’s Cup was just the beginning. I would have rolled my eyes 20 years ago at the mention of a monohull doing 40 knots in a 15 knot breeze. Although I am not sure the 2021 flying AC75 really is a monohull – don’t the dual foils turn it effectively into a catamaran?

My quest was to figure out how I could experiment with foiling. The International Moth Class started using hydrofoils in in 2000, but they are expensive race boats. My first experiment was to purchase a UFO (Unidentified Foiling Object) from Fulcrum Speedworks in Rhode Island. At less than US$9,000 including accessories, shipping and duties, they were more affordable. Like the Moth, they have a front T foil and rear rudder T foil. The front foil uses a wand that skims the water surface and mechanically adjusts ailerons on the front foil to control lift and maintain height above the water. Unlike the Moth, The UFO is an innovative catamaran design which protects the foils when they are raised, which means I can launch easily using beach wheels and then sail or walk the UFO into deeper water before lowering the foils. The sail is a wind surfing sail with some standing rigging, and I knew how to rig/tune those after years of windsurfing.

UFO with the foils raised

The UFO is fun – I foiled on my first tack on my first voyage!  By adjusting the height of the wand, I kept the boat in “beginner mode” of less than 2 feet above the water. Once the wand clears the water during take-off, the angle of attack is reduced, lift reduced and the boat levels out. That first day, after about 5 seconds of “flying” the UFO bounced back down and the hulls hit the surface – no problem, especially with the stability of a catamaran. Although when I finally graduated to full height, it wasn’t always such a gentle drop down. The rear foil angle of attack could be adjust on the water when not moving to help further control the front foil lift. If the wind was strong or the sail too powered up, then more rear foil lift was needed to keep the bow down and counteract the lift of the front foil. 

It is not the easiest boat to learn as the concepts were all new to me. More sailing and trimming instructions from Fulcrum is an area for improvement. The UFO only needed 9 knots to start flying, although take off was easier above that – I weigh 80 kg. I had some nice foiling runs. Getting it balanced fore/aft was easy, yet I struggled a bit with side to side – you are supposed to have a windward heel on the boat. I had a few spectacular crashes!

It was a fun experiment, but I sold the UFO this summer for two reasons.

I am sailing on the Ottawa River which is almost 2km wide. When the wind blows northwest down the river it tends to be strong and wavy. When we get more consistent winds they are cross wind to the river, which also results in gusts. In the gusts, the UFO wanted to leap out of the water and it was hard to adjust quickly. Lack of experience on my part, for sure, but most of the videos online show flying in large bays with a consistent breeze. 

Secondly, I started to notice people and my kiting friends were doing something else. Winging. 

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