It seems like it happened just yesterday: The huge America's Cup AC72 catamarans with wing sails fascinated the whole world as they shot back and forth across San Francisco Bay at 40-plus knots. Actually, saying they sailed "above" San Francisco Bay would be more accurate. Those boats were constantly in the air, suspended on boards and rudders that produced enough lift to elevate the hulls of the 72-footers above the water’s surface. The $10 million sailing machines put on quite the show for the cameras.
As a result, that “foiling," which has been in the repertoire of the diminutive Moth dinghies for years, went from obscure avant-garde skill to must-have mainstream feature overnight. While the attempts to teach a Laser this trick appeared somewhat amusing, there’s the Flying Phantom, a catamaran from France that looks as if it is the small cousin of the AC72s.
This beach cat is only 18 feet long and weighs a scant 340 pounds. France’s grand master of multihull sailing, Franck Cammas, was involved in the design process. boats.com briefly previewed the Flying Phantom at the Düsseldorf boat show (see video below in German).
The Phantom does not have a wing mast, but with J-shaped dagger boards and T-shaped rudders, it lifts out of the water like its much larger cousins did during the America’s Cup. Same idea, same principle, but much less cash. At around 28,000 Euros (around $39,000 in U.S. dollars) suggested retail price, this beach cat is not exactly cheap, but at least it is within sight and reach of Joe Sixpack.
So will ordinary Joes soon be foiling around happily on two hulls? Absolutely, if Nicolas Felix from Phantom International, the manufacturer of the boat, has his way. “We had many sessions with journalists and weekend warriors, and they all succeeded in flying the Flying Phantom as crew or helmsman,” Felix says, adding, “Even folks not used to racing beach cats (did it).”
It’s pretty clear that the French know their business. And that's not just designing and building such a boat, but also marketing it. However, in all their appetizing videos and photographs, one thing is notable: They only show the Flying Phantom tearing it up on flat water. So what happens when breeze and chop are up? Can leisure sailors still foil, or do they have to sign a life insurance policy first? The truth, it can be expected, will be revealed through empiricism. That said, what happens when the Phantom goes foiling while others don’t becomes evident in the following clip that was shot during the Raid du Goëlo in Saint Quay Portrieux, France.
In any case, America's Cup defender Oracle Team USA sent coach Philippe Presti to France to check out the Flying Phantom. “As you saw with the America’s Cup, we started to foil upwind and downwind,” Presti, a former Finn sailor, says in this video. “Now we want to explore foiling with small boats. We are thinking it would be very good for the design of our boat,” he adds, beaming like a kid in the candy store. “Foiling is extremely exciting."
And soon, it can be expected, this exciting variation of sailing could become quite ubiquitous, at least on windy venues.