Offshore sailing of the future took centre stage in Punta Ala on June 4th. The occasion was the launching of FlyingNikka, the new 60-foot foiling-equipped flying boat, applauded by a crowd of onlookers, enthusiasts and insiders.
Of course, when seeing a boat like FlyingNikka (find out more here) that looks much more like a flying America’s Cup monohull than a traditional monohull, the WOW effect is absolutely guaranteed! But the question is: how is she going to sail on the high seas in rough seas?
At first glance it looks like an AC 75 codenamed for the last and next America’s Cup boats in miniature. FlyingNikka only looks a few metres shorter, 18 metres instead of about 23 metres.
Then, if you take a closer look at her and listen to the account of project leader Mark Mills you realize that it’s true, there is a lot of the boats that raced the America’s Cup in New Zealand in 2021. But there’s also a lot of work and a myriad of completely original tricks that will allow her to sail on the high seas, without breaking or sinking, for days on end instead of along the coast for a few hours.
The most obvious difference is that it has a traditional drift fin and bulb. Something the AC 75 does not have. But, as owner Roberto Lacorte pointed out, it is only needed when there is very little wind and the boat has to sail displacement, i.e. with the hull submerged in the water without capsizing.
The first test outings before the official launch were comforting. FlyingNikka proved to be able to get up out of the water and sail in full foiling thanks to the T foil arms (movable side appendages) in just 6 knots of wind.
FlyingNikka’s goals were made clear to us by team mangaer Alessio Razeto: “We want to try to set records in the world’s major offshore regattas. This year we will participate in the Giraglia Rolex Cup (in mid-June). Then we will be in September at the Maxi Rolex in Porto Cervo and in October at Les Voiles in Saint Tropez.”
Razeto also clarified that FlyingNikka’s objective is not to win the offshore races on handicap time, but to arrive first at the finish line, possibly breaking previously set records.
Who will be the competitors of this flying boat capable of exceeding 40 knots of speed? For now, the big maxis such as Arca SGR which has just won the 151-mile race in real time. Or traditional superboats like Rambler, Wild Oats and so on. One thing is certain. A new scenario is opening up in the world of offshore racing with the arrival of FlyingNikka, that of monohull boats with foils. Perhaps the time is coming for the ‘old’ maxi monohulls to retire.
At the dock in Punta Ala, while admiring the extreme lines of this bolide, the insiders were saying, “How can a boat like this, which can fly at over 40 knots with little more than 10 knots of air, participate in races where all the others are normal boats, monohulls with a canting keel at best?”
And they urged: “How can you make a homogeneous compensated time ranking?”. The continuation of the discussion on the dock came from an old racer who commented: ‘Putting a FlyingNikka flying object in the rankings of the big offshore races is like putting a Fiat 500 against a Ferrari in a car race. Who do you think will win? He added: “It seems to me that when I was young we used to do shooting competitions with Vespa 50s. A guy with a beat-up but very fast Vespa always won. Until we realised that he had changed the engine with one from a Vespa 90’.
This has always been a dilemma in offshore racing, making boats with different characteristics and sizes compete on an equal footing, drawing up a ranking that establishes penalties and rebates, thus making it possible for a smaller boat to beat a larger one. Thanks precisely to the compensations that rebalance the values in play.
When there are differences that are too marked, the legislators have created one-design or ‘box rule’ classes. In the first case, one-designs race each other with boats that are all the same. In the case of the ‘box rule’, restrictive regulations, such as those of the America’s Cup, make the performance of several very similar boats comparable. It is then up to the flair of the designer to make one boat faster than the other. We are talking about performance variations of 5% between the fastest and slowest boat.
In the case of FlyingNikka and future foil-equipped boats, the differences in performance when the boat gets up on the water compared to a traditional 60-foot monohull are abysmal. In 10 knots of slack wind, a traditional racing monohull reaches between 12 and 15 knots of speed. FlyingNikka, theoretically the same length, does if not double that, almost. We are talking about 25 to 30 knots at least.
Also at the dock, the experts were saying that the ORC (Offshore Racing Council) regulations, one of the two compensation systems in use in Europe (the other is IRC), has already adapted to estimate the performance of a flying boat.
Roughly speaking, one technician said, up to 10 knots of wind the ORC estimates that the boat is displacement (i.e. with the hull submerged) while when the wind rises the compensation system predicts its performance in a flying gait, with the hull out of the water supported only by the foils.
In the heated discussion on the dock, another old racer intervened. His opinion is this: ‘Until there are other offshore boats of the flying generation, FlyingNikka should race in a separate classification. Will he be alone? Not bad, he will certainly win his category as the only participant. Until some other owner decides to get a similar boat.
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