Flying cruise boats? Besana’s prophecy has come true

flycruise3 Screenshot 2015-04-14 at 4:26:15 p.m.Gunboat’s new G4, that is, the first cruising catamaran with a foil and thus “flying,” has got you talking in no small part. There are those who applaud the novelty and those who remain anchored on more classical positions. Meanwhile, we in the editorial staff, while looking at photos of the G4 sailing, were reminded of an article that Davide Besana had written in the Giornale della Vela in December 2012, in collaboration with Roberto Biscontini and Edoardo Bianchi. An article with a somewhat provocative title, “The Colorblind Era,” and accompanied by a then “futuristic” cartoon (you can find it reproduced above) where the use of foils for boating was envisioned . Here is the full article:

“The first images were even met with skepticism by sailors online who accused some goody-goody of using photoshop to have fun behind their backs, but the next day the actual film arrived. Man, this really flies! Why did New Zealand rock and its predecessors did not? Hydrofoil sailboats have been around since the 1970s, Hydroptère records have been recorded and immortalized in a thousand ways, but this time all the sailing experts in the world (i.e., everyone who has at least once pulled two edges) had to admit the existence of the hydrofoil and the actual efficiency of the system. We went from airship to airplane, and Dalton was in the right place at the right time. Mediatically, it has had a brazen good fortune matched only by the bad luck of the Americans at Oracle, who were mocked by the game they built, reminding us once again of the story of the Golem who fights back.

Let’s see what happened. With the last America’s Cup over, Larry Ellison decided to continue down the path of Bertarelli’s Swiss and improve the cup’s entertainment system, turning it into a money-pressing machine like Formula One that the Swiss or rather American football was inspired by. To glue millions of fans in front of the screen you have to make the races as simple as a swimming race and as spectacular as Indianapolis. So small field, fast and mostly similar boats, with a very tight formula that prevents others from inventing some devilry like “my” wing or Dennis Conner’s catamaran. As a good, successful American – he won an America’s Cup, by golly, he must be a jerk! – Ellison must have convinced himself that he could win again even on a level playing field thanks to his gazillion dollars that would bring the best engineers on the planet to converge on San Francisco. But things turned out differently. Those who wrote the cup regulations were concerned about preventing the construction of hydrofoils, and in fact only one drift can be kept in the water at a time; the upwind one must still be raised. But this time the designers who wrote the rulebook are not the ones who design the boats, to make the wings that replaced the mast and mainsail they called in aerodynamics experts who having had the rulebook in hand pull the slide rule out of their breast pocket adjust the pince nez on their noses and after a pause for effect freeze the room with the exact same word: hydrofoil. Hydrofoils are not new, they began to be talked about in the nineteenth century, and in Italy the first one was put in the water in 1905, so two years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight from that Forlanini for which the Milanese would later name their airport. Their superiority arises from the replacement of buoyancy, which involves displacement i.e., keeping the butts soaked night and day, with a buoyancy of sustenance created by the flow of water over the wings. Since the speed is limited by the submerged volume we raise the boat and its displacement drops dramatically.

In the case of the AC 72 we go from moving a mass of seven cubic meters of water to moving a mass of a hundred liters, as much as the volume of the submerged drift and rudder; the resistance of a tanker car becomes that of a scooter, while the power remains the same. The various experiments have evolved with a traditional and very simple conformation of the bearing surfaces, which from the Icarus of the early 1970s to today’s Hydroptère via Whites Dragon, the first Italian that no one has flown even though it flies with two meters of air per second, are supported on two front wings and at the rear on the inverted T rudder that has a fin to support the stern and reduce pitching. The system has been very successful but has not brought much innovation to boating because carbon costs money, just as control systems that could make the craft safer cost money, it is difficult to moor, and no one wants to run against these tools, which experienced sailors (those etc. etc.) wish did not exist. But if it is a matter of bringing home the Cup, the matter changes, and in a few minutes one can imagine the shape of a drift that can give seven tons of thrust above twenty knots of speed, as well as a rudder that will prevent the whole thing from somersaulting as soon as a wave forms. At forty knots if it comes out of the water it’s a pain, making a simple comparison it would be like losing the tail of an airplane. Airplane. Yeah, unlike the airplane, which sails in the air, a hydrofoil sails half in the water and half out, paradoxically it has to be careful not to get too far out of the water because the drifts also have to counteract the drift and if they go out goodbye. America’s Cup teams have come to the same conclusion, with their L-shaped drift that manages to carry all the load with-for now-great balance, thanks in part to a regulation that allows it to be rotated in any direction making it always give the desired power.

This makes us realize that it is not so much a matter of genius, such as that which struck Eric Tabarly when he decided to replace the hulls of his trimaran with two foilers, but of technological progress. Today you fly because normal hulls we have squeezed them to the core and with simple glides faster you cannot go. And back to the Americans’ bad luck: the flying catamaran on the first day, in full view of everyone and with televisions on its heels, smashed a drift. Horpo, what a bitch! Let’s change it! No, you can’t. The regulations, which they themselves drafted, state that only five pairs of dinghies can be built between now and the cup, and of course before making the second pair our people wanted to try the first, which was certainly structurally imperfect, and so the whole world talked about Grant Dalton’s boat, which day by day was being improved by improving trim and speed while the defenders locked themselves away in a hangar resining and rosin.

And so we enter the color-blind era, in which all the credit is given to those who were in the right place at the right time as happened to the Wright brothers, whom we quote without knowing that we are talking about two of the Wright brothers, who were seven, from an educated family with a reverend father who had a large library, a fact still unusual in America today, and a tireless mother who passed on to him her manual. Those Wright brothers found themselves at the right time in the right place, and although they were dunces in school they breathed dreams and plans at home and thought it was possible to carry on the flight they were so much studying and testing. They won, who in the hangar built at Kitty Hawks managed to assemble the flying banger and drew lots to fly the first launch (I won’t tell you who won), even though aviation history counts hundreds of more or less well-known technicians or madmen gone wild who crossed the Bosphorus by glider in the Middle Ages, got catapulted through the air by giant firecrackers or died from a simple crash among the hills of Northern Europe. They weren’t normal, those two Wright brothers: before they took off they had invented the pedal brake, which we still use today, and with their bicycles they became rich enough to risk their necks with their mania. But in the end they succeeded and entered into legend. Grant Dalton didn’t invent anything, he just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and he will forever be remembered for that long glide that brought us into the Daltonic era where boats can finally harness the power of the wind and stop dragging around like turtles on the sand.”



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