From lasers to foils: the story of the pharmacist who decided to fly on water

CARLO DE PAOLI One of Italy’s leading “flying” sailors. He races in the Moth class, and in 2018 he took silver at the European Championships in Borstahusen, Sweden, and the Italian title on Garda. Awarded at the 2019 Sailor of the Year with the TAG Heuer Performance award. Photo Martina Orsini

When thinking about foiling sailors, clichés often lead us to imagine guys who are all muscle, “beach life” and speed. Sailors who disregard “classic” sailing and only go in search of adrenaline. Then you meet Carlo De Paoli, who by profession, in addition to being a recent father, is a pharmacist and grew up on the most classic of dinghies, the Laser, and then you realize how far the stereotypes are from reality. The athlete we honored at the 2019 Sailor of the Year with the TAG Heuer Performance award is what we might call a “scholar of the discipline.” A sailor who is open-minded about multiple worlds of sailing. “I grew up on dinghies and love them, especially the Laser. I also wanted to do it at the Olympic level, it was the dream I had as a kid, then as you grow up things change and you also realize how difficult the Olympic path is. But when you close some roads maybe other roads open up. Foiling and moths I first saw them live at a championship in 2012, and for me it was an electrocution“.

Moths racing at Foiling Week on Garda immortalized with photographic technique
Of “panning.” Foiling Week is the annual gathering of flying boats in Garda, Miami and Sydney. Photo Martina Orsini

Carlo came to this discipline gradually. First training in the Laser, then an acrobatic class like the Formula 18 catamaran. “In Formula 18 I went with Vittorio Bissaro. He was already planning to switch to the Nacra 17 but still needed a bowman on the 18 for a season. So I decided to switch to the two hulls and then continued this experience with Lamberto Cesari. Technically I completed myself in no small way at this stage.” Then came the Moth. “I was in Campione del Garda in 2012, and it was a revelation for me to realize that the best sailors in the world were trying their hand at this class.”

We then try to provoke him with a statement, “So you finally realized that foiling is not real sailing and became a non-sailor.” He smiles. “What do we move with then? And so I say to you, come and watch a regatta, come and observe what tactics are behind foiling and you will understand so many things, you will understand for example that it is just a different sail from what we understood until the last few years. But you wonder why so many world-class Olympic sailors wanted to try foil boats“?

We get into the conversation from a technical point of view and have them explain what the differences are on the technique of running a foil boat like the Moth versus a classic one. “On conducting there are behaviors that I would call “antintuitive” for a classical sailor. On a dinghy or any other boat, upwind you sail slightly to leeward. On the Moth you sail lurching upwind. This implies that the turn must be made in reverse. On a laser I correct the rudder and stay until the last outboard, and then shift the weight to the new side causing the famous rolling effect. On the Moth you do the opposite. First you shift the weight to the center, then correct the rudder and close the turn by sitting on the new edge. If we act on the rudder from heeling upwind, without shifting weight to the center, the capsize is immediate. A similar, but less extreme, process should be done on the gybe“.

In the change of tack the boat is still on the old edge , the weight of the body, however, has already shifted. The opposite of what would happen on a classical drift. Photo Martina Orsini

Thus, the two basic maneuvers, tacking and gybing, are different from ordinary boats. But there is another difference. “We are accustomed to reasoning with hemming and hawing. When you sail on foils there is also top and bottom, flight control, so the sailor must have a three-dimensional view. Look for the optimal angle to the wind but at the same time a height that allows him to be fast without coming out of the water with part of the appendages, an action that would cause a “dive” resulting in a dive“.

But it is on the technique and mechanisms of “flight” that we want to insist in our chat with Carlo, who explains, “in the Moth, but also in other similar boats, there is a sensor at the bow that is connected to the keel flap (at the short side of the inverted T-drive) and self-adjusts the angle. This sensor simply “aligns” the angle of incidence of the flap with the oscillations of the boat due to the wave so as to achieve stable foiling. The sensitivity of this sensor can be adjusted. With flat sea it should be set to minimum sensitivity, with wave this parameter should be increased. Greater sensitivity results in greater variations in appendage angle and thus a slower boat. With wave and wind, the best ones try not to bring the sensitivity to the maximum, you risk more in terms of stability, but the boat is faster“.

An oblique rod can be seen at the bow; it is the sensor that, connected to the T-drive, self-adjusts the angle of incidence of the flap. Photo Martina Orsini

This is not the only parameter to pay attention to. “There is a maneuver on the stick that allows you to adjust the rudder angle based on how the boat rises or falls.” Then comes the time for the fateful question, “Would you go back to traditional sailing?” “I go back there often. I was born and raised with classic sailing, if anything I don’t like big boats, on barges I don’t see myself. There are things about Laser for example, technical and tactical aspects, that are only there and that I love. Like there are some things that you only try on foils and I like them just as much. Why must one discipline necessarily exclude the other? Of course foiling, although many people can try it, at certain levels is not for everyone: it requires physical preparation and many, many hours of training. But it is nothing different from what happens on the drifts“.

Mauro Giuffrè




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