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An interview with Tommy Gonzalez about the Eagle Class 53 foiling catamaran

by David Schmidt 1 Apr 2019 08:00 PDT April 1, 2019
The Paul Bieker-designed Eagle CLass 53 proves that wingsails are not only for Cup boats © Image courtesy of Richard Langdon & Rachel Fallon-Langdon

The saying goes that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. If so, the Eagle Class 53 has been a lucky project since its onset. The boat, which was conceived by Tommy Gonzalez, the owner and president of Fast Forward Composites, and created by world-class teams of composite boatbuilders, foil experts, and wingsail specialists (many of whom came to the project from backgrounds involving the America’s Cup and other Grand Prix campaigns), is designed to be “the ultimate weekender” and delivers two foil packages, a wingsail and a whole lot of adrenaline.

Given the designers’ pedigree and their briefing to create a high-performance, wingsail-powered multihull that delivers high-speed grins and can be sailed by high-level Corinthian sailors, the Eagle Class 53 team opted for two foil packages: “standard” C-shaped foils or the turbo version (e.g., the “Eagle Class 53T”), which swaps-out the C foils for carbon-fiber T-shaped foils and an automated foiling control system.

The result, which first sailed on the waters off of the USVI in early February, is a platform that starts fast and gets significantly faster as sailors get comfortable with the boat, the wing, and their ability to control both in a variety of conditions.

Impressively, despite being capable of blistering speeds while up on her T-shaped foils, Eagle Class 53 boats are also designed and built to be cruised in comfort and (lightweight) style, with belowdecks accommodations including full-length double beds, closets, chairs, and carbon-fiber sinks in the heads, affording lucky owners the opportunity to take on a wide range of multi-day adventures.

I checked in with Gonzalez via email, to learn more about this downright impressive-looking project.

What was your inspiration for the Eagle 53?

The owner, Mr Donald Sussman, wished to have a sailing yacht that was America’s Cup-like. He envisioned her to be light, fast, [and use] T-foil rudders. He wanted the boat to foil with a wing. The styling inspiration came while snorkeling in St John USVI and an Eagle Ray swam by. From there the platform took shape. Stylist Eric Goffrier created her aesthetic DNA and [yacht designer] Paul Bieker streamlined her.

Do you envision this as a one-off project, a semi-custom series, or could you someday envision entire classes of Eagle 53s at different Caribbean regattas and distance races?

We envisage at least seven, maybe ten [boats], [and] the tooling was made to build ten. The Eagle Class 53 comes in five styles; EC 53 S (Sport) standard rig, C-foils and T-rudders. EC 53 SH (Sport, Hybrid Wing), Hybrid Wing, C-foils, T-rudders. EC 53 T (Turbo) Hybrid Wing , T-foils, T-rudders (foiling package). EC 53 C (Competition) Hybrid Wing, C-Foils, T-rudders. EC 53 CT (Competition Turbo) Hybrid Wing, T-Foils, T-rudders (foiling package).

You’ve got some of the biggest names in multi-hull and foiling involved in the project—how did you identify and build your team?

We started with identifying our master boatbuilder Wolfgang Chamberlin. From there after much consideration, conversations and emails, since we were looking for what was radically different than what was on the market, we set our sights on [yacht designers] Paul Bieker and Eric Jolley. After flying to Seattle and meeting to discuss the project with Paul and Eric, the concept of Mosaic Design Team was born.

The team is a collage of like-minded individuals, who are experts in their individual fields. The team is: Paul Bieker, Eric Jolley, Andres Suar, Will Brooks, Eric Goffrier, Wolfganng Chamberlain, Manu Armenanzas, [and me,] Tommy Gonzalez.

What was the hardest part about achieving/creating your vision for this boat and how did you and the team overcome this crux?

It wasn’t hard at all, as the owner, Donald Sussman, gave us the vision and laid out then roadmap. We achieved our goal through perseverance, and never being satisfied with it being good enough, along with years of testing.

Can you tell us about your plans to work-up the boat, starting first with the wing and semi-lifting foils before transitioning to a full foiling package? How is this going and where are you in this evolutionary curve?

The wing started as a vision of being able to have a practical wingsail on a yacht without giving up so much of its efficiency. The idea was born of a single element wing that can rotate 360 degrees for ease of docking and leaving your boat on a mooring. The first wing was 31 feet and built for Randy Smyth, and tested for five years. The second wing was 62 feet and tested for two and a half years. The wing on the eagle is 79ft 10 inches.

Our belief is that you must first crawl before you can walk, run and sprint. With this is in mind we created the eagle with C foils and winglets, and reactionary T-foils.

The idea here is to get the owner and captain used to sailing the wing and its diversity, and having the boat on her tippy-toes. This will give them the confidence to take it to the next level.

Who is your target buyer/owner for a boat oft his sort of performance level? Also, do you think that boat captains will be mandatory, once the boats achieve full-foiling mode, or do you think that high-level Corinthian crews will be able manage the boat on foils?

We’re aiming for the adventurers who seek performance and demand quality. Many of the owners at this level are already experienced and can very much captain their own vessel.

That being said, it is always great to have a helping hand. The autonomous foiling system will be of great assistance after a training period on C-foils, with wing and T-rudders, and the transition to fully foiling will be smoother.

What do you see as more revolutionary—the boat’s foil package (both sets) or its wingsail-powered sailplan?

The hybrid wing’s sailplan. With every sail we learn there is a new horizon. Having the diversity of the hybrid wing, you are either rocketing it efficiently down the runway, or taking it easy with your mates and a cocktail.

How big of a role do computers, CAN systems and hydraulics play in the boat’s flight-control system? Or, is this more of a manual system?

The flight system is run through a computer and its independent CAN Bus system. There are no hydraulics. The winches are electrical and can be manual.

Do you see this boat as strictly a racecourse killer/high-performance machine, or can people also cruise aboard it?

Through all its option levels (see above) [The Eagle Class 53] can go from being be a well-appointed weekender to being an out-and-out racer.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

It is obvious that none of this could be possible without the dedication and countless hours of the Mosaic Design Team, the craftsmen who built the boat, the office support staff, and the many suppliers, who made [the project] come together.

What makes these kinds of projects successful is having a shop like Fast Forward Composites that’s a boutique shop. Here you can stop the production of the part, efficiently upgrade it and move forward. [It’s] so much more amazing than a production line traditional factory.

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