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Going to publish the 'F' word

by John Curnow, Sail-World.com AUS Editor 2 Jun 20:37 PDT
Once airborne, out of the way - The Skeeta Foiler, featuring the Stoke Foil Boost © Paul Leong

There was a distinct, if decidedly unfair, hint of the Darwin Awards when I first saw this item come in. Most specifically, it related to the one where the guy had strapped a JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off) rocket to his car. When they extracted his car from the rock cliffs a ways down the road, they did also find that all the brake linings were completely worn through. Up there for thinking, down there for dancing...

Now at just 9Nm of torque, it is certainly not going to be a Boeing 929 Jetfoil either. So that took care of my first thoughts. I am glad I got past the humour of the first and technological marvel of the second, and responded to my initial reaction to read on. For in the reading there was a line about light breezes having a steady direction. Ah. Like not in Australia, they don't! A quadrant they waft around, maybe, with vague, indeterminant, and meandering like a river through the flat plains being far more descriptive of light breezes Downunder.

Pondered it some more, and considered the lakes of Europe, and even continental USA, which was when I thought, well, yeah, that's plausible. So, here's the statement in question, 'In such light air, the wind is usually steady and gentle, the entire experience is so enjoyable and manageable. You get a sublime ride, like on a magic carpet. It is hard to believe this is even possible.'

If the hook was not through the lip with that, then this certainly accompanying statement from an avid reader finished the job off. 'Perhaps there could be some conjecture here on the role of power in sailing, but I suspect that horse bolted long ago with electric winches, engines to power canting keels, cyclors in AC75s, and even that most unedifying, vigorous manual pumping, rocking, ooching, and flapping displayed by Finns, 470s, Sailboards, Windfoilers, and now Wingfoilers.'

Now without all of the above there would not be this, and that would be a shame, for the ensuing discussion with David French from Skeeta Watersports would not have occurred, and there would not be this Editorial as a result.

So what is the 'F' word?

Well that would be fun... And then even another 'F' word, which in this case would be foiling. Foiling is band specific, at say 8 through 20 TWS being optimal. Once up, the power requirement is low, and they are tremendous apparent wind machines, so two to three times wind speed in boat speed is more than achievable.

Low-rider mode is somewhat ungainly, and their appendages actually have huge drag when fully submerged, which is the main reason they need power to get out. So then. What if you could bring it down to just four knots TWS? Would that not be cool? Achieving 16-18 knots SOG from just 4-6 knots TWS equates to a factor of three to four times, and that just has to be addictive. Well, that is clearly the aim of the Stoke Foil Boost.

"Foiling is somewhat a niche market. If you look at the Waszp, in the last almost eight years they've sold about 1,700 boats. If you look at any class perspective, that's actually quite a small number. Conversely, the RS Aero have produced more than 4,000 boats. Adding the Stoke Foil Boost onto your boat, and bringing your range down to just four or five knots is so crucial to making the category even more appealing," said French.

"What we did with Skeeta, and also Nikki, is to build a bridge between outright performance, and being able to go for a sail in any conditions. You don't have to be sitting on the beach waiting for optimal conditions. You can just go out every day and this is what keeps people engaged and excited to go out the next time. Sitting and waiting on the shore, it's just not going to do that.

"When we designed Skeeta we gave it a 9.5m2 mainsail, which is a huge sail for the size of the boat, to help it launch in light winds. It really does help glide through light winds, and once you're up on foiling, you can stay foiling in four knots TWS. However, to get the boat up you still need at least seven knots. The Stoke Foil Boost effectively guarantees the need for less wind. I've done 18 knots SOG in about five, six knots of wind, which is simply incredible."

"You might remember a recent Moth Worlds at Weymouth that had super light conditions and didn't get a regatta completed. 10 or 15 years ago, they would have been racing. They would have been foiling around. The way the Moth class has gone, they've changed the boat so much so that the low-end performance has gone, and a lot of the Moth sailors talk about this. Those that have been at it for 10-15 years were saying that if they were sailing on foils that were ten years old, they would have been out racing.

"They've actually restricted their sailing window. They've almost backed themselves into a corner where they're sailing in this 10 to 20-knot bracket," said French, who loves the development class.

"There is a call to be versatile, and e-foiling can help. It's not something you have constantly on. You're only using the Stoke Foil Boost to get up out of the water via the Bluetooth connected trigger on your tiller extension. Once you're up and out of the water, the motor stops, and then you're foiling around as normal. They're a great Aussie company, and we are very proud to bring this collaboration to the world. We are an authorised dealer for them around the globe."

"This isn't necessarily something for a class to pivot its whole exposure on, or to have events around, because it's not exactly cheap (just under AUD5,000). It is for the experience, especially training opportunities, and also for use at a lot of marinas, clubs, and beaches that are tricky to get in and out of. At some places you have to sail a kilometre before you can get to anywhere. So having the capability to just point in one direction and go out to your race circuit area makes it a lot easier and more enjoyable, because at the end of the day, you want to make sailing enjoyable and fun.

"For instance, we have an event soon in Darwin, where they predominantly have light winds. This is something for a club to guarantee their juniors and adults a foiling program where they can guarantee they will get up foiling."

The battery is in the front of the torpedo, and the motor at the back. Skeeta Watersports also make a clever Boost e-Dapter that allows the Stoke unit to swing out of the way completely. It can be mounted to the rudder vertical, but obviously this makes it more difficult to retract it on those craft where it is not fixed, so the rudder box is the best choice. At 3.8kg you may end up sitting a smidge further for'ard, but it would seem a good trade-off.

It lasts a few hours, because typically you will do 40 to 50 15-second type bursts to get under way. There is plenty there to do your manoeuvring, and should you use it all up, there is a 5% reserve for paddle mode, if you like, and that will be more than sufficient to return you to shore.

The 'Y' Word

What started out as a discussion about the Stoke Foil Boost, and how Skeeta had more than a strong hand in adapting it to use on a dinghy, ended up about the way to get kids in to sailing, and then just as importantly, keeping them here for life. French, who speaks with a lot of sailors and clubs given his business, was also able to offer a grass roots commentary on youth sailing in Australia.

So where are we, in your view?

"When I used to sail as a kid (I'm 32 now) I grew up sailing Minnows, and we had a good youth fleet. To this day, no-one I knew then still sails. Even I had a break myself for five years and did basketball. It was actually an old scow Moth that got me back in."

The old Moth was one his dad, Jim French, had built.

"He's built more than 120 Moths over the years, some winning World Championships, along with around 420 Pacers, and the former inspired a whole generation of people to sail. Even today, you jump in one of those scows and it's like a little go-kart. They're really nimble. They're fun. They're easy to manage. You can go out sailing in 25 knots fairly comfortably, and have an absolute blast.

"I see sailing needing exciting boats to captivate youth to make it fun. Make it packed with adrenaline. Kids are quite happy to throw themselves down a mountain on a mountain bike, and you do need something to capture their attention and make it exciting to keep them in the sport, not only for now but for 30, 40, 50 years' time. It doesn't matter whether they're going to Olympics, keelboats, ocean racing or whatever. Everything starts from youth."

French has seen a lot of kids step out of Optimists at 13 or earlier, bored with the whole thing. Now, clubs and classes are struggling to get entries, and the demise of the Australian Youth Championships, as well as no TeamAUS going to the Worlds for the second year running does leave a bit of a hole.

"Opties are obviously an old design boat that was to be cheap to build in order to get people sailing. They do have a really well-recognised class around the globe, and they're really good for getting the first steps into sailing. They're stable. You can jump in the leeward side of the boat and not tip it over, but they don't really provide a performance aspect.

"Yes they provide great match racing, which is important, but when you're young you want to have fun with friends and go fast. All the kids we speak to may get out of sailing because it isn't fun and exciting, and it also comes down to 'what's next?' They're too small to sail an ILCA 4.7, and there's nothing to fill the 3-4-year gap in between, so they just say, 'Oh, I'll just quit the sport', which is a tragedy."

"This is why we created Nikki, which you can sail as a displacement boat, and it will plane up and downwind, but you can also learn to foil, and we have three different rigs from 4.3m2 and up to help with the transition. They will foil from seven knots, and it is a very versatile boat.

"The Tackers programme has been great at attracting the broader community into sailing. Maybe 5-10% will move on into other club-based activities, and that's great. Many are still there because their parents are involved in the sport somehow. However, of late, and certainly still on the rise is the issue of just how long sailing takes. Typically, many families do not have that sort of time to dedicate to just one child. A family with three kids may have them all wanting to do different sports, and some do multiple sports on the same day. Sailing does not really fit with that sort of programme!"

"Changing the format. Making it short, and sharp, so that it only occupies a window for a few hours. How do we create and then accommodate that? So it's not just the boats, it's how does sailing change and update with the times?"

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's websites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into Sail-World.com

John Curnow
Sail-World.com AUS Editor

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