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SoftBank Team Japan cracks the foiling tack

by Matt Knighton, SoftBank Team Japan on 25 Aug 2016 25 August 2016
SoftBank Team Japan cracks the foiling tack © Matt Knighton / SoftBank Team Japan

SoftBank Team Japan announced today that they cracked the foiling tack earlier this year while training with their AC45 Sport test boat in Bermuda.

Long regarded as the "Holy Grail" of the America's Cup, the manoeuvre has been the last significant barrier preventing America's Cup teams from hypothetically foiling around an entire racecourse – a feat that if proven could potentially define the outcome of the 2017 America's Cup.

"We know now that it's achievable and it's a real game changer", said Skipper and CEO Dean Barker. "We think most of the teams know we did it so the race is on now. The trick with the foil gybe was learning the different settings and techniques for different wind conditions and that's going to be the same with the tacking."

The manoeuvre has the potential to reshape the upwind strategy of the next America's Cup as it reduces the deficit incurred by slowing down to cross the wind resulting in gains of possibly hundreds of meters compared with the 2013 event.

"The boat needs to be doing a certain speed to stay on foils – typically in the 16-18 knot region – as when you're going into a tack, the bottom speed is usually around 13-14 knots. So what you end up doing is using the speed you have going into the tack to make sure you don't drop below. You typically would loose a lot in the tack – up to four boat lengths even – but if you can stay on the foils the losses are heavily reduced."

The first foiling tack manoeuvre was developed by the team on April 19th alongside their training partner Oracle Team USA.

"We were out there, nice breeze, put the boat into a tack and stayed up on the foils. Then pulled off another one the same day just to make sure it wasn't chance. In the months since then we've been growing in our consistency to perform the manoeuvre."

The breakthrough of the foiling tack marks one of the final pieces in the accelerating development of the new wing-sailed, foiling catamarans that have come to define the America's Cup.

In preparation for the 2013 event, it was Barker and his team who first foiled their AC72 class yacht and then proceeded to develop the breakthrough technique for gybing the boat downwind while staying on foils.

Now at it again, Barker is pushing his team even further to use the new tacking technique to try and achieve a perfect flight around the racecourse without getting the hulls wet.

"The absolute 'Holy Grail' would be to pop up on foils at the start and then keep the hulls dry all around the racecourse. It's certainly not inconceivable. It'd be quite the achievement to pull it off."

Calling it a "game changer", Tactician Chris Draper was confident that the new technique – once mastered – has the potential to change the entire playbook of the America's Cup.

"If it's anything like Moth sailing, this starts to open up the race course a lot more, your options are a lot wider. It's not about sailing boundary to boundary anymore, you can tack on the shifts a lot more on demand. It will make the racing a lot more exciting for the public as well."

It's now a race for consistency as Barker is cautious that all teams will likely be able to perform tacks while foiling during the America's Cup in 2017. Still, now that SoftBank Team Japan has cracked the code, the sailing and performance teams are devoting significant resources towards mastering the manoeuvre.

"It's no secret it's what team's see as the future", said Barker. "You have to believe everyone will be able to do it but it's nice to be getting there early to try to learn what the key parts are. I'm sure over the next few months we'll see more teams perfect the tack."

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