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Big Bang for your Buck with SuperFoiler

by John Curnow 17 Jan 2018 15:37 GMT
Glenn Ashby, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen are set for the inaugural SuperFoiler Grand Prix © Superfoiler

Over its development we have had a bit to say about the tremendous SuperFoiler. Equally, the Macartney's, as well as the happy band of sailors involved with the unique trimarans, have been very open, crystal clear and supremely focussed about the mission at hand. Next month it all happens, and today we take an in-depth look at the final piece of the techno-puzzle.

Namely, they're the cassettes, and remember too that all of this was not done with an AC-esque budget. Far from it. So as we raise a glass, and clap our thigh due to lack of hands with said drink, let's just rip into it. Well done SuperFoiler! (You can see some of the back catalogue in SuperFoilers are Go!, JATO Rocket Pt.I and JATO Rocket Pt.II)

The last part of the learning curve was the cassettes that control the foils, and when you're doing 30+ knots and making 40, the aero package takes on a completely new meaning. It encompasses everything from hull form, foil shape, sails, rig, beams, tramp angles and so on, and so on...

The SuperFoiler gang have been very open about the trials and tribulations, and we have also been right there to share the exaltations too! Like cracking 30 knots for the first time, and three on the trap.

To get a handle on exactly what has transpired in the last phase of the completion of the One Design craft we now see, we had some time with SuperFoiler's Jack-of-all-Trades, Reece Tailby. Possibly not as well known as some, Reece is a qualified sailmaker by trade, but has gone on to be involved in all facets of the marine industry, from boat building to rigging over the last seven years. Reece has been working on the design and development of the SuperFoiler. Most specifically, this involves the 3D printed button mounts, electrical systems, and then across to foil and sail control systems.

Starting with the self-published videos of going down the mine, we asked Reece just exactly what was the issue with the cassette. "Yes we've been quite open about the issues we've had with the control systems on the boat. Rectifying these problems has really been at the top of our priority list to try and provide the sailors with as safe a package as possible to compete in the series."

"The boat is incredibly challenging to sail, and it's at the cutting edge of the sport, so anything we can do to make it safer and more manageable is a good thing. The cassette mechanism is truly unique to the SuperFoiler. There is not another like it in the world. There is a lot of load, and also a lot of things going on in quite a small, but obviously critical area of the boat."

Specifically, Reece commented that, "The biggest challenge with the cassette was that they had far too much compliance and flex, and not quite enough power. The lack of power meant that we weren't getting 100% reliable movement of the boards every time we pushed the buttons, and the excessive flex in the systems meant that we weren't able to position the boards and their angles completely accurately when we were able to get reliable movement."

"This lack of reliable movement, combined with the difficulties in being able to place the boards at the exact angles required the entire time while sailing, meant that a stack was highly likely, one of the sailors has likened the lack of control to being akin to hopping on the freeway, and then removing your steering wheel in your car."

So if appreciating and defining the problem is the first part, what do you then do to correct it all when it is clearly a fundamental aspect of the whole programme? Specifically, what are the in-flight controls the crews have to manage their craft, and exactly who did the work?

Reece opens with, "We have corrected the issues by ensuring that we overbuilt every part of the cassette mechanism. Steve Thomas, Euan McNicol and I put a lot of thought in to what we were trying to achieve, and tried to work out a good method of rectifying our issues. Harry Mighell (of Waszp fame amongst other things), is a designer from Mach 2 Boats. He flew up from Melbourne and spent a couple of days with me to put all our ideas into action."

"Harry was able to bring some great engineering expertise, and a fresh perspective on how we could solve the problems. We then went through and redesigned the entire system, and sent through our progress at the end of each day to Morelli and Melvin. M&M would come back each morning with some suggested changes, along with some analysis of the parts we were designing, so as to ensure that everything we were creating was fit for purpose."

"Once the design of the cassette was finalised and signed of on by M&M, the files were sent over to KZ Marine in New Zealand for manufacture. They took on the build of all the plastic and alloy parts, and Hall Spars took on the manufacture of the carbon parts. KZ then assembled the cassette blanks and flew them to us for some final finishing work that was undertaken by us at our Woollahra headquarters (Sydney), as well as Innovation Composites in Nowra (Southern NSW)."

Running in parallel to the actual design and construction of the hardware was a complete re-design of the electrical control system that powers and manoeuvres them. Thomas Global Systems, an aerospace and defence contractor, designed and manufactured the custom computer boards that take all of the inputs from the buttons and work out what to do. This includes determining if it is a small incremental change that is required, or something much faster and definitive.

"Pushbuttons were hardwired for the helmsman to control the angles of both the rudders, as well as those of the daggerboards. We've also fitted pushbuttons for the bowman to use during manoeuvres. We've built in the functionality that the boards will move from one value to another preset value during a gybe or tack, so as to replicate the effects of having a basic autopilot, or fourth crewmember on board during such a manoeuvre."

As a result of all of that, the entire fleet of six SuperFoilers have all been retrofitted with both the new cassettes and also the control systems. It was a huge job for all involved, as you could imagine, but made a little easier by having it all set up as a plug and play package, so it was out with the old, and then in with the new.

"It was crucial that we made the systems as bulletproof as possible, whilst still being able to service and replace parts as they fatigue, and thereby ensure we can keep all six boats on the start line for each day's racing. In the end it was surprisingly simple to change out the parts, but a lot of thought and planning had gone into this during the design process, so to ensure the whole process would go smoothly and quickly, given our overall timeframe."

Clearly something like this has its proof well and truly in the pudding, and short of having a quick blast on the craft myself (I wish), the feedback from the crews has been unbelievably positive. "They report having far greater control of the boat and their own destiny!"

"The boat is still a handful, but then it was always intended to be. It still requires a huge amount of respect and skill to sail, and the best sailors in the world will still find themselves out of their comfort zone at times."

Alas, you note that is precisely what SuperFoiler has always been about as it goes off to make a genuine paradigm shift for grand prix sailing in both real and distinct terms. "We are about pushing the limits of technology and human ability, thereby providing an incredibly unique and exciting form of entertainment to captivate the public. SuperFoiler will bring excitement towards what has traditionally been seen as a relatively boring sport!" And that all begins on February 2 from Adelaide, live on the Internet, and also on Channel 7 in Australia. The best way to keep in touch with it all is via Facebook or the SuperFoiler site

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