Three or four widely spaced hydrofoils implies a fairly expansive structure from which to mount those hydrofoils. Typically this structure is a multi hull sailing boat, either a catamaran or a trimaran. Since I was looking for a quick lightweight boat building project I was reluctant to head off in that direction and I wondered whether something simpler and more portable could be achieved by considering just two hydrofoils, one at each end of a single hull. Compared to other sailing hydrofoils it would be the equivalent of a bicycle as opposed to a tricycle. If you had never seen a bicycle you might well think it to be a totally impractical idea but in fact bicycles work rather well, better for most purposes than the more logical tricycles. That fact gave me some hope and lead me to embark on a somewhat crazy project.
So the initial concept was a single narrow hull with hydrofoils at each end, a sail mounted above and one or more crew members slung from a racing dinghy style trapeze wire with feet resting on the hull. Steering would by a tiller acting on one of the hydrofoils. Since I was initially thinking of a 'sailing bicycle' it was natural to think of steering the forward rather than the rear hydrofoil, but I later decided to go with aft steering for mechanical simplicity. For the hull I first imagined nothing more than a length of 50mm diameter aluminium tube which would make the boat a 'sinker' in sailboard parlance. (a sinker is a sailboard having less buoyancy than the total weight of board and sailor, it can only operate by dynamically generated forces)Later I decided on a narrow box section plywood hull which would at least have buoyancy to support the weight of the sailor plus some reserve. So we have a very portable and quite easy to build hydrofoil sailing boat but would it work? Well, if you have watched an expert sail boarder water-start a 'sinker' sailboard there would seem to be a possibility that this hydrofoil boat could be sailed in the same way. You start with the wet-suited sailor lying in the water, feet in foot straps on the hull, the trapeze wire hooked to harness and the sail above him to windward. The wind catches the sail tensioning the trapeze wire to lift the sailor clear of the water and the craft moves forward, accelerating until the hydrofoils can lift the whole weight. Once on the foils the boat is steered and balanced like a bicycle - two wheels are enough for bicycle stability so two hydrofoils should be fine. Sounds easy?
My intention was still to use a trapeze wire to provide lateral righting moment and if I could manage to trapeze with feet on the outriggers rather than the main hull I could gain considerable extra righting moment and hence sail power. Indeed, trapezing properly in this manner the available righting moment should be something like double that possible with a sailboard and with the hoped for low drag lift from the hydrofoils there seemed to be a possibility of really high speed if the ergonomic and control problems could ever be properly sorted out.
I also felt that to utilise the greater righting moment due to the trapeze I should have less twist than a modern sailboard rig. In recent years sailboard rigs have adopted a large amount of built in sail twist. This has allowed sailboards to use larger sails than in the past since overpowering can be avoided by feathering off the upper part of the sail while maintaining drive from the lower part. If you watch these modern rigs in action you see that the sail is only filled along its whole height when off the wind or when getting onto the plane. Once the board is planing and the apparent wind strengthens and moves ahead the whole upper part of the sail is feathered off or even becomes loose and floppy which greatly lowers the centre of effort so that the board remains manageable with the limited righting moment available. Since I envisaged that my boat would have more righting moment than a sailboard I felt, rightly or wrongly, that I should have less sail twist than most sailboard sails.
The mast is a custom made carbon fibre spar which is larger diameter than a sailboard mast and I think has about four times the stiffness of a sailboard mast. The mast was made with an in-built curve so that despite the stiffness it can still be inserted into the luff pocket of the curved luff sail. The boom is a lightweight half wishbone since it is not required to hold on to it and this half wishbone is joined to the mast with a specially made hinge fitting which allows the boom to pivot in the plane of the sail but not to rotate around the mast. This means that the boom is in the same plane as that in which the mast is pre-curved and with a stiff mast I believe that this is one measure which reduces sail twist since the top of the mast does not bend off to leeward. The other measure to reduce sail twist is simply to cut of the sail with a tighter leech than a modern sailboard sail.
There are some other advantages in fixing the orientation of the mast relative to the sail. One is that it is possible to make the mast with slightly greater wall thickness on the compression side than on the tension side. This is desirable since a thin walled carbon fibre structure is inherently much weaker in compression than tension. I also made the middle section of the mast oval to increase for and aft stiffness. Perhaps an even better section would be an egg shaped oval to reduce the nose radius a bit, Tom Speer and AYRS member who is a professional aerodynamics expert reckons that could be an advantage.
The sail is fully battened and there are camber inducers on four of the seven carbon fiber battens. The foot of the mast fits into a carbon fiber socket which is fastened into the hull structure. The mast rotates in machined bearings at top and bottom of this socket. Each bearing consists of a thin stainless steel sleeve bonded onto the mast and running in a liner of ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWP) which is moulded into the socket. The lower of the two bearings also includes a UHMWP thrust washer to carry down thrust. UHMWP seemed to be an appropriate material since it is almost universally used for artificial hip joints which are similarly subject to wet salty conditions and oscillating movement under load. The foot of the sail is cut to be at just a few mm above deck level and yet the socket which carries the mast extends above deck level to give extra separation between the mast support bearings. This is made possible by a carbon fibre bracket which is bonded to the mast just above the top of the mast socket and extends down to deck level to carry the lower fixing of the sail luff. Up towards the top of the mast there is a fixing for a forestay and trapeze wires. When the sail is set and the mast fully curved under the normal luff tension the forestay attachment point has to line up with the axis of the two mast rotation bearings so that the forestay does not slacken as the mast rotates. This is achieved by having a significant kink in the mast just above the top of the mast mounting socket. A further advantage of this is that it places the rotation axis for the whole rig closer to the centre of effort of the rig to reduce sheet load.
The mast, mast socket and boom were my first attempt at carbon fibre laminating and it was a bit of a learning curve. I also made the mast rotation bearings and the various fittings in aluminium and titanium but since machining bits of metal was already one of my pastimes this part of the work was easier for me than the laminating. All the carbon fibre was vacuum bagged and since the components were all long and thin I was able to use lay flat tubing (available from a packaging consumables supplier) for the vacuum bags. But what a lot of different materials and bits and pieces are needed for this kind of job! There is carbon, both cloth and unidirectional, resin with various speed hardeners, peel ply, breather cloth (I used old curtains , maybe a false economy), cleaning cloths, parcel tape (some brands are ok with epoxy, others are useless and I don't know how to tell which is which), vacuum bags, release agent, rubber gloves (essential), various solvents, numerous brushes, mixing pots etc. The list seems endless and for a small one off job it is hard to avoid wasted left overs so it is not a cheap hobby. I am pleased with the result although another time, with the benefit of this experience, I believe that I could improve the laminating technique to make the rig one or two kilos lighter which would definitely improve the boat. I think it does take practice to achieve anything like the published optimum resin to carbon ratios whilst ensuring that the carbon is properly wetted out everywhere. One problem is that because of the black color of carbon, areas of resin shortage do not show up as they do with resin and glass laminating. Another time I would certainly investigate the possibility of carbon prepreg for more consistent properties and cleaner working.
Getting the custom sail made was difficult. The sail maker I first contacted was one with special experience of making sails for international moth sailing dinghies, which seemed to me a fairly similar type of boat. Unfortunately he failed to deliver the goods and this delayed the project for about a year. After about 6 months he told me for the first time that he was unable to proceed with the job because he could not get camber inducers large enough for my oversized mast section. Perhaps he hoped that would be the last he would see of me but that weekend I took a camber inducer out of my old windsurfing sail and moulded some scaled up copies with glass and epoxy. He did then promise to get on and finish the job in a month. A few months later he still had not started and I then went to Reflex sails who made me a superb custom sail from start to finish in a fortnight. Most of the sail is clear Mylar, the edges are reinforced with multilayered mylar. Reflex sails ignored my hand crafted camber inducers telling me that I had copied them from a somewhat outdated design!
Making this one off custom rig was quite a lot of work, several times more work than building the plywood hull. It also accounts for nearly all the cost of the project to date. But I feel that it is a pretty good looking rig and although I don't have a wind tunnel or other means to prove it (who does?) I would be surprised if it is not more efficient than most dinghy rigs. The area is about 8.7m2 which is similar to many of the large sailboard rigs but with the reduced sail twist I would expect it to be more powerful albeit probably less controllable. The mylar sail sets without a wrinkle and with the wide luff pocket and camber inducers the sail is very smoothly faired on the lee side. In the photo of the boat at the top of this page you can see some slight wrinkles diagonally across the mylar. These are due to downwards tension from the mainsheet, with a modified mainsheet arrangement I have been able to eliminate them.
The angle of incidence of the foils depends on the pitch attitude of the whole boat as well as the angular setting of the foils relative to the hull. Since this boat has a dead flat deck I have used the plane of the deck as a datum to set the angles of the foils. The photo of the boat at the top of this page shows the boat quite close to take off sailing in a force 2 I think. It might only need two or three more knots to get fully foil borne. Judging from this photograph the deck is pitched approximately 2.5 degrees from horizontal which would make the angle of incidence of the forward foil about 5.5 degrees and the stern foil about 3.5 degrees. Based on these foil angles the calculated take off speed is about 17 knots. I quickly learnt that it is easy to set too high an angle of attack, especially on the forward foil.
Accepted wisdom is that fully immersed Tee shaped hydrofoils offer a better lift to drag ratio than surface piercing Vee shaped foils. This was the main reason that I chose to place the crew weight well aft on this boat, to keep as much of the weight as possible on the supposedly more efficient aft Tee foil. Perhaps I have overestimated the benefit of this and I would do better to have crew weight a bit further forward with a correspondingly larger forward Vee foil. Certainly this would make trapezing easier since there would be less tendancy for the wire to pull the crew forward. It would also avoid the bow up trim at displacement speed which could help a lot with the low speed maneuverability. If I were to make such a change the benefit of having a fully immersed foil aft would be reduced and perhaps the boat would actually be better with surface piercing foils both ends. Apart from anything else that would allow a shallower draft reducing the risk of writing off the foils and hulls by inadvertently sailing into shallow water. If I continue with this project the foils could be the next area for experiment.
I have recently purchased a hand held GPS receiver and I have also been given an old trailing log. I tried out the GPS by taking it with me when I went cross country running the other day. I found that it gives excellent readings when measuring a steady speed but can be misleading when speed is fluctuating. My GPS also has a resettable peak speed reading. This is definitely unreliable, if I could believe the maximum speed reading from running with my GPS I should win the London marathon! I am thinking of attaching the GPS to the craft and just leaving it storing position readings throughout an hour or so of sailing trials. I have seen freeware software which should be capable of downloading this data from the GPS and plotting the entire track of the boat on a screen and calculating speeds all along the track. I have not tried this yet but if it works it would be much easier to study the data back at home than to try to read the GPS display while concentrating on sailing the boat.
I did take the boat to the Weymouth speed trials this autumn and I made two timed runs of the 500m course at about 9 knots averaged over the 500m. The wind at the time was too strong for my present skill level and so the boat was never foil borne during these runs, indeed at times it was almost stationary as I struggled to recover from near capsizes. I am sure the boat has briefly sailed faster than 9 knots, perhaps quite a lot faster. Even 9 knots is quite speedy compared with most 12 foot sailing dinghies. However, if you make the comparison with a sailboard rather than with other sailing dinghies then there is a very long way to go, the sailboard is a hard act to follow.
The boat has only briefly sailed fully foil borne but it often sails with a large proportion of the total weight carried by the hydrofoils and some weight still on the aft part of the central hull. The photograph at the top of this page shows the boat sailing in this manner. Judging by the proportion of the hull immersed compared with the proportion immersed when the boat is stationary I would guess that something like 75% of total weight was being carried on the hydrofoils at the moment this photo was taken. Most of that weight would be on the stern hydrofoil. It seems plausible that in this situation the hydrofoils are making a useful reduction in overall drag even although the boat is not fully foil borne. It is notable that in this picture there is no visible spray from the forward hydrofoil but there is a great amount of spray and wash from the aft section of the main hull which is planing but probably planing rather inefficiently. I suspect the hull is too narrow for efficient planing and any rebuild might feature a wider planing surface towards the stern.
The boat was fitted with trapeze gear when first launched but this equipment has never been used and has now been removed from the boat, for the time being at least. My skill level at the present time is simply not up to sailing this cantankerous craft using a trapeze wire. To get the full potential from the boat I assume that I will at some stage need to put the trapeze gear back and find out how to use it or alternatively rebuild the boat with some other method of increasing righting moment.
One difficulty is that if the crew becomes separated from the boat during capsize the boat can drift away from the crew faster than it is possible to swim. A heavier sailing dinghy probably drifts more slowly when capsized and a sailboard certainly drifts more slowly since it has very little air drag once the sail is lying flat. I have mostly sailed the boat in winds of force 2 to 3 and under those conditions I can catch up with the drifting boat swimming with the hindrance of a wet suit and life jacket. But on one occasion I sailed the boat in a stronger wind, probably a force 4 and found that I was unable to get back to the boat after capsising. I was eventually rescued by a sailing club safety boat but it was about the most scary incident I have ever had when sailing and I have been thinking about a safety line attached in some way which would not impede sailing the boat.
I suspect that front steering, that is steering acting on the forward rather than aft hydrofoil, would improve low speed maneuverability. One reason is that the bows will push sideways more easily than the deeply immersed stern of the boat. The other reason is that when the boat is in irons, steering a forward rudder surface to line up with the local water flow would move the centre of lateral resistance right aft which would help bearing away. With a stern rudder this trick will move the centre of lateral resistance right forward but not right aft. However, a forward steering hydrofoil is considerably more complicated mechanically so I hope to avoid it if possible.
The boat as first constructed had inadequate working deck space for the helmsman to be able to move around easily. The picture of the boat on a roof rack is of the boat as first built with the spaces between the central hull and the floats completely open apart from the couple of wooden beams which were a lash up to provide an intermediate foot position for trapezing. About half of this open space has now been filled with ridged decking. This makes the boat more comfortable, or at least less uncomfortable, and it is easier to move around for balance.
The boat is rather slow to windward, in its present state of development it must be considered as primarily a boat for reaching. The same could be said of modern sailboards. When close hauled the speed drops to an extent that the hydrofoils do not seem to have adequate lateral area resulting in considerable leeway especially if pinched too close. With the crew forced to sit well aft the transom is deeply immersed at displacement speed making an astonishing amount of wash for such a small boat. However the boat has always been able to make progress against the wind when this has been necessary. The boat actually has a dagger board case built into the hull, although the slot is sealed. Thus there is provision to add a dagger board to improve windward sailing should I wish to do so.
I think this picture suggests how the boat is handicapped by not using the trapeze - there should be a lot more potential if the crew weight were say twice as far off the centreline
The hydrofoil dinghy as described above has two possible performance advantages over a sailboard:
Note that in the above paragraph I mentioned in brackets that I was neglecting the lift from the sailboard rig. I have asked several people why sailboards are so much faster than almost any other kind of sailing boat (the extreme record breaking boat Yellow Pages Endeavour' is the one and only exception) Often the reply includes the suggestion that the inclined rig lifts the weight of the board and sailor right off the water. I think this suggestion needs some examination. The maximum moment which a sailboard sailor can apply to the rig using his weight is something like 600Nm (75kg body weight, centre of gravity of body offset say 800mm from center or pressure of feet on board) Say the centre of pressure of the sail is 1.8m from the bottom of the mast, measured up the sloping rig (I am allowing here for the top part of the sail being feathered by sail twist). Also take the inclination of the rig to the vertical to be 25 degrees. You do see more steeply inclined rigs but I think the good speed sailors try to keep their rigs as vertical as possible. From this the horizontal component of sail force is 300N (which incidentally squares reasonably well with the drag guesses above) and the vertical component is 150N. A higher center of pressure for the sail would reduce this a bit, a higher rig inclination would increase it a bit. So yes, the inclined rig does indeed impart some useful lift to the sailboard but this lift is not a major part of the total weight. Also this is not 'free' lift, it is lift gained at the expense of some extra aerodynamic drag compared with a non-inclined rig producing the same forward drive force.
On balance this comparison so far would seem to favour a sailing hydrofoil rather than the sailboard for maximum top speed, but I am well aware that it does not work out like that on the water - at least not yet!! Why not? - well suggestions would be welcome.
Certainly the superb controllability of an expertly sailed sailboard is likely to be big factor. The board sailor can feel the effect of wind on the rig and make quick compensations for wind fluctuation in a more direct way than is possible with any other type of boat, even my one which has a more direct main sheet system than most. Also the legs and feet of the board sailor act as an active suspension system, guiding the board over each wave and keeping the planing surface at an optimum angle of attack. Perhaps this advantage outweighs the theoretical advantage of hydrofoils. Another point is that a modern sailboard has only one vertical surface underwater, the skeg. This means that if the skeg ventilates the board skids sideways. But if you have more than one underwater appendage, say a rudder and keel, or a set of hydrofoils, what happens if just one of them ventilates? The effect is probably worse than with a single skeg since you don't just hop sideways a bit, you spin round and crash. There has been speculation that this is why the Yellow Pages team never improved on their world sailing speed record which has stood for eight years. They tried but their latest boat, which was expected to be faster, spun out of control and smashed up.
So nothing beats a sailboard. Even so I intend to give this project a few more test sails and perhaps another round or two of boat mods before trying something else - or maybe booking a course of sailboarding lessons!
John Perry - November 2001