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Flying Without Wings

Ever wondered what it’s like to fly with the pros onboard a foiling GC32?

July 6, 2016
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Flying on foils, the GC 32 is the new fast cat making the rounds on the Extreme Sailing Series circuit. Lloyd Images

Ever wondered what it’s like to fly? Will Carson, the man behind the words of the 2016 Extreme Sailing Series™ jumped at the chance to race with CHINA One in Cardiff. Here’s his insight.

Today I did something I never thought I’d get to do – I went flying. Not in a plane, but on a boat.

It sounds crazy but it’s true. Gone are the days when race boats plodded round – the new generation of speed machines use hydrofoil technology to lift clear of the water, reducing drag and turbo-charging speeds. And at the forefront of the foiling movement is the Extreme Sailing Series and their GC32 catamarans.

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I’m to join CHINA One, the newest team to join the Extreme Sailing Series, as they go into battle in Cardiff Bay. CHINA One might be rookies on the tour but they come with a wealth of experience of racing at the highest level – skipper Taylor Canfield is a former match racing world champion while team manager and mainsail trimmer Hayden Goodrick was on the winning team in the last America’s Cup, to name just a few of the crew’s accolades. I’m in good hands.

The instructions are clear as I step from the support boat to the GC32 – sit on right side of the forward trampoline, don’t touch anything and stay clear of the ropes. Oh, and enjoy the ride of your life. I don’t need to be told twice. Within moments we’re inside the starting sequence, the sailors switching into race mode, me clinging to the trampoline soaking it all up.

We jostle for a position on the line as the clock counts down. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife but onboard our boat the mood is one of a focussed calm. “Three, two, one, let’s go!” bowman Shane Diviney yells – and we’re off.

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“We’re a new team and we’re still learning the ropes,” Canfield had told journalists just a few hours earlier at the official press conference. Well, don’t be fooled – these guys are slick. They move effortlessly across the boat, carrying out jobs with ruthless efficiency. Canfield is the only one who remains seated, issuing calm commands while concentrating on driving the boat as fast as possible.

It’s neck and neck as we whip around the short racecourse, which is so tight in places that I can’t see how we’re all going to fit. As we come up to the last turning mark before the home strait I can sense the nervous excitement onboard as the lads prepare for the last big push.

“Here we go boys,” the shout goes up. And then it happens – silence. The splish splashing of the hulls piercing through the water is suddenly gone, replaced only by the faintest of hums. I look down though the gaps in the trampoline and the water is no longer just there, it’s more than a metre below me. We are foiling – and not only that, but we are rocketing towards the finish line at speeds I’ve never seen from a boat powered purely by wind. To my right I can see CHINA One‘s support boat struggling to keep up as our GC32 blasts along, easily topping 25 knots.

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A honk from the committee boat and it’s all over – a fourth place in the bag for the boys, and a grin a mile wide for me. “Not many people get to experience what you’ve just experienced,” a smiling Diviney tells me as the team start deconstructing the race to see how they can get even quicker next time.

I’m privileged, and I know it. All I can say is I’ve seen the future – and it’s flying.

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