Ernst-Michael Miller glides to the dock at Shake A Leg Miami on his red foiling catamaran. What a cool-looking boat. Looks fast. Tricked out too. I walk over to chat with him about the boat, and I’m surprised to find out he’s the guy who designed it. Very cool. There, on the spot, he gives me a thorough explanation of the boat’s “FlySafe” foil-control system and the “Code F,” which is a light gennaker that promotes early foiling in light air. Curiously, it’s tacked to the leeward bow and has no boom.
I’m sure the guy could have chatted for days about the craft he calls an iFly. His enthusiasm for it is immediately contagious, and suddenly I can’t wait to have a go at it myself.
We agree to a future day and time for me to demo it, but in the meantime, I invite him to a house party, where we go deep into the topics of foiling, sailing and his 15-foot, 200-pound iFly. He’s an aviation engineer by day, whose profile lists Airbus and BMW. His intelligence is obvious. The guy is extremely smart, and even gives me a few good ideas for my Moth. He is excited for me to try his boat, which he’s been refining in earnest since 2016 and is now building one per week. He explains that he needs “someone good” to give him feedback. He shipped a container of them to Miami and has been running scheduled demos off the Miami Yacht Club’s beach through most of early winter, looking to spread the experience of foiling simplicity and a guaranteed easy flight. The company’s slogan is “We love speed while keeping control,” and that’s what he wants me to experience.
He tells me he’s not really a “good sailor,” so he wants to hear what professional sailors think about his invention. But later, I witness what a badass sailor he really is: foiling through maneuvers on his iFly alone, operating its lines like an octopus. From the trapeze no less. In 8 to 25 knots of breeze, the mainsail alone is all you need to fly; just drive and trim the main, no fussing with the foils. The Code F, Miller explains, is for extreme light air. If the breeze picks up; roll it away. If you know it’s going to be windy, leave it at home.
When it’s finally my time to try the iFly, he suggests that I bring a friend; which I do. Abbigail is new to sailing and eager to get on the water. She’s also a fast learner and far more athletic than me. But this is her first foiling experience, and first time trapping or sailing a high-performance boat. I’m a little nervous for her because the thing sure does look sporty. I’m always nervous when I give joyrides on the Moth because wipeouts can be dangerous, and I fear it will be similar on the iFly.
Abbigail and I board a RIB with plans to swap with Miller, on the water. Once we’re alongside, he gives me a quick explanation about the iFly’ s flight-control system, and off we go. As soon as my new crew is hanging from the trap, we pop up on the foils and start hauling, foiling upwind, downwind and reaching. The boat is very stable despite the chop. What’s most impressive is, however, how well it flies and how gentle the landing is when the bows touch down in waves while going downwind. I had no sense of danger of stuffing the bows and having Abbigail flung around the forestay. Throughout it all, she is super comfortable and keeps saying how much fun it is.
I also sail the boat alone and that is super fun too, especially trying to trap, drive, and trim the main and gennaker. With a little practice, the maneuvers feel more natural, and I get better pretty quickly.
When we pause, Miller gives me some more tips. I rip around for a while and get to play with the sail controls, the ride-height adjustment, and even the angle of attack differential between leeward and windward hull to create extra righting moment. I feel like I need every bit of it being 130 pounds and sailing alone. The boat is very responsive, which should be expected of a full carbon foiling cat. During one good run, I don’t know how fast I’m going, but it sure feels like more than 20 knots in 12 knots of wind. It’s an adrenaline rush, for sure.
The build quality is also noteworthy. There are a lot of parts, but they all look durable, which proved to be true when I had a “little” incident, sailing over a sandbar and running aground at 15 knots or more. My bad. I thought playtime was going to be over, but once we got off the sandbar, we started foiling again as if nothing had happened, and then foiled for the rest of the day. Miller had told me about an iFly being sailed across the English Channel from England to France, a 140-nautical-mile run in full-on conditions, and given my beaching incident, I believe him when he says it’s well-built. Let’s put it this way: I’m happy for the titanium reinforcement in the foils.
Ultimately, I’m impressed by how nimble and versatile the iFly is. For me, it’s a rush and plenty challenging to sail it alone. At roughly $30,000, it’s definitely a high-ticket, high-performance catamaran, and I’m excited to see how the one-design racing evolves. The one thing my Moth is not is forgiving and user-friendly, especially with two people. I can see myself having one in Miami, racing hard or cruising around Biscayne Bay with a friend. It’s a hardcore racer, but it’s also a hot rod to impress a date. For a couple looking to get into foiling together, it’s a unique option. I also wonder how it would be for some warm-water coastal racing. Maybe, I think, I could convince my friend Katie Pettibone, who is super skilled and fearless, to do a race with me, just sending it down the coast. Now that would be cool.