Around the World in Forty Days
December 14, 2019 6:21 PM   Subscribe

The marriage of Austronesian outrigger designs with modern "foiling" has been smashing sailing records. In the past three decades, times for many unrestricted sailing records have been cut more-or-less in half.

Current scholarship [PDF] suggests that it was the invention of the catamaran which first allowed the Austronesian people to sail into the open ocean. With navigational skills that they developed as they explored (previously, previously, previously), and catamarans capable of sailing any ocean (Hokalea, previously), the Melanesians and Polynesians settled an area of the Pacific Ocean the size of North America. The wide base of the catamaran allows larger, more powerful sails to be used with a smaller risk of capsizing, leading to higher speeds than possible with monohulls.

America's Cup has long been the favourite playground of some of the world's least favourite asshole billionaires. The first entry of a catamaran into the race in 1988 provoked outrage and lawsuits. "If Dennis Connor knew anything about sportsmanship he would have answered our challenge with a monohull boat like ours. Instead, he decided to guarantee himself a shabby win on the water with a catamaran," huffed one of the asshole billionaires involved.

That 1988 catamaran was clocked before the race at a top speed of 21.5 knots (40 km/h). By 2013, the America's Cup yachts - all catamarans by now - had an average top speed closer to 40 knots (74 km/h), and the New Zealand entry, hulls lifted completely out of the water by its foils, hit 47.57 knots (88 km/h) at one point in the series.

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The Austronesians later replaced the second canoe of the catamaran with a smaller single outrigger to make a family of boats often lumped together with the term proa, which often used crab-claw sails and shunting instead of tacking - which required a boat which could sail equally well forward or backward - to travel into the wind. Europeans called the speedy sakman of the Northern Marianas, which they reported could make the 2,500 km trip from Guam to Manila in four days, a "flying proa". The wa of the Caroline Islands was reported to be able to move "at or perhaps beyond wind speed".

Some of the secrets of the Polynesian single-outrigger boat-builders have been kept alive on the Marshall Islands. The main hull is straight on one side and curved on the other to keep the boat tracking straight in the wind, and the outrigger is designed with shock absorption. The Pacific Storytellers Cooperative made a half-hour documentary about the technology and culture of the boats, which are still actively raced.

The 500 meter sailing record has been dominated by proas, catamarans, windsurfs and kitesurfs, all ultimately based on Polynesian way of getting around the ocean. The absolute sailing speed record of 65.45 knots (121 km/h) was set in 2012 by the Vestas Sailrocket 2, a single outrigger craft designed to do nothing but go as fast as possible in one direction.

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"Flying", incidentally, is the word used to describe a foiling boat whose hull is lifted fully out of the water. The effect can look like an illusion, like a practical joke someone played to lift a multi-ton boat up on little sticks. The profile of a foil is like that of an airplane wing, designed to produce maximum lift with minimum drag, though the greater density of water allows it to be much smaller than an airplane wing. With just the foils in the water, the power needed to propel the boat is dramatically reduced, leading to the current crop of record-smashing results.

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The trimaran, with two outriggers, was likely developed back in Southeast Asia well after the Polynesian expansion, as it never spread into Polynesia. It did spread west, though, as the Austronesian settlement of Madagascar brought the extent of Austronesian expansion to almost half the circumference of the globe. The Spanish encountered the karakoa in the Phillippines, a large warship capable of going three times as a fast as a galleon. Francisco Combés wrote, "That care and attention, which govern their boat-building, cause their ships to sail like birds, while ours are like lead in this regard." The jukung of Indonesia was raced 1000 miles from Bali to Darwin for a documentary in the late 1980s. Nine crews survived everything from hornets to hurricanes, adding to the proof that traditional boats could, in fact, make traditional voyages. A vinta of the Phillippines was sailed from Bali to Madagascar in 1985, demonstrating the feasibility of yet another Austronesian settlement route.

Modern trimarans hold the unrestricted sailing circumnavigation records. Mostly sponsored by French financial and telecom firms, they have been chasing the aptly named Jules Verne trophy. Without foils, the Commodore Explorer (a catamaran) made it around the world in 79 days in 1993. With foils, IDEC SPORT made it around the world in 2017 in just 40 days, averaging 26.85 knots (50 km/h), 20 days faster than any motorized circumnavigation. Less than a year later, François Gabart smashed the solo circumnavigation record in 42 days. There may be more circumnavigation records to come.

A trimaran also holds the 24 hour distance record. After 130 years of stagnation - the 1854 record of 861 km was only bested in 1984 with a record of 948 km - it has since been nearly doubled, to 1681 km - averaging over 70 km/h for 24 hours - by Banque Populaire V.

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That may all be a bit much. If you'd like something more relatable, you might consider hopping on another Polynesian invention paired with a hydrofoil.

Or you could build a riwut, a Marshallese toy outrigger, still actively raced, that demonstrates the many clever design hacks of the Marshallese single-outrigger sailing canoe.
posted by clawsoon (38 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
 
Great post.

Do people make fold-down (or extendable/retractable) foils that can convert a stable (powered or sail?) boat into a speedmonster?

coz that would be awesome.
posted by lalochezia at 6:52 PM on December 14, 2019


I'm surprised there is no mention in that report of the development of the hydrofoil at the turn of the 20th century, with a significant contribution in Nova Scotia from Alexander Graham Bell
posted by CynicalKnight at 6:59 PM on December 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


lalochezia: Do people make fold-down (or extendable/retractable) foils that can convert a stable (powered or sail?) boat into a speedmonster?

This appears to have the answer - "Dalí foils use four independent L-shaped blades that stick out of the hull at an angle before curving up like Salvador Dalí’s famous moustache. They are far more efficient and can be retracted, solving the berthing and draught issues" - but I suspect that if you have to ask how much they cost you can't afford them.
posted by clawsoon at 7:10 PM on December 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


...though perhaps I'm being too much of a pessimist.
posted by clawsoon at 7:25 PM on December 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


Do people make fold-down (or extendable/retractable) foils that can convert a stable (powered or sail?) boat into a speedmonster?

I believe this was illustrated in a little documentary, called "Water World"
posted by alex_skazat at 7:50 PM on December 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


I actually look forward to when the America's Cup is raced with hand-built wooden ships, because you KNOW that this is all fashion, and fashion comes around.
posted by alex_skazat at 8:02 PM on December 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


What's crazy about the absolute sailing speed record, is that the craft was moving much faster than the wind speed. It's just one of those things that seems like it shouldn't be possible.
posted by alex_skazat at 8:05 PM on December 14, 2019 [9 favorites]


alex_skazat: What's crazy about the absolute sailing speed record, is that the craft was moving much faster than the wind speed.

There are further paradoxes following from that one: One of the America's Cup teams from 2017 pointed out that their boat could sail up a river with no wind at all.
posted by clawsoon at 8:10 PM on December 14, 2019 [4 favorites]


This is so very relevant to my interests.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:33 PM on December 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


Do people make fold-down (or extendable/retractable) foils that can convert a stable (powered or sail?) boat into a speedmonster?
There is at least one scammer promoting a product that claims to turn your old boat into a fast foiler.

The problem is as stated in the video - you need the lightest possible boat with as little wetted surface area as possible to get up on the foils. There is a kit that will add a foil to a Laser, but the Laser turns out to be a poor platform for foiling. Moths have evolved to become dedicated foiling boats. Putting foils on your grandma's Catalina 30 is just going to slow the old cruiser down.

Foiling is also dangerous. Your average weekend sailboat racer has a top speed of about 7kts / 8 mph. Deadly collisions can and do happen, but those are relatively rare. Foiling boats can do 20+ kts in 10kts of wind. How would you like to be T-boned by a 70' carbon hull with a knife-like bow? Safety and cost go a long way to explaining why amateurs and semi-pros gravitate towards Moths, Windosurfers and Kiteboards for foiling fun.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:26 PM on December 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


the craft was moving much faster than the wind speed

That's what lift machines do. And Vestas, funder of the Sailrocket 2, make a lot of lift machines: they're one of the world's largest wind turbine manufacturers. The blade tips on a wind turbine are going many times the speed of the wind. The higher the Tip Speed Ratio, the more efficient the wind turbine. Unfortunately, the faster the tip moves, the noisier the turbine. Some of the experimental wind turbines built by Boeing in the 1970s had blade tips that sometimes went trans-sonic and were beyond loud. (Similarly, the XF-84H "Thunderscreech" attempt at a supersonic prop plane was incredibly loud.)
posted by scruss at 9:32 PM on December 14, 2019 [10 favorites]


Wow! This post isn't just excellent, it's AUTHORITATIVE!

Seriously, I've seen books that were less informative. And by that I include the books I read on hydrofoils back in junior high school in 1978, back when hydrofoils and hovercraft were seen as the next big thing in oceanic transportation.
posted by happyroach at 9:40 PM on December 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


b1tr0t: Moths have evolved to become dedicated foiling boats.

My impression from articles like this one is that the combination of sailing+foiling had been played with for decades but only took off when it was proven to win races in the tiny boats of the Moth class. From the Moth to America's Cup, and suddenly it's everywhere, all within the past 20 years or so.

Foiling is also dangerous. Your average weekend sailboat racer has a top speed of about 7kts / 8 mph.

The sailor's tone of voice in the Sailrocket 2 video sounds to me like, "I'm either going to set a record or I'm going to die, either way it'll be exciting! That's rapid!"
posted by clawsoon at 9:51 PM on December 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm currently in Vanuatu and every morning I see a guy race past me on the water with what basically looks like a paddleboard with a foil and some sort of motor. It's dead silent but has no sail or paddle and appears go 25+ miles an hour. Anyone know what it is? It's like a Boosted Board in the water.
posted by dobbs at 11:58 PM on December 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


There are further paradoxes following from that one: One of the America's Cup teams from 2017 pointed out that their boat could sail up a river with no wind at all.


I'm beginning to think we can take one of these foiling "boats" and create a, "can a plane take off on a conveyor belt runway" sort of puzzle.
posted by alex_skazat at 12:10 AM on December 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Nice post clawsoon. I've been working on the design end of these foiling boats for many years now, if there are any questions about design or construction maybe I can attempt to answer.

We are currently involved in trying to bring know-how learned in the foiling Cup boat world into the public sphere with foiling passenger ferries, which have the potential to transport people using around one third the energy per passenger mile compared to conventional high-speed catamaran ferries. Advances in materials, propulsion and flight control systems make this a much easier problem to solve than in the days of the Boeing Jetfoil.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 12:45 AM on December 15, 2019 [13 favorites]


Thank you for a spectacular post - so much detail here. As somebody who sails occasionally - but does not track the cutting edge developments - I was struck by how unaware I was of how fast the area has changed.

It is interesting to see how enduring Phileas Fogg's 80 day journey has proved such an enduring benchmark since Jules Verne wrote his book back in 1872. Fogg's challenge involved a circumnavigation that started and ended in London and which involved only the scheduled transport links at the time: rail and steamer (no balloon - that was in the movie). In the modern world, scheduled transport would include aircraft - and we could break the record with ease - which is why later, non-fictional attempts have ruled our flying. The Jules Verne trophy - mentioned in the FPP - set out a commendable - but notably different target: getting round the word as fast as possible on a single boat voyage.

I was recently watching Michael Palin's interpretation of the journey. He opted to hitch a ride on some cargo boats in the absence of scheduled sea transport. That was back in 1989 - but I think it may be time to re-assess the original version of the challenge: use of scheduled transport only, in today's context.

In 2019 Greta Thunberg has proven to be both a notable yacht passenger and also a populariser of the term "flight shaming". If travellers want to get around the world sustainably then like Thunberg and Fogg, they will be obliged (for the time being at least) to take their time and forgo air travel. I predict a growth in the market of people who subscribe to those values. Rail is fine where it exists - but sea transport is still problematic.

So - why aren't we able to board green and swift foiling passenger ships? Several pretty strong engineering reasons - at least for passenger numbers that are comparable to conventional ship designs. But maybe some room for innovation here (and ask Mei's lost sandal - previous post seen on review - clearly!). Meanwhile, we have seen the launch of The Flying Clipper last year - the largest sailing cruise ship - with a design which is based on the 1912 France II. In terms of cargo by sail - we see ships like Quadriga car carrier in development.

Strange to consider that, more than 150 years after Around the World in 80 Days came to print - we could be seeing the advent of a transport system where rail and sail form the links: just as they did in the book.
posted by rongorongo at 12:46 AM on December 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


I see a guy race past me on the water with what basically looks like a paddleboard with a foil and some sort of motor.
Possibly a Fliteboard.
If travellers want to get around the world sustainably then like Thunberg and Fogg
Huh? Fogg's world tour was coal-powered. The Open 60 Thunberg crossed the ocean on has exotic sails that need to be replaced frequently, consumed a great deal of energy in its construction, and her trip triggered several more behind the scenes flights than if she had just flown herself.
we could be seeing the advent of a transport system where rail and sail form the links:
Sadly, sails are fun toys but aren't practical for cargo/passenger service. Those "sailing" cruise ships have functional sails, but they are mostly decorative. Cargo ships are built as cheaply as possible - an empty aluminum can is a good model for the structural integrity of a big cargo ship. Sails concentrate high dynamic loads on a small number of points - and the solution to the dynamic loads is actually an unsolved problem. Additionally, time is money, and big winds give sails more power. So by putting sails on commercial vessels, you'd be incentivizing crews to sail into hurricanes. That won't be healthy for crew, cargo, or ocean.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:51 AM on December 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


For those saying that my post is authoritative, please be aware that I understand all of this at the level of a freshman pulling together an essay by Googling stuff. :-)

I appreciate all of the corrections, explanations and expansions in the comments from people who do actually know what they're talking about. They are exactly what I come to Metafilter for, and I'm glad everyone found the topic as interesting as I did.
posted by clawsoon at 6:11 AM on December 15, 2019 [10 favorites]


rongorongo: In terms of cargo by sail - we see ships like Quadriga car carrier in development.

So ironic that they're trying to reduce global carbon emissions by building a sailing ship to carry cars...
posted by clawsoon at 6:56 AM on December 15, 2019


For folks wanting even more authoritative detail I can't recommend the book Vaka Moana highly enough. It's a series of chapters from anthropologists and other scholars about Pacific voyaging technologies and traditions. Hits the perfect sweet spot between academic and yet still readable, and presented in an attractive coffee table format book too. At $70 it's a bit pricey but it makes a great gift, or you can probably find it in your library. My only caveat is the book is 12 years now, but I don't think there's anything newer that does quite what this book does.
posted by Nelson at 7:16 AM on December 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


I think it may be time to re-assess the original version of the challenge: use of scheduled transport only, in today's context.

Mike Horn makes history: Successfully circles the globe longitudinally, including trekking both poles
posted by kliuless at 8:22 AM on December 15, 2019


There was an Ask Mefi last year that tried to make sense of the boat-sailing-upriver phenomenon.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:07 AM on December 15, 2019


A few modern Pacific proa links: (Pacific proas are distinguished by having their small hull on the windward side)

Proa kits from Chesapeake Light Craft
Russell Brown on proas.
Jzerro sailing 18 knots
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 9:13 AM on December 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


This was amazing, all of it. Those flying catamarans, setting speed records, circumnavigating the globe, setting speed records up against regular craft, (maybe I read that wrong.) I wonder how big they could get and could they ship fruit on these?

Of particular interest were those surfboards, up in the air! Whoa! I would have never in this lifetime, been fit enough to rid, and pump that board, back to a wave, but it is fascinating nevertheless.
posted by Oyéah at 9:27 AM on December 15, 2019


2019 Moth Worlds live stream (scheduled to start at 8:55 PM PST Dec 15)
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 9:27 AM on December 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Mei's lost sandal: Pacific proas are distinguished by having their small hull on the windward side

Looking at Pacific proas, I immediately assumed that the small hull would be downwind: Wind pushes sideways on the sail, buoyant outrigger keeps the boat from tipping over.

I was wrong, and despite reading the links I posted, I still don't quite get it. Why put the outrigger windward?
posted by clawsoon at 9:44 AM on December 15, 2019


With a Pacific proa you sail balanced with only the main hull in the water, with the weight of the ama providing righting moment, so there is much less wetted surface and therefore resistance than in an Atlantic proa where the ama is always in the water going up wind (resisting the heeling moment thru boyancy).
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 9:47 AM on December 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


kliuless: Mike Horn makes history: Successfully circles the globe longitudinally, including trekking both poles

Sign That Someone Is An Introvert: Career Involves Not Interacting With Humans For Months On End

On the sailing side, I think that career choice was made by Jon Sanders, who did a solo sailing triple circumnavigation.
posted by clawsoon at 9:48 AM on December 15, 2019


Mei's lost sandal: With a Pacific proa you sail balanced with only the main hull in the water, with the weight of the ama providing righting moment

Ah, so the same idea as sailors hanging themselves off the side of the sailboat, but a lot less work?
posted by clawsoon at 9:57 AM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


On the sailing side, I think that career choice was made by Jon Sanders, who did a solo sailing triple circumnavigation.

@hughhowey: A THREAD ABOUT SAILING ACROSS VAST DISTANCES ALONE :P
posted by kliuless at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


I was half-napping just now, trying to figure out all the effects of the asymmetric hull of the traditional proa. (More pictures here.)

I'm not sure I've quite got it all figured out. Anybody with hydrodynamic or aerodynamic knowledge who'd care to comment?

Have any Western boats taken advantage of this design element?
posted by clawsoon at 2:27 PM on December 15, 2019


A previously I missed.
posted by clawsoon at 2:29 PM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


clawsoon the asymmetric hull shape reduces leeway (slipage down wind) in part by making the waterline look kind of foil-shaped, if you took a slice of the proa's hull at the water. A lot of mono-hull sailboats accomplish the same thing by having an intentionally asymmetric waterline but it resulting from the angle of heel of the boat.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 5:00 PM on December 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Mei's lost sandal, I was thinking about it sort of that way, since I'm a bit more familiar with aerodynamic terminology than hydrodynamic terminology. I was thinking that if you stuck a stubby, low-aspect wing down into the water with the lifting side toward the wind, you'd get sideways lift against the wind (reduction of leeway), but you'd also get what would be pitching moment from the perspective of a wing (but I guess turning moment from the perspective of the boat?) which would - I think? - have a strong interaction with the opposite turning moment from the outrigger (at least as long as the outrigger is in the water). The low aspect ratio (length of boat versus depth into the water) would also - I'm guessing? - lead to some fairly high lift-induced drag and a strong trailing vortex.

Do any of those ideas that I've picked up from aerodynamics apply to this hydrodynamic situation, too?
posted by clawsoon at 8:51 AM on December 16, 2019


This is neat! You'd think I'd have more awareness of this, but thanks to this post I just learned the connection to the nusantara 'perahu' - the Malay archipelago word for this class of boats.

(all i know about perahu is what shows up in the pantun/quartrains I learned as a kid. Which itself I believe has been adopted by the French as pantoums. So I got nothing but poetic metaphors!)
posted by cendawanita at 8:42 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


Do any of those ideas that I've picked up from aerodynamics apply to this hydrodynamic situation, too?

IANANA (not a naval architect), but yeah it's all the same as aero just higher Reynolds numbers, and a matter phase interface thrown in there for fun.

In boats the "pitching" moment you refer to is called balance and is compensated for with rudder and sail trim. As you can guess if a boat's over-balanced and needs lots of correction that means lots of drag you'd rather not have.

Because of that phase interface most of the hull drag (at higher speed/length ratios) is from wave drag induced into the surface of the water. The speed limit of a hull in displacement (not planing) mode is around 1.8 * square root of the water-line length. Which I think is a limit long before the sort of lift-induced drag you're thinking of in a wing. (when keels are designed on sail boats they definitely benefit from being high-aspect for the reasons you state)

Here's a kind of catamaran that has no rudders and is steered simply by moving weight around to change the WL shape: Patín de Vela Catalán
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 7:52 PM on December 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Mei's lost sandal!
posted by clawsoon at 12:21 PM on December 21, 2019


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