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Foiling - learning to fly or learning to fall?

Operations Director Rob Clark talks foiling, new challenges and learning that practice doesn't always make perfect, but that better will do!

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For a little while I have considered myself to be, more or less, a semi competent sailor. I’ve sailed inshore and offshore, had some occasional competitive success and generally feel fairly at home when messing about in boats. However, like many others, the amount of time I spent on the water seemed to be declining. Whether that was due to other commitments (family and work are often blamed) or just because the excitement was fading I’m not sure, but I became more picky about when I sailed, for what purpose and who with. Whatever the reason I found myself wondering when the last time was that I just ‘went for a sail’ without the incentive of a race series or chaperoning the kids.

Should I leave it to the cool kids?

At the same time sailing has been transforming more than at any stage in my involvement - the America’s Cup is now the home of Formula 1 and aerospace technology, reaching nearly 50 knots (60ish mph) in a 50 foot catamaran powered by kiwi cyclists! Maybe I was just a relic, should order my lawn bowls outfit and leave sailing to the cool kids…?

But… one thing I am very aware of is that sailing isn’t just a sport for the trendsetters*. Any visit to a sailing club boat park reminds me that there are hoards of other sailing geeks like me, ready to have a chat about the relative merits of a carbon thingy or spectra whatsit, safe in the knowledge that we are never far from a bar with a good view over the water.

Let’s go foiling

So, before I finally hung up my wetsuit, it was time to get on board and sample the foiling revolution….. how hard could it be?

Fortunately at about this time Peter (Gordon) took stewardship of his son’s Waszp (a ‘slightly!’ easier International Moth that is ‘slightly!’ cheaper to repair after you dent it), which was my way in. All we needed now was a bit of breeze and we’d be off.

This is where I experienced my latest humbling experience to realize quite how good the good guys are and how much I’d over estimated my above sailing self assessment. The first thing I realized is that everything I had sailed before had the inherent stability of a super tanker and the Waszp did not. I was focusing so hard on just ‘not swimming’ that I became completely internal in my focus and was no longer spotting breeze coming towards me, where I was aiming or any other boats that may come into my path due to my meandering course and limiting skill. In this first sail I did though achieve something fundamental, I got up on the foils (a few times… briefly) and felt the flying sensation. That was all I needed and now I’d tasted the thrill I wanted more.

 

Practice makes better

So what has happened since my first flight? I’ve been sailing a fair bit, just to sail. I’ve swerved the opportunity to go racing so I can go foiling and I am finding reasons why I should get a ‘pass’ on this day and at this time (fortunately I have a very understanding family). I’m still pretty rubbish but at least now I am consciously incompetent. In educational terms I’m failing fast. I’m starting to understand the technique even if I can’t always perform it, feel slightly more graceful moving around the boat and I haven’t been a general hazard to shipping for weeks (there was a HM Coastguard car at the club this weekend, but I’m sure that was just a coincidence)!!

In honestly the technique isn’t vastly different to sailing any other performance dinghy. You just need to understand the basic physics of why it does what it does, let the boat do the work and try and keep the boat under the rig. After that it’s about understanding the effect of apparent wind as you accelerate and leaning in to the corners. It appears practice makes better (not perfect) and it’s far more fun if you have someone to share your glories / pain with. When it goes wrong, it goes wrong quickly but that’s just part of the fun and at worst you get wet.

My final word would be what have I learnt from this

  • Mix up your activities to keep it fun and interesting. I have learnt more in the last 2 years than in the 10 preceding just by trying new activities and roles within a team. Because of this my sailing has, in spite of contrary evidence improved massively and this has kept me excited about the sport as a whole
  • You can always find time in your schedule, it’s just a matter of motivation, setting priorities and making sure that you are set up so whatever time you have is available maximized 
  • If you are learning to foil in the UK, in the winter, make sure you have a 5mm wetsuit!!

 

*I have been fortunate to meet some very cool people whilst sailing. It’s just I have just come to realize that I am not, and never was (no matter what I thought at the time), able to describe myself that way. I’m quite happy with that fact.

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