Riva del Garda, Italy at the end of May will see the GC32 foiling catamaran class’ first official World Championship since becoming a World Sailing-recognised class last autumn. However an unofficial GC32 Championship was held a year ago in Muscat, Oman. Winner of that was appropriately the local boat, Oman Air, skippered by Kiwi former Match Racing World Champion Phil Robertson.
Having done a season on board ARMIN STROM Sailing Team on the GC32 Racing Tour in 2016, occasionally filling in on the helm for Flavio Marazzi, Robertson joined the long-established Oman Sail team as skipper for last season’s Extreme Sailing Series. In this Robertson and his crew, including British veteran multihull sailor Pete Greenhalgh and experienced Omani Nasser Al Mashari, maintained the consistently high performance expected of them to finish the 2017 Extreme Sailing Series a close third overall. This was behind winners SAP Extreme Sailing Team, steered by Robertson’s old match racing foe Adam Minoprio and the Swiss grandmasters on Alinghi.
With this trio from the Extreme Sailing Series still shining and set to line up against seasoned teams from the GC32 Racing Tour like Realteam and Argo, joined by the returning 2016 GC32 Racing Tour champion Franck Cammas and NORAUTO, the 2018 GC32 World Championship is set to be the class’ most competitive event ever.
“There are a load of guys who have sailed the GC32 a lot now who are going to be able to mix it up at the Worlds,” says Robertson. “As always it is going to come down to consistency, which is what the established teams have. Then you have some of the newer helmsmen on teams like Red Bull and BAR who will be able to mix it up as well. It will be tight. A lot of teams will win races, which will be good.”
There will be added pressure and prestige of this being the one design foiling catamaran class’ first ever official World Championship. And then there is the venue. Riva del Garda. Lake Garda. Italy.
Robertson is enthusiastic about returning, having last competed there with ARMIN STROM Sailing Team on the GC32 Racing Tour in 2016. “Lake Garda is probably the best sailing venue in the world,” says the man who has sailed most of them. “Especially for the GC32 – you have flat water and 20-25 knots most days. I don’t think there are better conditions you can get. It is going to be exciting and very fast. It is going to be one of the coolest events we do all year. Our team is definitely looking forward to it.”
Over Robertson’s two years in the class the level has continually risen and this will be supremely tested on Lake Garda: “Especially in the big breeze, if you are not landing your foiling gybes, you will be out the back and if you are not going fast around the whole track and in and out of marks, it is going to hurt. It is going to be competitive and very tight.”
So how has racing the foiling catamaran developed? “Everyone is getting faster and manoeuvres are getting slicker – the development curve keeps going up. For the top teams the gains are getting smaller, but we are developing all of the time. After every event we come back with a list of things we could do better and how we can sail the boat faster and smoother.
“The class is strictly one design, which is a good thing, but there are little bits and pieces you can do to make the boat easier to sail and more efficient. It is down to fine details of the rig set-up, the rake and foil rake and the trim of the boat. Sail trim is just as important in flying the boat as foil trim – if you don’t have them in balance and working together then it will feel pretty horrible. Both are crucial.”
However, while it may be surprising to some, the USP of the GC32 is that despite it being an extreme, high performance foiling machine, capable of 30+ knots speeds, it is nonetheless quite forgiving to sail. This is what makes the one design foiler so well suited both to pro sailors and owner-drivers, as Robertson states: “What is great about the GC32 is that it is so simple, so stable in flight, anyone can sail it. We have had a 12-year-old kid flying the boat and guys who have rarely sailed before or just sailed a Hobie 16 while on holiday – that what is really cool and pretty unique about it. It is a fast, but safe boat to foil around in, if you have got some guys on board that have half an idea of what they are doing.”
Today crew roles on board are fairly consistent across the fleet – helm, main and jib trimmers, foil trimmer and a bowman to do the grunty work. Strategically a crew can be heavy or light but unusually there is no optimum. Like most boats in light airs you want a light crew, in heavy airs a heavy crew, however with the foiling catamaran you want the lightest possible crew to enable lift-off in the least wind, but the moment the boat is flying you want the heaviest crew to gain righting moment. “There is a fine line there. We are a little bit underweight but we’re not too fussed about it,” says Robertson.
After two America’s Cups in foiling catamarans, the 36th America’s Cup in 2021 will be in what ostensibly is a foiling monohull. Will this is in any way detract from foiling catamaran classes? Robertson thinks not. “I personally think it is all ‘foiling’. Monohull, multihull, a hybrid trimaran – any foiling is good for your skill set, it’s all very relevant and all feels pretty similar. The AC ‘monohull’ is not really a monohull, it will feel like any foiling boat. Foiling is foiling and I don’t think there’s too much difference. It’s all good for you!” states Robertson, who is still looking to land his ultimate job, helming something fast and flying for a Cup team.