I’m stoked about “the Mule.” That’s the nickname for the 38-foot foiling monohull that the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic team launched in November as a test boat for the 36th running of the America’s Cup.
The 2021 competition in New Zealand will race aboard a new class of 75-foot foiling monohulls, called AC75s. However, the rules don’t allow syndicates to sail an AC75 until March 2019. Until then, syndicates can build and test smaller foiling monohulls: INEOS Team UK built a 28-foot prototype, T5, which has been gybing and tacking and doing 30 knots in a 12-knot breeze. The Mule had her first ride on Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay this past fall and has spent the winter zipping around on Pensacola Bay in Florida.
The boat looks fast and beautiful riding on her foils. She’s a modified McConaghy MC38, and with her small, stainless-steel steering wheels and her helmeted crew hunkering low inside her black hull, she doesn’t look like an unattainable millionaire’s toy. Instead, she looks more like a go-kart I might one day be able to afford in a downsized version, making the America’s Cup relatable for the first time since 1987, when the 12-meter class was abandoned.
Since then, the event has included a parade of boats that took it farther and farther away from mainstream imaginations. There were a 60-foot, wing-sailed catamaran and a huge monohull that raced each other twice and then spent the next two years in court; a whole new class of huge and unremarkable monohulls, one of which broke in half and sank; a monstrous trimaran and catamaran that sailed two races preceded by a lengthy legal dispute; and wing-foiling catamarans, which, although fast and cool, required cranes to install the winged sails and motorboats to right them after capsizing. One of them even had bicycle-style grinding stations to power the hydraulics. They either did not advance sailboat design, or they were too expensive or impractical for the average sailor. In other words, they were unrelatable.
I am not the only one who sees something different in the Mule. My brother, who knows something about America’s Cup yacht design—he helped Johan Valentijn design the 12-meter Eagle for the 1987 competition—had the same reaction. Unlike the past 35 years of America’s Cup boats, the Mule looks like she could spawn a whole new class of boats.
Frenchman Philippe Briand also sees the potential. He has designed Jeanneaus, America’s Cup contenders and superyachts, and last year announced the 21-foot Flyacht foiling monohull, inspired by the AC75’s design brief. The Flyacht will be self-righting with two canting T-shaped foils, and like the Mule is designed to reach far greater speeds than non-foiling monohulls. Briand envisions it as a more affordable, two-person boat that could be mass-produced for weekend warriors.
“Our role is to transfer the benefits of innovations from the racing sector to the wider market at a reasonable cost,” Briand stated in a press release announcing the Flyacht’s debut. “I want to introduce the millennium generation to how much fun and excitement can be had from sailing.”
We hear you Philippe. And we are truly stoked.
This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue.