Antigua Sailing Week: a chance to ride a rocket

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Jonathan Russo is a passionate sailor from New York who took a break from the Northeast spring and headed to the Caribbean for Antigua Sailing Week, where he is filing daily reports for Soundings. This is his fourth dispatch.

On Day 4 of Antigua Sailing Week, my adventure aboard the Farr 65 Spirit of Juno was put on hold. I had the opportunity to observe from the chase boat, then sail aboard one of the most amazing sailboats afloat today — the bright-orange-colored Gunboat G4. The first 40-foot multihull, Timbalero III, is making her Antigua Sailing Week debut, captained by her owner, Eduardo Perez, a two-time ASW winner.

The G4 is a foiling catamaran, and that enables the boat to climb above the water and “fly” on C-foil dagger boards and T-foil rudders. Long J-shaped dagger boards help by creating lift as they slice through the water. Foiling on multihulls grabbed the spotlight at the last America’s Cup campaign in 2013 and is nothing short of revolutionary.

New Englander Peter Johnstone, founder of the U.S.-based Gunboat catamaran company, said he will not be happy until a competent non-racing couple can handle foiling technology. He said his ideal G4 buyer is a tech-loving adventure seeker who surfs, kiteboards or sails fast dinghies.

Alan Block, an editor at the sailing blog Sailing Anarchy, is a huge G4 fan. He told me that the America’s Cup foiling boats are the “inspiration” for the G4, but the G4 stands by itself design-wise. He took me out in a rigid inflatable boat to watch the G4 race, and the visual experience was just fantastic. The G4 slices through the water in a deliberate, yet delicate way. When she comes down from a wave she doesn’t pound the water like a monohull. The G4 just sort of calmly meets the water and, without pause, continues on her way.

The wind is always on the beam or forward of the G4 because she is so fast that she creates her own wind flow. I watched her get on the foils and stay there for a long time as she screamed past a race rounding mark and headed for the next one. There is also a whoosh sound to the G4 that you hear if you are nearby. The sound is courtesy of the foils.

Her bright orange hull gives off a “look at me” cue. Her black sails call attention to the seriousness of their purpose. There is a definite powerful grace to the G4 under sail.

The day got even better (if that was possible) when I was allowed aboard and given a ride and a chance at the helm. Johnstone and the crew wanted to test some sails, so they ran some courses after the official race was over.

What is it like to sail a Gunboat G4? Words such as exhilarating, amazing and awesome come to mind. First, the acceleration is so unfamiliar if you are like me and used to monohull sailing. You reach speed so effortlessly you can forget you’re on the water.

Then there is the sound — reminiscent of the one time I was on a private jet. There were a series of high-speed whines that dialed themselves up or down as the G4 accelerated or slowed.

And of course, it’s a very unfamiliar feeling to be going 25 knots — under sail. The shoreline seems to just slide behind you, along with 99 percent of the other boats. The G4 is a speed machine that makes a fast rigid inflatable work to keep up.

The helm felt great; the G4 tracks deep and responsively. I was nervous at first that I would not be able to control a boat this technologically advanced and this fast, but I could. The G4’s dual rudders respond to helm commands without protest.

To my mind, Johnstone is continuing the great tradition of New England boat designers and builders. Let’s hope the tradition of New England innovation, that same innovation that brought us the clipper ships, continues under his watch. The G4 is proof it can.

Jonathan Russo has been sailing for more than 30 years. His home port is Shelter Island, N.Y., and he sails his Sabre 38, Sachem, extensively in New England waters.