From Cruiser to Foiler

A Red Bull regatta in Newport offers a long time cruiser the chance to swap the keel for foils and fly above the water.

Foiling Generation
Cruising World digital editor Ben Meyers (forward crew) flies high.Red Bull Foiling Generation

Summer in Newport, Rhode Island, offers no shortage of sailboats of all persuasions. From graceful 12-Meters to 100-foot racing sleds to cruising boats of all stripes and plenty in between, the view is never boring — particularly if there are any foiling boats out. For years, I’ve watched Moth sailboats flit around Narragansett Bay, barely touching the water, and thought that it must be such a rush to do that; I didn’t think it was something that I might actually get a chance to try. But then the Red Bull Foiling Generation team rolled into town, and my colleague Ben Meyers and I had our chance.

The Red Bull Foiling Generation is a series of regattas targeted at sailors who are 16 to 20 years old to give them opportunities to learn to sail and compete in high-performance foiling cats. It just so happened that the U.S. qualifiers and world finals were being held in Newport last October. A PR team reached out to members of the local sailing press, and against my better judgment, I signed on to go for a “ride-along” on one of the boats. (“You’re going to be impossible to live with after this,” my husband said when I told him about the gig. Since our cruising ketch, Lyra, tops out at 8 knots or so, I think that he was just jealous.)

As it turned out, there was very little riding along involved. The Flying Phantom 18 is an incredibly physical doublehanded boat. Climbing aboard the catamaran, feeling cumbersome in my wetsuit, PFD, harness, helmet, and borrowed gloves and booties, I thought it necessary to mention to the helmsman that this was not only going to be my first time foiling, but my first time out on a trapeze as well. And I should add that the helmsman was Hans-Peter Steinacher, who won Olympic gold in sailing for Austria in 2000 and 2004 and is one of the founders of the Foiling Generation. To say I was intimidated would be a severe understatement.

The winds were light (thank God) as we sailed out toward the bay entrance, giving me time to find my sea legs. What breeze there was completely died for a brief lull, and while Hans-Peter and I sat on the boat waiting for Newport’s reliable southwesterlies to fill in, he joked, “See, it’s not much different than your cruising boat!”

Funny guy.

A maybe 8-knot breeze filled in, and then off we went: It was suddenly nothing like my cruising boat. But what a ride it was. With my feet planted on the hull and my body out on the trapeze, it was like walking on water. And then up we went. The boat needs only about 7 knots of wind to foil, and the feeling is incredible — more like flying than sailing, which I suppose it is. Once the hulls are out of the water, the ride is nearly silent, which just adds to the flightlike experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

After the adrenaline and obligatory Red Bull finally left our systems, Ben, who I should mention is younger than me and more experienced with dinghy sailing, said, “You know, even if I sailed one of those boats for years, I don’t think that I’d ever really get the hang of it.” I’ll admit that I was relieved to hear him say that, but we both agreed that it was a total rush.

To learn more about the Red Bull Foiling Generation events, visit ­

— Jen Brett