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North Sails Performance 2023 - LEADERBOARD

Vortex Pod Racer: fly me to the moon

by Guy Nowell 16 Jun 2022 23:56 PDT
Vortex Pod Racer in Hong Kong: the Editor can foil! © Ken the RIB driver

About three years ago Mark Evans (McConaghy Boats) and I were sitting outside my house, enjoying a couple of well-chilled beers.

"How would you like to sail a foiling boat?" he asked. Of course I would, but I explained that in my opinion Moths and Waszps were for young, athletic, and correctly-weighted people, and I really don't fit into that category. Once upon time maybe.

"Me too", said Mark. "Too old, and no longer sufficiently agile." I noticed that he tactfully made no mention of our relative weights. "But I want to go foiling, so I'm designing a gentleman's foiler that gets round all that," and he drew it on the back of a fag packet (actually, it was a napkin). It was a trimaran, with a bucket seat in a central pod, two T-shaped lifting foils, pedal steering, all lines leading into the cockpit, and it looked exceptionally cool.

We've all been pretty much locked down since then. Not actually confined to barracks in Hong Kong, and yes we can get on a plane and leave, but coming back again still involves a week in a quarantine hotel or a QT camp.

A couple of weeks ago Mark calls me and asks if I remember his foiling pod racer? "It's arriving here tomorrow." I was so excited I had to go and have a look at the box it arrived in!

What's in the box? Central hull, crossbeam centre section, two end sections with integral sponsons, two foils, rudder and trim foil, two-section mast. That's all... and lots and lots of string. The Vortex is intended to be as simple as can be, so there are no hydraulics and no computer. Wands control ride height with flaps on the main foils, and attitude is controlled by the trim foil on the rudder.

Assembly Ikea eat your heart out: putting the Vortex together next day was entertainment plus. At the moment it's a one-off custom item, and that means all the pieces are too. Yup, that must go there... or does it? There's more string than a cat's cradle, but don't worry, it's not nearly as scary as it looks once it gets in the water. We threaded and attached all the control lines, bolted on the rudder box and rudder, adjusted shroud and forestay lengths, tweaked wand control lines, and connected everything to the control points inside - pedals for the steering, and a joystick for left/right tilt, and pitch.

In the water. This was not the first time the Vortex had gone afloat. There had been test sessions in the muddy Zhuhai waters of the Pearl River delta, and Mark reckoned he had clocked up around six hours of testing, but Port Shelter is definitely different. Clean water, plenty of space, and no commercial traffic.

How to fly? Here's the acid test - how easy is it fly, or do you need to be a whiz to even think about it? Can the Vortex be flown by anyone with a modicum of sailing experience? Guinea pigs that first day were well-known Hong Kong sailor Drew Taylor (Ambush) who has sailed everything from a Minnow upwards, pessimistic sailmaker Steve Trebitsch ("If Drew can't do it, I can't either..."), two TP52 sailors who are usually a lot further above the water, and your scribe, whose more modest glory days may be over, but who still enjoys his sailing as much as anyone.

Slot into the cockpit: you are very much 'in' this boat, not 'on' it. Think 2.4mR, but not so wet because you're above the water - until you stick the nose in. Sailing the Vortex involves rubbing your tummy and patting yourself on the head at the same time, but not at the same speed. Steering is by pedals, which takes a bit of getting used to. The Vortex needs about 8kts of breeze to fly - you need boat speed to get up onto the foils, and you need to be flat on the water and not driving the leeward sponson below the surface, so ease the main and the vang, and bear away. A bit of windward trim on the joystick helps the get the leeward sponson up and kissing the surface. Now you're fast and flat, so pull back on the joystick to push the rudder down (and the bow up) and then immediately push forward to flatten out. And now you're flying!

Over the course of the afternoon, and on another day with some more newbies, everyone succeeded in cracking it with varying degrees of controlled success. Straight line sailing, no problem. Next: tacking and gybing. But regrettably, Mr Evans has packed up my favourite new toy and sent it off to Australia where it will be on display at the Sydney International Boat Show (28 July - 01 August).

PS. When it arrived here in Hong Kong, Mark's top recorded speed in the Vortex was 18.9kts. I pushed that up to 20.0kts, and ten minutes later Nick Southward, owner of the J/109 that I usually sail with, set a new mark at 20.7kts. This was in max 12kts of breeze. A couple of knots more, and who knows...

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