'Holy Moly!' moths: like 'F1 on water'

By Matt Majendie

(CNN) — A moth is fast, nimble, jittery and seemingly uncontrollable.

But this is no bug’s life, the moth shares its name with one of the most exciting sailing boats in global regattas from Australia to the United States.

They are the cutting edge of sailing design, so it’s no wonder moth racing has been described as “Formula One on water.”

The boats in question may just be over three meters long and weigh a mere 30 kilos but they effectively fly on water — or foil — at speeds of up to 30 knots (55km/h.)

They were also the inspiration for the style of boats and racing now employed in the America’s Cup, albeit on a much smaller and affordable scale.

KA Sail founder Andrew McDougall has been a leading light in how the sport has changed.

“It needed someone, something, some class to really push this to the point where people were saying ‘this is real, this is doable, this is fun, this is what we should be doing,'” McDougall told CNN.

“Once you sail this you can’t stop talking about it to all your friends, about how amazing it is to do this,” said McDougall, who was originally a computer designer.

“It’s the secret of sailing that’s now not the secret.”

True, McDougall has a stake in the success of the genre but the who’s who of global sailing that turned up in Sorrento, Australia, for the event’s World Championship in January, gives credence to his view.

Olympic champions like Paul Goodison rubbed shoulders with Tom Slingsby, part of Team Oracle’s America’s Cup-winning team, and Nathan Outteridge, who had won the previous world titles held in Australia and Hawaii.

Outteridge’s first foray into moths was after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“There’s a huge element of fear, your heart is always thumping when you’re going down wind and when you get around the bottom mark and turn to go upwind, it’s a feeling of relief that you’ve finally made it,” said Outteridge.

“I think the main thing the moth gives you or teaches you is all about the little control systems of foiling and because it’s so small you can crash it and crash it and crash it and learn from it and not be an absolute disaster whereas you can’t afford to do that on the big boats.

“Without a doubt, if I hadn’t been sailing the moth we couldn’t have been getting around the course in the America’s Cup.”

There is a certain irony that the moth class — a development class in sailing meaning there are virtually no design rules or restrictions — has become so cutting edge.

It began as a simplistic homage from an Australian husband to his wife, Len Morris naming the boat he created in 1928 “Olive” after his spouse.

That first creation hangs in its restored form at the Albert Park Yacht Club in Victoria, Melbourne, though visually there is no likeness to the high-tech, lightweight vessels that battle for supremacy on the water today.

On the other side of the Pacific, a similar moth boat was designed the following year by Captain Joel Van Sant — known as “Jumping Juniper” — the aim being to build an affordable yacht for $150.

Through time, the technology has evolved. The first moths to foil were in 2000 and, by 2005, McDougall argues that if your boat wasn’t foiling you didn’t have a chance.

He goes on to describe the format as addictive, to the extent that once you foil, “there’s just no way back.”

He explains: “It goes quiet, you accelerate. The first time I foiled, I fell straight out of the back of the boat. The boat just took and I went ‘holy moly, this is amazing.'”

McDougall say the seemingly impossible is made possible by using the Bernoulli principle. In effect, as water moves over the top of the foil the pressure lessens, which causes it to lift out of the water.

Loick Peyron has won all manner of races and the Frenchman describes the moths succinctly as “pure bonheur,” or happiness, while long-time Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker adds: “Even a bad day in one of these is still a lot of fun.”

But the current master of the moth is New Zealander Peter Burling, recently named as helmsman for Team New Zealand’s bid to win the America’s Cup in the wake of winning the recent Moth World Championship.

Burling, who won nine of the 14 races at the regatta, says of the discipline: “It’s super fast, super tight racing. I just really enjoy the racing.

“I love being out on the water but also trying to be innovative on the boat. If it’s not fun, you don’t perform well.

“I really enjoy the fast side of our boat but, if you make one wrong decision, it really shows it up. You’ve just got to race quicker than someone else.”

In Sorrento, Burling was just that. Whether he remains ahead of the fleet at the next Worlds in Hayama, Japan, in 2016 is another matter.

TM © 2015 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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