Zen the art of offshore sailing……

The spread of foiling technology into all areas of the sailing world continues to run unchecked. Latest to take flight are the new generation of jumbo-sized singlehanded ‘Ultime’ trimarans that are now using trickle-down America’s Cup foiling technology on open ocean passages.


Crossing oceans at speeds of 35 knots or more on a 100-foot foiling trimaran – on your own. What must that be like? Nobody better to ask that question than Frenchman Thomas Coville, skipper of the 31-metre ‘Sodebo’ Ultime, who plans to try for the singlehanded around the world record at the end of this year.


I sat down with him recently in New York, shortly after he had completed a solo transatlantic crossing on Sodebo. He began by telling me that foiling offshore required a Zen-like approach.


“For the first few hours of an offshore leg my brain is very much linked to the numbers: the heel angle, the speed, the apparent wind, the cant of the boards,” he told me. “But then at some point it switches from being something very analytical to something more emotional and about instinct. At that point I can’t explain to you or myself why I’m easing or trimming on the sails. I do it because it feels right.”


“There is a unique pleasure and excitement in sailing these new boats that is definitely all about the speed. To achieve 40 knots by yourself and not be fighting against the elements, but just flying in between the air and the water, is sublime.


The challenge, Coville says, is how confident you can allow yourself to be in your instincts and not to rely any more on your intellect.


“It’s really a unique feeling when you are at the transition between those two modes,” he said. “I think when you speak to surfers or big wave windsurfers about how they do what they do, they can’t explain it in analytical terms either. Sometimes when I am by myself, flying on one hull in the open ocean, or doing nearly 700 miles in 24 hours, I cannot explain everything that I’m doing. When Kelly Slater catches a wave, you can see in his face that he can’t explain – he is in the zone too.”


Coville says this need to sail on instinct rather than knowledge is spawning new profile of skippers in all areas of the sport.


“I’m talking about guys like Francois Gabart (skipper of the newest and fastest Ultime – MACIF) and the guys coming from dinghies where you sail with the seat of your pants. These are the guys who are being picked to steer the America’s Cup boats. Peter Burling is my hero! He is the epitome of this new generation. He can’t explain to you every time why he tacks or why he gybes – he just does it because he knows it’s right.”




That connection between brain and emotion – the balance point when control passes from one to the other – is what all human being would love to experience. Some guys do that with music some guys do that with art – we are doing it out on the ocean.





Also read

Get your hard-copy now!

Your advert in The Islander Magazine?

Get your hard-copy now!

Your advert in The Islander Magazine?

and receive your invitation to our events