This weekend brings us the first America's Cup qualifying race in New York since 1920.

But the players aren't what they used to be. These ridiculously fast hydrofoil catamarans are not the sleek and graceful mono-hull thoroughbreds of the 20th century, but lean, super high tech and monstrously powerful machines that crash through the water at speeds that regularly exceed 30 knots. Capsizes are common , dramatic, and in 2013 proved deadly.

As a tribute to this weekends races, a little history on some of the technology involved. Patents by Emmanuel Denis Farcot in 1869 lead to work by Enrico Forlanini, which inspired Alexander Graham Bell and his partner Casey Baldwin to design several hydrofoil equipped craft, including the HD-4, which, in 1919, set a world marine speed record of 70.86 mph that held for ten years.

Hydrofoils have been in use and improved regularly for over a hundred years, but were not practical in sailing vessels until the advent of carbon fiber materials which provided the necessary strength with very low weight. This technology has added fresh excitement to the sport and culminated in a world sailing record of 51 knots by Alain Thébault and the crew of his dream child Hydroptère in 2009.

The other part of the speed equation is the use of fixed wing sails which can drive a foil equipped multi-hull at almost 3 times the speed of the wind which makes for such thrilling racing. The problem with wing sails is that if they are prevented from swinging in a complete arc around the mast, it is impossible to de-power them in a strong gust. This is the case with the AC45 class boats used in this years Cup, which have shrouds and a jib carrying fore-stay that limit the motion of the wing and that is one of the reasons we are seeing so many of them capsize.

I am excited about the seeing them attack the course this weekend, races 1 thru 3 start at 2pm today, Saturday May 7th at Brookfield Place. Races 4 thru 6 start at 2 pm tomorrow, Sunday, May 8th.

For details see the America's Cup website or consider a special Circle Line spectator cruise.


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