If you’ve ever seen a commercial by Red Bull, chances are you’re familiar with the catchphrase “Red Bull gives you wings.” In late 2016, the company lived up to its slogan when a prototype of the DNA F4 – the world’s first foiling production catamaran over 40 feet, sponsored by Red Bull – flew on water 662 miles from New York to Bermuda in just 66 hours.
The “flying” refers to the way the catamaran reached extremely high speeds, which lifted it off the surface of the water, literally hovering a few feet on its foils.
The F4’s crew, known as Team Falcon, was led by ORACLE Team USA helmsman and two-time America’s Cup winner Jimmy Spithill. He was joined by sailor Shannon Falcone, technical supervisor of the 46-foot-long catamaran, as well as sailors Tom Loughborough, Rome Kirby, Cy Thompson and Emily Nagel.
While fast, Team Falcon’s journey was also turbulent, at times encountering winds over 40 knots and waves as high as 25 feet. At night, the team couldn’t see the moon while some of the waves were breaking, which made navigating very challenging and extremely dangerous. “We had a few close calls at night,” Spithill says.
“We experienced more than a lot of sailors experience in their whole career,” adds Falcone. “We had awesome foiling on the first day, but it turned to ultimate survival.”
According to Falcone, though, the team was equipped to handle those conditions due to the F4’s advanced CFRP construction. To design and build the DNA F4 prototype, Falcone teamed with DNA performance sailing, the high-performance sailing division of Netherlands-based advanced composite engineering and manufacturing company Holland Composites. In addition to its marine portfolio, Holland Composites is famous for its grand architectural façades – most notably for the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art in Amsterdam.
As Falcone explains, the idea for the F4 came to fruition in 2015 when Loughborough reached out to let him know Red Bull was interested in doing a project focused on foiling. (Foiling in sailing refers to when the boat reaches high speeds and the hydrofoils under the hull lift it up and out of the water.) Falcone asked Holland Composites to design a new catamaran, explaining that Holland Composites’ current G4 – a high-performance leisure catamaran – wouldn’t work for Red Bull. As luck would have it, Holland Composites was already planning to get Falcone’s feedback on a new variant of the G4 it was working on in its concept stage.