Jimmy Spithill Leads a Mission to Fly on Water

Find out how the team foils into the future of open-ocean sailing despite risk and unpredictability.
Flying on Water team © Amory Ross
By Beau Flemister

People have been crossing the Pond for centuries. By "Pond," we mean that moody, unpredictable body of water called the Atlantic Ocean. And by "crossing," we mean sailing. Or in the last century, normally flying airplanes over it. But until now, nobody had flown upon a boat over a large amount of open ocean in this kind of weather.

History made.

MORE: 662 MILES. 66 HOURS. A MISSION TO FLY ON WATER

Team Falcon just successfully completed its mission to "fly on water" across the 662-mile-long open ocean crossing from New York to Bermuda in a custom-designed 46-foot hydro-foiling catamaran dubbed the F4. By "flying" we mean the way this special hydro-foiling catamaran can reach extremely high speeds and lift the boat off the surface of the water, literally hovering a few feet over swells, upon the craft’s innovative foils.

© Amory Ross

Led by ORACLE Team USA’s helmsman and two-time America’s Cup winner Jimmy Spithill, with crew Shannon Falcone, Rome Kirby, Tom Loughborough, Cy Thompson and Bermuda’s very own Emily Nagel, the team reached its destination after 66 straight hours at sea. The crew left from New York, the first place the America's Cup was hosted in the U.S. in 1870, and headed for Bermuda, where the 35th America’s Cup will be held next summer.

This mission almost didn’t even happen.

Postponed a handful of times by a hurricane, tropical disturbances, gale-force winds, seven-meter-high swell and an overall nasty sea state in the treacherous Gulf Stream, Team Falcon braced itself for weeks to depart. The impending winter weather and water temperatures nearly halted the mission entirely — until the weather window materialized. A window that started smoothly, and ended quite stubbornly.

Team Falcon navigates the open ocean in the DNA F4 © Matt Knighton
Team Falcon works hard through the night © Matt Knighton

"Given how big the sea state was building and predicted to build, it was very concerning," Spithill said. "We went from pushing the boat for performance into survival mode. These were biggest waves I’ve been in in a multihull. Some of the wind we had was squalls at about 45 knots, and then you would get rogue waves. At night we didn't have a moon, so it was very difficult trying get through this.

"Then some of the waves were breaking, which made it very challenging and extremely dangerous. We had a few close calls at night, but the fact is you always see the best team and people in the worst situation, and this team was amazing."

We went from pushing the boat for performance into survival mode.

Jimmy Spithill

The result of an eight-month engineering collaboration, Team Falcon’s F4 is a design platform that will be the definitive prototype for the future of sailing and open-ocean foiling. With onboard systems relying solely on batteries and sustainable energy, free from fossil fuel or traditional generators, Team Falcon has proven that open-ocean foiling and offshore adventures are here for the avid and casual sailing community.

Thus, welcome to the new frontier. The future of sailing: flying over water on the open ocean powered by wind, innovation and efficiency. Team Falcon made history.

Learn all about the historic expedition. 

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