Projects: The Whisper: the hydrofoil everyone’s shouting about
Want to try hydrofoiling without the multi-million pound price tag? The cutting-edge Whisper catamaran is making America’s Cup-style foiling more accessible than ever – and its lightweight composite construction utilising PRO-SET® Infusion epoxy is helping to make it possible.
“The very first time we took the Whisper on the water, she foiled non-stop for four minutes,” says Henry White, Director of White Formula. “You won’t get that in your average foiling yacht. She’s the only dinghy designed from the ground up to hydrofoil.”
“We knew we had something special on our hands.”
The Whisper is the brainchild of Ron Price, a yacht and powercraft designer who also lectures in Naval Architecture at Solent University. Inspired by the 2014 America’s Cup, he was determined to design a flying catamaran with an affordable price tag. “After locking himself away with his team for about a year, he came to White Formula with a prototype of the Whisper,” says Henry. “We knew we had something special on our hands.”
White Formula was the ideal choice for manufacturing the boat. Directors Thom and Henry are the sons of Tornado Olympic sailor and world champion Rob White, and grandsons of 1976 Olympic gold medal-winning sailor Reg White. So it comes as little surprise that the third-generation White Formula business has produced some legendary catamarans. “We’ve built everything from the big Apache cruising cats to the Tornado, Spitfire, Hurricane and the Shadow,” says Henry. “We could see the Whisper was a fantastic design. The only change we made was to make it a monocoque structure, rather than having beams across, to enhance the stability.”
Balanced to a T
It’s her incredible stability that makes the Whisper truly stand out from her peers. The four T-shaped foils have been innovatively designed to control the foiling height and balance the ride, stopping it from pitchpoling. What’s more her hull is carbon fibre, resulting in a weight of just 78kg.
Altogether, this stable, self-settling and lightweight design means the Whisper spends more time on the foils than off. “The average America’s Cup boat will travel faster than the Whisper but they’re not as stable; you’ll only be foiling for 50-60% of the time,” explains Henry. “Because the Whisper is so easy to handle it lets you foil for 80-90% of the time, just at a slightly slower speed. All it takes is a little practice, and you’ll be foiling at speeds of up to 25 knots.”
The best products for construction
To build such a stable foiling machine is no straightforward task. There is zero tolerance for any discrepancies in the foils or the hull, which must share stresses and work together as one. To that end, Ron Price and the White Formula team always knew epoxy infusion would give the hull the strength, stiffness and stability it demanded.
“Princess Anne came and infused it with us!”
It was an informal meeting at the London Boat Show, however, that resulted in White Formula choosing PRO-SET INF Epoxy for the task. “We were infusing the first Whisper live at the show. Princess Anne came and infused it with us!” smiles Henry. “It attracted a lot of attention, including David from West System International, who came to talk to us about what we were doing. He wasn’t at all salesy and I liked that.” Henry talked to others who had used PRO-SET Epoxy for infusion. He liked what he heard. “I was confident that infusing with PRO-SET epoxy would give the Whisper the strength and robustness she demands and I’ve not been disappointed,” says Henry.
The infusion process itself is deliberately painstaking. To start, Henry applies a gel coat to a mould of the catamaran hull, before laying carbon cloth on top. A foam core is added to provide stiffness and then a final layer of carbon cloth is applied. “We then cover the whole lot in a 12m by 6m bag and apply vacuum pressure down to -1 bar,” explains Henry. “The aim is to get as much air out as possible. Even the slightest pinhole will affect how the resin infuses, so we use a sonic tester and gently inspect the bag for any air leaks or hissing. When we’re finished we leave it for 10-12 hours.”
Once as much air as possible has been drawn out, the White Formula team prepares PRO-SET INF-114 Resin® and INF-211 Hardener® for infusion. Temperature is critical at this point. “We like to ensure our mould and our epoxy are within about one degree of each other and that’s at a temperature of 22-24 oC,” explains Henry. “This ensures the mixed epoxy flows easily into the structure of the boat.”
Once the resin and hardener are mixed, it is degassed (“you’ve just spent 12 hours drawing air out of the boat, so you don’t want to reintroduce it here,” says Henry) and then piped into the bag. The positive pressure in the atmosphere pushes the epoxy into the boat. “If you’ve applied your bag correctly and there are no leaks, the pressure forces the epoxy to distribute evenly throughout the whole structure,” says Henry. “We then lock off the inlet pipes and put the boat in the oven at 28 oC for a few hours to cure it.”
Designed for the love of foiling
Another benefit of the infusion process is that it offers excellent results, fast. One year into production White Formula has built 21 Whispers. The company has another 25 on back order and production has recently been upped to three a month.
This huge demand is undoubtedly in part due to her price tag; at £21,000, she’s an impressive £15,000 less than a comparable foiling cat. But her capabilities are what truly make her stand out. “She’s designed for the pure love of foiling – to help anyone to do it. There’s no need to be an acrobat; if you can sail, then you can go foiling on the Whisper,” smiles Henry. “And it’s so much fun. On your first day, you’ll be foiling at 9-10 knots straight away. Give it another hour and you’ll end up at 25 knots.
“That’s not an experience you can enjoy with any other foiling cat on the market.”
Intrigued about the infusion process and the full range of PRO-SET products? Visit Wessex Resins.