Toby Hodges speaks to designer, Mark Mills about Flying Nikka a new foiling 72ft Maxi built with Mediterranean inshore and offshore racing in mind

Given the history of the America’s Cup, which has provided the sailing world with the benefit of equipment ranging from winches to aluminium masts, it’s no surprise that technology from the current edition of the Cup would filter down to other parts of the sport. And that technology is likely to be first seen in Flying Nikka.

Even so, given the extremely radical concept of the AC75s, few of us would have predicted the development of an offshore yacht relying on the same foiling technology before the finish of the current Cup cycle.

Roberto Lacorte is no ordinary owner. Vice-president of the International Maxi Association, he is the founder of the popular 151 Miglia race, and a hugely successful owner-driver with a string of high-profile victories to his name, including the inaugural season’s trophy in the foiling Persico F69 one-design.

His intention for Flying Nikka is to compete in Mediterranean coastal and shorter offshore races, up to Category 3. It’s a tall order and one that many have assumed to be impossible.

However, Mark Mills, designer of Lacorte’s existing Mini Maxi, the Vismara V62 SuperNikka, was willing to take it on.

Hull and deck shape optimisation is still being worked on

Mills has gathered a world-class team, including Spanish analytics experts KND and the engineering know-how of Giovanni Belgrano’s Pure Design and Engineering.

Robust solutions

Creating such a boat for an owner/driver who sails with a mix of professional sailors and friends clearly placed constraints on the project. The same is true for the budget which, although a substantial figure, is only a fraction of what the Cup teams have spent.

“This narrowed down the scope of what is possible in a way that I think is a real positive for the project,” Mills told me. “It forces you into simple, robust solutions that aren’t going to require America’s Cup teams to maintain them, won’t require an America’s Cup budget to build it, or an America’s Cup team to sail it.”

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Typical summer Mediterranean wind patterns mean this boat will spend more time in ‘Archimedes’ mode – that is to say non-foiling mode – in less than 10 knots of breeze compared to the America’s Cup boats that have been optimised specifically for sailing in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf.

“That’s a key reason why the boat will look different to an AC75,” says Mills. As a result, minimising wetted surface area is also an important design priority.

Another obvious difference to an AC75 is the keel and bulb, which is required to satisfy the static stability requirements for Category 3 offshore races. The keel also helps to provide lateral resistance while in displacement mode and during the transition to foiling.

In super light airs the boat will be able to sail in Archimedes mode with both foils out of the water. As the breeze builds Mills says: “I think you may start dipping the leeward foil in the water as soon as you can start getting some positive stability from that foil without immersing the entire foil.”

The Flying Nikka concept aims to create a new class of foiling yachts for racing

The transition space, between displacement and foiling modes is “extremely interesting” from a design perspective and was still being refined when I spoke to Mills.

For this Mediterranean-based boat the focus has been on enabling early foiling, rather than maximising top speeds.

Flying Nikka: 40-knot potential

“The difference between foiling in 9 knots and foiling in 10 is really significant statistically – the earlier you can get up the better,” he says. This requires foils with a large surface area, but that in turn restricts the boat’s top speed potential.

“We won’t be fast enough to have to worry about cavitation issues,” adds Mills, “but I’m sure we’ll be capable of more than 40 knots.”

Total boat weight is likely to come out at around seven tonnes, with the bulb responsible for about one tonne.

Mills says the optimisation of hull and deck shapes they are currently carrying out are aimed at minimising the final displacement: “As the deck geometry changes and we build volume up outboard, that raises the centre of buoyancy, shifting it away from the bulb when the boat is lying flat at 90°. So I’m hoping that we’re going to be able to reduce the bulb weight.”

Although Flying Nikka is clearly inspired by the AC75s it won’t require an America’s Cup budget to build it, or an America’s Cup team to sail it

Sophistication for less

Given the 14-17 people of a typical Mini Maxi crew adds well over a tonne of mass, weight saving is a key driving factor in determining the optimum team size.

At the moment they’re working on the basis of a team of five, though Mills says it may be possible to sail the boat two-handed.

What about costs? He points out that the America’s Cup teams got their original ‘mule’ boats operational without spending colossal amounts of money. “We can do that too,” he says. “The boat will be very sophisticated – we’re not using crude solutions – but we can get to 90% of the AC performance for around 10% of their costs.”

This is one of a number of factors, along with the small crew requirement and relative ease of maintenance, that are expected to appeal to a number of owners.

Nautor’s Swan has shied away from equipping its new ClubSwan 80 with foils, which arguably leaves a space in this part of the market. The Flying Nikka concept therefore has the potential to create a class of near-identical radical foiling yachts competing at some of the world’s most iconic events.


LOA: 18.30m / 60ft 0in
Approx displacement: 7 tonnes
Price: POA

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