Two U.S. Sailors are Taking on the European Foiling Scene

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Tomko (at the helm) and Atwood show their stuff off Cannes, France.

Tomko (at the helm) and Atwood show their stuff off Cannes, France.

What does a pair of enthusiastic Texans do when they can’t find anyone to race against aboard their full-foiling Flying Phantom catamaran? Go where people are racing them, in the south of France.

This past April, John Tomko and Jonathan Atwood, both of the Lone Star State, made their European debut at the first round of the 2016 Flying Phantom Series, in Cannes. At press time they also planned to compete at the second stop in the series on Lake Geneva in June and at the third stop, being held in conjunction with Foiling Week on Italy’s Lake Garda later this month.

Tomko says that when he and team sponsor Judson Holt, CEO of Lupe Tortilla restaurant, bought their first Flying Phantom in the spring of 2015, they’d hoped to find some action on this side of the Atlantic. But a somewhat disastrous Great Texas 300 stage race—turns out beach-launching a multihull bristling with lifting foils can be somewhat problematic when the surf’s up—convinced them they needed to go on the road if they wanted to put their boat to the test.

“The more we sailed the boat, the more we realized there was nothing to do in the United States,” says Tomko, who has since been joined on the team by Atwood, another veteran multihull racer who was also a member of the sailing team at Texas A&M University in Galveston. He adds he’d love for some more Flying Phantoms to come over to North America so he could race here as well.

Racing in full-foiling mode is another proposition altogether

Racing in full-foiling mode is another proposition altogether

Meanwhile, Tomko says he and Atwood have not only been having blast aboard their new ride, but that racing is exposing them to a whole new way of competing around the buoys. “It’s super exhilarating. The more you sail the boat, the more confident you become in your abilities. Then you go racing, and it’s all different again,” Tomko says.

First and foremost, there are the America’s Cup-style reaching starts. Unlike a conventional start, in which the fleet crosses the line on a beat, Tomko says the key here is not just positioning yourself correctly, but hitting the line at speed and in full-foiling mode: a feat that, not surprisingly, requires impeccable timing and nerves of steel. “Ideally you want to be a couple of boatlengths off the line and in the air as the guns sounds. The speed difference is incredible, and you’ve got to do it right if you want to be out front at the first turning mark.”

Then there’s the simple fact of hurtling around a racecourse at high speed in close proximity to up to 10 other teams all trying to get around the same buoys as quickly as possible. Dropping off the foils abruptly so that your crew goes flying off its trapeze, for example, is just one of the more dramatic things that can go wrong.

“Yeah, it’s pretty intense, especially when you’re in a crowd,” Tomko says. “If you’ve got boats coming up from behind to windward and leeward, and you get washed off, there’s no place for them to go. Thus the helmets!

For more on Flying Phantom racing, visit

Photos courtesy of Pierrick Contin/Flying Phantom

July 2016



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