SuMoth: the eco-responsible foil design challenge for students

The SuMoth Challenge is a unique design competition for students to build and race International Moth dinghies similar to Formula Student.

Lake Garda, Italy is set to host its annual gathering of speed-focused sailors and designers during Foiling Week, which combines racing on the water with the opportunity to showcase and share innovative design ideas around all things foiling. Alongside Foiling Week will be the SUMoth Challenge, a design and build competition for students tasked with creating a foiling boat that meets International Moth class rules, but focuses on efficiency and sustainability.

The idea was conceived by engineer Bruno Giuntoli. Giuntoli is well versed in student design, having been a key part of the École de Technologie Supérieure (ETS) team in Montreal, which built a Class C hydrofoil catamaran for the 2015 ‘Little America’s Cup’ on the lake. Leman.

The SUMoth challenge was launched as a result of this challenge. The main driver, admits Giuntoli, was to keep this college club running.

“Class C is not a realistic project for a university. Our university was quite ready for projects and we went from a non-existent club to end up with the biggest project of the school,” he says.

Giuntoli’s C-Class catamaran Gust at the 2015 Little America’s Cup in Geneva in 2015. Photo: C/O SUMoth Challenge

The C-Class catamaran is a very sophisticated and incredibly expensive foiling catamaran with a 15m high wing sail constructed almost entirely from high modulus carbon fibre, and costs £100,000 to design and build.

The class has long been used for what is officially called the International Class C Catamaran Championship, but is commonly referred to as the Little America’s Cup – despite a court ruling banning official use of the name.

“We’ve worked incredibly hard to build this club and if you don’t have a competition to aim for, there’s really no reason there should be one at a university,” Giuntoli continued.

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“So I came up with this sustainable moth challenge where one of my goals was to change these super efficient building methods [the foiling Moth class is similar to the C-Class in the high-tech and expensive materials used] to more durable ones with different materials.

“And I also thought it would help new students to latch on to the concept and make the club work.”

Several levels

The student design competition saw some adjustments made to the format during the Covid pandemic. However, in 2022, eight varsity teams will meet during Foiling Week, four with working moths to compete – although competition on the water is only a very small part of the overall score.

“At first we said, ‘These are the rules, in Garda in a year, goodbye’,” recalls Giuntoli.

However, it soon became apparent that although the project attracted considerable interest, some universities simply did not understand the complexities and some student teams would be unlikely to muster the funding for a highly complex boat build.

“It’s not the easiest competition to be honest,” notes Giuntoli, explaining that the complexity of designing the functional hydrofoil is far greater than many realize.

“There were many teams that signed up and then realized how much work was involved. So at first we had maybe 12 signups, then halfway through several realized it was way too much work.

PoliMe team members from Politecnico di Milano, Italy. Photo: C/O SUMoth Challenge

With a high attrition rate, the decision was made to create a three-stage competition.

“The idea was that the first step is purely design, so if you don’t have the materials or the money, all you need is a computer and some brain oil – plus time and passion”, says Giuntoli.

“Because we want the competition to be design driven, this is the stage that gives the most points overall.

“That’s key, we wanted it to be primarily an academic competition, not just an on-water competition, as most of the students are engineers, not professional sailors.”

The second stage is a “Plan B” for a competition on the water where it is not possible to go to Garda, which consists of recording the navigation performance of the boat on a GPS plotter.

The third and final stage is the one that takes place in Garda during Foiling Week, where the boats will compete and the teams will also make a public presentation (it can be watched live on the Foiling Week website).

The SUMoth expert The expert judges

Design and ideas are evaluated by a panel of expert judges, which includes America’s Cup designers, Moth builders, sustainability managers, fast sail designers and many more big names.

As the goal is to advance the design and the rules are open to a reasonable amount of interpretation, the judging panel will be key in deciding the winning designs.

“There are many different approaches and teams have taken on the challenge in different ways,” says Giuntoli.

“The Southampton Boat [University] is a very nice boat, but they went to Maguire [Boats] and made a moth with their borrowed molds, but with different materials. And they made the wings out of wood and stuff like that. It looks great and it sails very well, but it doesn’t necessarily develop completely new ideas.

The official launch of the University of Southampton’s Moonshot Moth. Photo c/o Harken

Ultimately, teams will be judged and scored on the amount of innovation brought to the table, but Giuntoli is happy that the rules are interpreted in any way teams see fit.

“Take the University of Southampton entry that I mentioned. They’re doing it as their latest university project.

“It’s for their degree and they’re able to incorporate that into the SuMoth concept, but they’re not necessarily there just to get technical points from us,” he concludes.

Women in STEM

SUMoth is not just a design competition, there are other facets to the challenge as well. Giuntoli is very aware of how few women are represented both in the field of marine engineering and in this type of design-focused academic challenge, so the inclusion of women is rewarded with extra points.

Hattie Rogers will sail the University of Southampton’s entry to Garda, for example, which will earn the team some extra points.

“Usually these student clubs tend to be mostly guys. And I think women don’t often get the chance to be involved, so we try to push to try to get more girls on the teams. So far it seems to have been a success,” says Giuntoli.

SuMoth reigns supreme

Another element that sets the SUMoth challenge apart is its focus on creating new design solutions while avoiding the use of environmentally harmful materials.

However, defining what could be considered a “good” material and a “bad” material is, in itself, a tall order.

The goal is to reward innovation without adding new, hard-to-recycle products to the ever-expanding global waste pile, while keeping costs manageable. Recycling old hulls and turning them into foils is something that is highly encouraged.

The team from the École de Technologie Supérieure (ETS) in Montreal with their Moth, Rafale. Photo: c/o SuMoth Challenge

Giuntoli’s proposed solution for the use of new materials was to provide all teams with an upper cost limit of $10,000 – roughly the same price as a Waszp, itself a simplified and cheaper version of the foiling Moth.

But while this price limit may help compel teams to use recycled materials, it does not limit new items that are cheap but costly for the environment.

To keep control over which products could be used, Giuntoli proposed a concept currency, SuDollars, with each material also having a cost in SUDollar.

“Take, for example, MDF, which is basically glue. It’s super cheap to buy, so it’s an obvious choice for mold building, but we didn’t want to see molds made from MDF by our teams,” he explains. MDF is a very expensive material in SUDollars.

“It’s a problem we see across our industry. So the idea is that if we have this currency, it should help inspire people to find new and better ways to do the same thing.

“Another example is EPS foam [Expanded Polystyrene, used between glass in foam sandwich construction]. It’s more expensive to recycle than to make new foam, so it’s also expensive in SUDollars.

The plan for the future is to hold an annual competition during Foiling Week, although the two are held separately.

Check out the winners and learn more about the teams on the SUMoth Challenge website.


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