James Boyd Photography / www.thedailysail.com

The only UK-built foiling Moth

Aardvark Technologies' Mike Cooke shows us his National and European championship winning Ninja design

Tuesday March 20th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

The Ninja may not be new to the Moth fleet, but the recent RYA Dinghy Show was the first time we’d been given a guided tour to only foiling Moth still being built in the UK.

While not as prolific as the Bladerider and the current foiling Moth benchmark, the McConaghy-built Mach 2, the Ninja is clearly a competitive boat as in 2011 examples won both the UK National and European Championships, Jason Belben taking the former, Chris Rashley the latter.

Designed by long term Cherub sailor and designer, Kevin Ellway, the Ninja is built by Mike Cooke’s company Aardvark Technologies close to Weston-super-Mare in Somerset. Aardvark is something of a hive of activity, also offering for sale Cooke’s first love, National 12s, plus three models of Cherub. In addition to the Ninja they also offer foil-pimp options for Mach 2 and Bladeriders Moths, who’s owners are looking for that extra edge. Furthermore, Cooke’s well known former offshore multihull sailor father Terry, is running the spar division at Aardvark. Clients include Nick Craig for whom Aardvark has built his World Championship winning OK masts.

As mentioned Aardvark isn’t the high capacity, full productionised facility that McConaghys in China is. We put it to Mike Cooke that Aardvark is more the equivalent to Morgan in the car market. “Caterham, maybe,” he counters. However this does allow the ability to customise and as Cooke describes how his boats have evolved: “Everyone is a variant on the last one. If someone orders a Ninja they get the latest...”

Aardvark has built the Ninja for three years now. While conceptually similar in design to the other foiling Moths on the market, the Ninja has more rocker and curvature in her forefoot. As she has evolved, Cooke and Ellway have been experimenting with the second iteration of their foils, having begun testing of prototypes at the Europeans in Switzerland in 2010. These they have now productionised.

Made from high modulus carbon fibre, the new foils have a higher aspect ratio than before. Normally the Ninja’s foils are around 10-12cm wider than those of the Mach 2 (where interestingly designer Andrew McDougall is going in the opposite direction – making his foils smaller).

“I think most people are actually more interested in the early foiling than the going fast,” explains Cooke. “I think that is the reason why the Ninja has been so successful in Europe and the UK is the conditions – we have pitched it for the lighter stuff and that is what we get more of. Not necessarily bigger areas, but bigger span -it is more about lower drag in the ‘getting foiling’ area.” Typical Ninjas are achieving lift-off in 6-7 knots of wind or 6 knots of boat speed, claims Cooke.

However the foils on display on Cooke’s own boat at the RYA Dinghy Show had been reduced in area by 10%, only around 8cm wider than the Mach 2’s. “I am quite little, so I chopped the foils down a bit,” says Cooke. “It doesn’t cost me anything, because I still foil as early as everyone else.”

So finally we are seeing a manufacturer offering the possibility of tailoring a Moth’s foil size to crew weight.

A downside of the building scale that Aardvark Technologies operate at is that they lack the ultimate sophistication offered at McConaghy’s grand facility, but equally this is reflected in the price. Ninjas are female moulded, but they are built with a wet lay-up rather than pre-preg, subsequently vacuum bagged and baked. “To be honest the difference between that and something that is prepreg and autoclaved I think is pretty tiny,” argues Cooke. “It is not something that you’ll notice in performance terms.”

When it comes to weight, Cooke says that the downward spiral has stopped in the foiling Moth class and weight has actually gone up. “It got to the point where they were being sailed hard enough that I think flex in the platform is starting to show up and you get some pretty bad side effects from that. So if you steer and you are doing 25 knots, the rudder wants to step out, so anything you can do to stiffen up the platform torsionally will make you faster because there will be less drag on it. So I think the bigger speeds are the product of a stiffer boat - not the wings, but the torsion of the hull itself and the gantry arrangement and trying to keep the whole lot locked in. I think my wings are stiffer than the others. I don’t use a bridle across the back – it is all integrated and they are very beefy bits of tube. But the whole boat is smaller, so you have weight in hand to go back into the beefing up the platform.”

Cooke says that a Ninja typically weighs 32-34kg all up including the sail. However with a certain amount of customisation involved boats do vary. “I build boats to order, so if someone says ‘I want this bit beefed up or that bit’, I am quite happy to do that because it is all fairly flexible. From my point of view I don’t make a massive investment in tooling because I just keep moving along and because I don’t have that tie it is quite easy to evolve.”

In terms of controls for the foils, the Ninja doesn’t feature any adjustment on the pitch of the lateral foil on the rudder. “With the rudder sizes, the relative ratios are optimised so that he boat trims itself depending upon how fast it goes. The faster you go the more lift the rudder adds and it just keeps the boat level,” says Cooke.

There is of course a wand that automatically adjusts the pitch of the flap on the main lifting foil. However on Cooke’s boat the wand length can be adjusted, which alters how the wand controls the flap for different wave states AND there is also a control usually known as a ‘ride height adjuster’ which alters the length of the push rod between the top of the wand and the top of the control rod on the foil itself. However Cooke counters that he prefers to call the latter the ‘wand bias’ control (and explains why he has both controls in the video below).

His boat also features a cute self-tacking mount for the Velocitech speedo (see the video below) and at the show was sporting the latest moulded sail from Hyde (Mike Lennon’s own) built in Dimension Polyant.

To date Aardvark has built around 25 Ninjas, which is modest compared to the runs of Bladeriders and Mach 2, both approaching the 300 mark. “We are starting to do a few more overseas. We’ve had a few going over to Europe. It is really hard to judge the growth of the Moth class. A lot of people see them as a fun toy and they take them off to their holiday villas.”

The Moths this year have their Nationals at Stone over 21-24 June with the Worlds being in Campione on Lake Garda over 18-26 August.


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