Breaking The World Speed Sailing Record

The Need For Speed: Breaking The Outright World Speed Sailing Record

Vestas sailrocket 2, Sailrocket,Speed Record, Cowes, Paul Larsen,Helena Darvelid,Malcolm BarnsleyWe all know about the world land speed record and the water equivalent, but the world of sailing – using wind power that is, not cheating with an engine – also has its own world speed record, it just doesn’t get quite as much media coverage. The vessels – it’s hard to call them yachts as they only have a passing resemblance to conventional sailing yachts – are feats of modern technology, combining the latest tech developments in harnessing wind power with technology derived from latest aviation and marine developments.

To confuse matters, there’s also more than one sailing speed record. One of these is the “Outright World Speed Sailing Record”* which is held by the world’s fastest wind powered craft. This does not have to be over water and neither does it have to be what you might think of as a conventional sailcraft – in the past it has been held by a kite surfer – American Rob Douglas took the record in 2010 with his kite surfing rig, achieving a speed of 55.65 knots (104kmh) in Namibia.

The record holder prior to Douglas was a French ‘yacht’ called Hydroptere, a hydrofoil type boat which rises out of the water as it picks up speed, allowing it to go much faster than a conventional monohull or multihull (more on the latest Hydroptere below).

Rob Douglas lost his world record earlier this year to a more conventional boat, the Vestas Sailrocket 2 (pictured above), which took the Outright World Speed Sailing Record to 59.23 knots (109kmh) on Walvis Bay, off the coast of Namibia in West Africa. Vestas Sailrocket 2 has been developed by Isle of Wight (UK) based Vestas, which designs and manufactures wind turbines for electricity production. Their 47,000 wind turbines installed in 70 countries around the world generate more than 51GW of power, making them the leading global manufacturer in the sector. So they’re pretty well placed to help out with the technology.

The craft is designed around the concept of maintaining stability, so unlike conventional yachts which get blown about by the wind and will sometimes lose sail power as a result, the Vestas Sailrocket 2 is designed, in terms of its sail and keel, to minimise any ‘overturning moment’ or force and not allow any vertical lift. The result is that virtually all wind power captured is converted into forward motion. Using this design the craft is able to sail at 2.5 times the speed of the wind. Which is amazing!

The Hydroptere we referred to above may have lost its outright speed crown to the Vestas Sailrocket, but the team is busy preparing an upgraded version for another record, the Transpacific sail record. Currently held by another French group, who finished the 3,565km crossing in 5 days 9 hours in 1997, the Hydroptere is capable of accelerating from 20 (37kmh) to 45 (83kmh) knots in just 10 seconds. In 2009 it broke the then outright sailboat speed record with a speed of 52.86 knots over the 500m course and in the same year broke the 50 knot barrier for a nautical mile on home territory in France.

Hydroptere is a trimaran constructed from titanium and carbon fibre. It hydroplanes, i.e. it lifts the main hulls out of the water and has the equivalent of a submarine wing maintaining contact with the water, and this happens when the boat reaches 12 knots. To give you some perspective, the boat accelerates faster than a 2 x 250HP speedboat. When it is hydroplaning only 2sqm of the boat is in contact with the water and the underwater ‘foils’ or wings have to withstand twice as much pressure as the wings of a jet fighter. In full flight the craft is 5m above the waterline. The Hydroptere is aiming to make the crossing from Los Angeles to Honolulu inside three days.

We doubt these guys needed to find boat finance when they were putting their projects together. If you feel the need for speed in a sailboat, why not get a Hobie Cat (or something similar)? With your feet on the side of the hull out on the trapeze you can get your face down to six inches above the water, and at half the speed of these record breakers, that feels pretty fast! What’s more we can probably help you out with a boat loan for one of these.

*the Outright World Speed Record takes the average speed of a craft between 2 points 500m apart. Records are observed and ratified by the World Speed Sailing Record Council. All waterborne sail craft can participate, including kite surfers and multi-hull yachts.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rory-carter/5534448616/

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