Tag Archive: World Sailing Speed Record

Photo © Paul Larsen

One November 16th in Walvis Bay, Namibia, Paul Larsen set the Outright Word and World “B” Division Sailing Speed Record with a run of 59.24 knots of 500 meters aboard Vestas SailRocket II. A later run reported to be in the range of 65 knots with a peak speed of 68 over one second is still being reviewed by the World Sailing Speed Record Council, but is expected to confirmed as the new standard for speed sailing in the next few days. ClarkSail reporter Willy Clark caught up with Larso to get a take on the action in his own words and response to the earlier ClarkSail article

ClarkSail: Hey Paul, just pressed a story about your big day. Hope we got everything more or less right.

Paul Larsen: Hi Willy, good one. Yeah these day just keep getting dragged away now. We have now done two photo shoots over on ‘speed spot’ with the boat which should be pretty cool. Trouble is that I haven’t even finished the new blog post about what actually happened.

Update: Paul’s full take on the 65+ knot run can now be found at SailRocket.com.

I think one of the things that most people have underestimated hugely about our project is the engineering that has gone on behind the scenes. Certain people came in when they were really needed and this lifted the project to new levels. They only came in once they saw how determined we were. They knew their input wasn’t going to fall on deaf ears.

The second boat was no accident. Yes VESTAS did back it well financially, but they backed the exact same team that had cut their teeth on the first boat. That first boat should never have gone as fast as it did. It was flawed. It was like trying to sail an arrow backward and not many people know how difficult an engineering problem it was to make that boat work. However by the time were were done with that one we had everything we needed to make a quantum leap forward in performance.

When I sat down with the design team to discuss the new boat I simply said it must do 65 knots in this much wind and satisfy certain stability criteria i.e. full foil failure at top speed. A lot of our ideas were drawn up on a white board that day, but the final boat we are sailing now looks like none of them. It’s really a hybrid of a few of them. In the end it really designed itself. Yeah there was a rather large dose of determination, but this was also backed by some pretty clever people. We all worked extremely well together too. It has been a pleasure.

The video (see below) and blog should be up tomorrow. You’re going to like this one.

ClarkSail: Thanks Paul. This is all great stuff. I hope our take was relatively accurate. I’m not half as clever as the people involved with the project to it was my best interpretation.

Paul Larsen: I would say it’s a fair perspective. I liked it. Unless we present all the facts then people watching can only give their perspective. As long as it is fair it’s fine. There is a lot to this project. Imagine spending three years of your life sitting on this boat’s potential, watching the kites and L’Hydroptere and knowing in your bones that your new boat has this in it….for starters.

ClarSail: Chomping at the bit would be an appropriate phrase?

Paul Larsen: We sure were. I was pretty keen to do what it took to drag this potential to the surface. We weren’t overly optimistic about the numbers we put in our VPP. I think that shows in our last result. I only wanted to work with real numbers that we knew we could deliver.

Anyway it’s Malcolm’s last night so I’m off to have a beer with the old guru.

ClarkSail: Well thanks for this Paul. When do you think the 65 knot run will go official?

Paul Larsen: The first outright record got approved today. They should start coming in thick and fast now. Next the mile and the second outright, then the sweet one.

ClarkSail: Congratulations Paul, and thanks again, everyone wants news on this.

Paul Larsen: No problems. Happy to help

The Real Reason Why SailRocket Is Special

Photo © Paul Larsen

“Imagine spending three years of your life sitting on this boat’s potential, watching the kites and L’Hydroptere and knowing in your bones that your boat has this in it.”
-Paul Larsen

Lets get the obvious out of the way – what Paul Larsen and the Vestas SailRocket team just did in Namibia was special just for the sake of the numbers alone. The actual speed of their 65 knot run is still being assessed by the Water Sailing Speed Record Council, but the report from the team is a peak speed in excess of 68 knots over one second, and 65.45 for 500 meters. No one goes that fast. Only a few years back 50 knots was supposed to be a big deal, and now Paul Larsen is pushing 70? To be sure records are made to be broken, but shattering them the way SailRocket did on Walvis Bay is frankly unheard of. Crossbow made some serious breakthroughs in the early 70s, Macquarie Innovation was the first non kite or wind surfer to get through the 50 knot barrier, and Hydroptere was an impressive achievement if ever there was one. But 68 knots? Really? That is, for lack of a better word, ridiculous. It is to speed sailing what Chuck Yeager was to air speed when he first broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1: unbelievable because nobody does that. It is supposed to be impossible.

However while the raw numbers are staggering that isn’t the real reason why SailRocket is so special. The numbers are the biggest part of the story to be sure, but there is more to it. The really impressive thing about the SailRocket team is that they stuck with it. Paul Larsen has been running this racket for 11 years. Malcolm Barnsley has been at it for 13. That is nearly a quarter of Paul’s life that he has given to this project. Even more for Malcolm. The only one who has exhibited that kind of dedication is Macquarie’s Tim Daddo, who held the record for 11 years as part of the Yellow Pages Endeavor team before he, along with Simon McKeon and Lindsay Cunningham, broke the 50 knot barrier for the first time. That level of dedication is something that other sailors can only respect, but it is even more impressive when considering how far SailRocket has come in the decade plus of work.

When the Vesta’s team first showed up with SailRocket I it wasn’t exactly a smashing success. The boat was certainly fast, but there was nothing particularly breakthrough about it. The concept of removing the overturning moment was not new. In fact it was first conceptualized by Bernard Smith in his book “The 40 Knot Sailboat” published in 1963. Aligning the force vector of the foil with the force vector of the rig is actually along the lines of what the kite boards do now, except if they could the would cant their boards in the opposite direction. SailRocket I had a nice foil that they didn’t have, but the boat really didn’t do much. It was famous for one spectacular crash (see below), but other than that they weren’t seeing the results.

Photo © Helena Darvelid/SailRocket

The fact that the SailRocket guys even built another boat after such a disaster is incredible. Most other programs would have simply concluded that the boat wasn’t going to get them there and walked away. One has to assume that Vestas came through for them in a big way but, again, the idea had been tried and abandoned by people before. It hadn’t worked then and it didn’t seem to be working now. However as Paul put it they “knew there was truth at the core of it,” so they came back with SailRocket II.

The concept of the second boat was still mostly the same. The pilot’s pod was moved forward on top of the foil thus taking stability out of the equation, but overall the boat was pretty similar. Then they put a fence on the foil and the whole thing just went berserk. Breaking a record by one knot is a big deal. Breaking it by 15? That is outside of the realm of comprehension. It’s the kind of thing that just doesn’t happen. At a certain point one has to wonder “where does it stop?” Now that they have removed stability from the equation and have a foil that delays cavitation to such a high speed the idea of limits is becoming a very abstract concept. The kite boarders can only go so fast because a human being can only pull so hard. That limit doesn’t exist for SailRocket. In fact one has to wonder which ones do.

Yet the numbers are not the truly impressive part. The fact that Paul and Malcolm stuck with the idea for so long, that they were willing to keep hitting their heads against the wall sorting out all the engineering intricacies, is why they got the result that they did. Once again the idea wasn’t new, but the simple truth is that no one had worked this hard at it. Other people had tried it and walked away. The guys at SailRocket, through pure will power, simply outlasted them. “So many people talk about these things and then never follow through,” said Larsen. “I was determined that that wasn’t going to be the case.” The key word in there is determined. Skill, vision and intelligence are all key components to any project. But anyone who has ever built a boat knows that getting everything right takes a long long time. And when trying to build one as fast as SailRocket it takes even longer. The smarts and the expertise help, but without the will and determination to see the project through it would never have happened. Guys who stick with something for so long and work so hard to get it right deserve their big day, and in the end the SailRocket team got what they deserved.

By Willy Clark