New World Sailing Boat Speed Record

New World Sailing Boat Speed Record
Image copyright Steb Fisher photography
Image copyright Steb Fisher photography
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Image copyright Steb Fisher photography
Image copyright Steb Fisher photography

January 5, 2009 Australia’s Macquarie Speed Sailing Team is seeking ratification of a new World Sailing Speed Record set on December 19, thereby claiming the title of the world’s fastest sailing boat. Macquarie Innovation was timed over the 500m qualifying course at 48.57 knots and recorded speeds in excess of 51 knots during the 20 second run on December 19, 2008. It is expected that the final ratified speed will be reduced to 48.15 knots due to tidal influences experienced on the course – albeit still the fastest speed ever recorded by a sailing boat. What makes the attempt so significant is the boat’s remarkably efficient use of wind energy – the speeds were recorded in just 17 kt winds, and when the team gets the 20 knot winds it has been waiting for, the outright record of 50.57 kts set by French kite-boarder Alexandre Caizergues in Namibia on October 4, 2008 will almost certainly be bettered.

The outright world record for a sailing craft of any type has hovered just below sailing’s “four minute mile” of 50 knots for many years and was heavily under attack throughout 2008 with four sailing boats attempting records, the incumbent, record-holding, sailboarding fraternity continuing to push the limits down the one kilometre long man-made French Trench at Saintes Maries de la Mer, and more recently, the ratification of kite-boards enabling new record holders from the newly embraced kite-boarding fraternity.

The impressive array of boats attempting the record in 2008 makes it a landmark year for speed sailing – be sure to check out the official web sites of the French Hydroptere, the Australian Wotrocket and the British Sailrocket, with another three or four boats in the latter development or construction phase of their attempts.

French windsurfer Antoine Albeau claimed the outright speed sailing record in March, 2008 with a run of 49.09 kts, besting the two previous outright records of fellow-sailboarder Finian Maynard also set at Saintes Maries de la Mer.

A concerted kite-boarding attempt on the record in Luderitz, Namibia during September/October saw the record broken three times by first American Rob Douglas (49.84 kts) on September 20 then Frenchman Sebastien Cattelan pushed it above the milestone figure with 50.26 kts on October 3. Check out this video of the record breaking run.

Like the four minute mile before it, once the barrier had been breached, it didn’t take long for it to be broken again. Another French kite-boarder, Alexandre Caizergues pushed the record to 50.57 kts on October 4. Here’s Caizergues in his world record run.

The subsequent ratification of the Kite-boarding world records by the WSSR Council and support of the claim by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) saw the Outright World Sailing Speed Record held by a Kite-board for the first time, and a lot of people wondering about what the ramifications of the decision will be. The kite-board’s use of a decoupled power source (rather than the fixed power source, or sail, of the relatively conventional craft) and kinetics means that techniques that were previously outlawed will come into play for future attempts.

While authorities agree that kite-boards should be regarded as legitimate sail craft, the decision to ratify kite-boarding as sailing will have far reaching ramifications for the sport of speed sailing.

The decision in December will send teams across the world back to the drawing boards to incorporate these new technologies in future designs and could result in a significant increase in top speeds over the next few years – we can certainly expect the record to pass 60 kts as soon as new boats incorporating kite sails are on the water, and some astute judges believe the new “ruling” could possibly see the record pass 70 kts.

A policy established in 2005 had meant that kite-boarders were not eligible to hold the Outright World Sailing Speed Record but the WSSRC was unanimous in its wish to remove this policy and the ruling in early December will no doubt catalyze a raft of new activity.

The ISAF Executive Committee has confirmed its support for the WSSRC’s position. In its recommendation that kite-boarding be admitted, the WSSRC noted the following points in their recommendation to the Executive Committee:

- Kite-boarders comply in all respects with the WSSR rules and in particular with WSSR rule 9 “A yacht shall sail by using only the wind and water to increase, maintain or decrease her speed”.

- In common with many other sports, a linear method of speed recording i.e. the time taken to travel between two points 500 metres apart, has always been adopted. The WSSRC does not try to measure, define, or give credit for instantaneous speed or speeds calculated on a curved course. The recording of time is taken from the same point of the board at both start and finish.

- The so-called slingshot effect can produce an increased instantaneous speed, but only over a short distance and in a curved trajectory. Following this slingshot effect, speed decreases considerably and whilst a high speed for a short distance may have been achieved, the average over the full course is unaffected.

- There can be no stored energy as all the competing craft consists of is a small board, some strings and sailcloth.

- Concerning the belief that kite boards may not maintain contact with the water during an attempt, the fact is that the kiteboard had to remain waterborne in order to maintain speed. There is loss of power and speed immediately the board loses water contact. ENDS

Brit Tim Colman was the first to raise the World Sailing Speed record above 30 kts in 1975 with his yacht Crossbow, with windsurfer Erik Beale (UK) the first over 40 kts in 1988.

With 50 kts now conquered, the next big milestone will be 53.995680346 kts, otherwise known as 100 kilometers per hour, and that record may go when the Macquarie Team heads back to its speed attempt location on Wilson’s Promontory, the southern most tip of mainland Australia, some time in the next few months. The location is the same one used by essentially the same team back in 1993 when their yacht "Yellow Pages Endeavour" set the then outright sailing speed record of 46.52 knots (86.52 km/h) in 19 - 20 knots of wind. That was the last time that a sailing yacht set the outright record and it stood for 11years until broken by Finian Maynard on a sailboard in 2004.

Both the Yellow Pages Endeavour, the last yacht to hold the outright speed record and the latest Macquarie Innovation, were designed by Lindsay Cunningham. Cunningham lives near the Dromana factory of the Macquarie Innovation team in the beach suburbs of Melbourne –about two hours drive from the coastal lagoon it uses for its speed attempts when the wind is right.

Getting the right conditions, the team in place and having given the authorities the statutory month’s notice, is extremely difficult. An indication of just how rare optimum conditions are for such sailing speed records, since 2005, the Macquarie Team has been spending around six months of the year at its Wilson’s Promontory speed attempt location, and in that period has had just 15 minutes of sailing time.

On the final day of its allotted 56 day record attempt period, the team was presented with the first real opportunity to tackle the type of conditions in which their boat was designed to perform. The 17 knot wind was some five knots less than the team had hoped to be able to operate in, but was enough to power the extraordinary craft down the course in record breaking time.

“The ideal wind direction for us is nominally southwest – the course is on the lee side of a sand spit, we can deal with around 20 degrees of variation in the wind direction and the wind must be between 15 and 22 knots, with 20 knots the optimum”, said Macquarie's Tim Daddo of the record.

"Getting the right conditions is a lottery, and I suspect that underwater foils will ultimately be the limiting feature of the current boat. I suspect with the right conditions, we have a 54 kt two way run in the boat – very close to 100 kmh,” said Daddo.

The team which worked on the project, regularly assembling at Sandy Point, on Victoria’s Wilson’s Promontory, were: Anne Walker, Graeme Hogben, Sam McKeon, Bill Hegarty, Hans "Chuckles" Krejci, Simon McKeon, David Daddo, Jack Brewer, Steb Fisher, Delcie Hegarty, John Inglis, Stephen Bourn, Eric Baessler, Lindsay Cunningham, Tim Barrot, Florian Banzhaf, Mavis Bauer, Tim Daddo, Glenise Burnell, Rob Mason, Tim Whitford, Graham Teague and Trevor Jones.

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