How much faster can man sail round the world on the wind?


For this year at least the benchmark for a solo round the world record is set and it is the turn of the fully crewed teams to prove how fast a sailing craft with no limitations can circumnavigate the globe. The question is not whether that record will be broken, because some day soon it will be, but how much faster man can go with the wind.

How much quicker than 50 days, or 18 knots average speed, can we get?

Records are almost always set by a bigger boat. That is rule Number 1. It is why many ace sailors, such as Alain Gautier, volubly scorn them.

Franck Cammas’s Groupama 3, now over 500 miles ahead of the marker time, relies on being faster than Orange 2 on the basis of her greater power, ie extra righting moment and sail area.

In addition, drag is reduced and lift increased with the use of elliptical foils on the floats, which can give an increase in performance of around 10% at speeds over 20 knots.

That supposes, of course, that the foils can stand the dynamic loads they will see in a 50-day circumnavigation and that the boat doesn’t hit anything. Groupama’s are built to withstand theoretical maximum loads of around 75 tonnes.

Yet even as Groupama 3 shows her heels to the record, the next leap up in size is being created. The new maxi trimaran Banque Populaire V is bigger still. She is being assembled in Lorient and is due for launch this spring, and this leviathan is 40m, or 131ft from stem to stern.

The picture above shows her gigantic main hull leaving the yard in Cherbourg to join up with other parts of the structure in Lorient, and look how tiny the police escort seems.

The differences between the two latest generation speed machines are remarkable. Banque Pop will be quite substantially sized up compared with Groupama: 27 per cent heavier, but with 33 per cent more downwind sail area and longer by 8.5m. More highly loaded all round, too, and so requiring much more brute manpower.

If this works, of course, it will push designs bigger still. All that records ever do is prove empirically that more is possible.