As rival teams close in on the 50-knot speed barrier, UK-based SailRocket considers moving abroad


British weather in the winter – what is it good for? Not even speed sailing, it seems. Our unstable conditions have put the brakes on the UK-based SailRocket project, which Australian sailor Paul Larsen and British engineer Malcolm Barnsley designed to try break the elusive 50-knot speed barrier, a goal that has become sailing’s most challenging technical quest. This has become such a serious difficulty that Larsen is looking at the practicalities of quitting Britain for the steady tradewinds of Walvis Bay, Namibia.

Since being launched in 2004, SailRocket has been based in Weymouth. It was fitted with a wingsail this autumn as part of the next phase of development. “We’ve sailed with the solid wing four times and done just under five minutes of continuous sailing, but we’ve already got it up to 31 knots,” says Larsen. “The trouble is the wind has been super-strong. We might get 10 knots for an hour and then it’s up to 30 and very squally. It’s too volatile an area and time of year. We want a regular 20-22 knots.”

Meanwhile, the big French multihull foiler L’Hydroptère last week punched well above the 45-knot barrier where so many projects have come to a grinding halt to reach an incredible 47.2 knots. Check out the impressive video at 

Larsen says: “We’re watching closely. Their conviction and determination is paying off. The problem is that in order to get up to 50 you have that age-old problem of having to sail with a lower centre of effort, which means less sail up and bigger winds and waves, but they’re up there. The record is never going to be easier than it is now and we’ve got to grab it while it’s still below 50 knots.”

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