The speed sailing team's latest quest for the outright record takes them airborne again


After setting a new world record of 47.36kts in the ‘B’ Class last year, speed sailor Paul Larsen has returned to Namibia for another attempt on the outright world sailing speed record currently standing at 51.36kts and recently set by the French tri-foiler, L’Hydroptere.

The new record set by the French raised the bar considerably leaving many to wonder whether the required hike from Larsen’s previous best up to the outright world record, could prove to be a step too far. Yet within days the Vestas Sailrocket team has proved that the radical boat is indeed capable of challenging the outright record, if only they could keep it on the water’s surface.

The November issue of Yachting World features an article by Paul Larsen on his plans for the next stage of his campaign and why he took to the skies to figure out how to make the next step.

Meanwhile, here’s Paul’s blog describing the incident as posted on the team’s website.

The 53 knot ‘Boost’ into the blue !!!

Yesterday [Tuesday 6 Oct] we did a run in gusty conditions with recorded winds during the run ranging from 18.6 to 26.3 knots. The run started slow and peaked at 52.8 knots going past the timing hut… with no main flap on (approx. 4 knots still up our sleeve)… I got the flap on and pushed on trying to make this run count. At the end of the course we hit a small freak wave (a last remnant of the North bound Atlantic swell that wraps around the distant Pelican point and rolls back up the bay). The front end got ‘boosted’ and it appears that the main foil failed at the top inboard tip due to the centre of effort moving rapidly down with the boat fully loaded at around 48-50 knots.

It didn’t go as high as last time and turned 90 degrees to leeward… but it did the full flip and inverted landing. As I sat there looking at the clouds I congratulated myself on my choice of full-face KBC helmet and HANS neckbrace. They absorbed the impact well as my shoulders smashed the ‘roll-bar’ clean off as I flew out. I was fine.

At that stage I thought… “That’s it… no more. This boat has issues”. I thought the boat had just lost pitch stability in a gust. Alex pointed to the main foil which was wobbling around in the air. I was quietly relieved. Component failures are easier to resolve. The upturned boat was dragged backwards to the shore with the wing dragging alongside trailing bits of broken flap.

Once we got it ashore we could do a basic damage assessment. The boat itself is undamaged… amazingly enough… neither is the whole main section of the wing… or the two end flaps!!! Even the strut is still intact. The main flap is confetti and there is a few spots of random damage that will take some detailed repairs. We got the boat back last night and brought the wing back this morning. We’ve already started. This boat has had a hard life… perhaps the hardest of all (considering it is the same hull/beam and wing originally launched)… but it just refuses to die.

We’ve gone over all the data and watched all the videos. It was only on the video that we saw the wave. The peak speed was actually done earlier where we did 5 seconds over 50 knots. The sun was glaring of the wing angle display. From the PI/COSWORTH data logger I could see that I could have sheeted in a little more and as mentioned, still had the flap to come in. The wind was measured at around 25 knots there so it’s not surprising. The video showed how solid the front end of this boat is in normal conditions. To me it didn’t feel like anything super special. If only the wind wasn’t so damned gusty! This boat has a world record in it and we are going to do every thing in our power to drag it out.

We will go through the foil failure and work out a repair. Obviously it didn’t have enough of a safety margin. The foil itself is fine… it’s only the very top tip where it is supported by a ball joint at the top of the centre-board case. So we found another weak link that may have let us down at a higher peak speed with even more drastic consequences. Looking at the damage now I feel that we got of lightly.

Of course we caught it all on video with stills from both directions. I even had an onboard camera… which turned itself off the second the nose lifted (I will write a whole report about onboard cameras for boats as no-one has got it right. We’ve tried them all and spent thousands… and they all fail or give average results).

It will take us 7-10 days to be back in action. The boat will be better than ever and we remain undeterred. we know this particular boat is far from perfect… but we also know first hand that it is bloody quick and that on its day it should be able to top Hydroptere’s current record. I will happily climb back onboard. One day, just as it has for every other world record holder that has had the perseverance, it will all come together for us… and it will all seem easy.