Matthew Sheahan talks to Paul Larsen shortly after he exceeds 65 knots, shattering his own world record
On Saturday afternoon, Paul Larsen’s Sailrocket claimed another new world record for the outright sailing speed over 500m as he scorched down the course in Walvis Bay, Namibia at an average of 65.45knots (75.23mph). His peak speed was a staggering 68knots (78.25mph).
In just over a week Larsen’s team has been responsible for three new claims on the outright world record along with a claim on the nautical mile record as well.
But the Sailrocket team hasn’t just set a new world record, it has obliterated the outright sailing speed record by tripling the previous best margin. There can be no better evidence to prove that this has been the biggest step forward for speed sailing over the 500m course since records began in the early 1970s.
“We are now in the jet age”, Larsen told me shortly after coming ashore. “We have proven beyond all doubt that this radical concept works and while the speeds we achieved today are probably at the top end for the configuration of the boat as she is now, there is no question in my mind that this is just the beginning.
“As I charged down the run she felt like a Christmas cracker being torn between the force of the wind and the water, but we are now convinced that with the next stage of development we can go even faster. This boat has proved to us that she’s robust and has a lot more to give.”
But if a week in which records appeared to tumble every time Larsen went out looked easy, the new territory came with its own new levels of stress for the team. The breeze on Saturday was between 26-31 knots true which, when Sailrocket was travelling at full chat, meant an apparent wind speed of 73 knots.
Larsen knows only too well what a crash can feel like having flipped his previous boat Vestas Sailrocket 1 in 2008 as the boat took off and flew.
The video of the spectacular crash whipped around the world on YouTube, a graphic displays of how the stakes in speed sailing are being raised.
But while Larsen was lucky to escape without injury from that one, he now admits that his worst spill was one that wasn’t documented. Travelling at 47 knots, VS1 broke in half and stopped instantaneously, knocking him unconscious in the process.
“I guess it made me realise that things were different at this speed and that I didn’t want to end up in a wheelchair,” he said. “The funny thing was I felt like I’d let the boat down.”
Plenty of water has passed under the bridge since then, although progress hasn’t always been smooth and straightforward. Certainly the memories of how things could go wrong and the new speed territory that the team were seeking to enter were a reminder last week to Larsen as to the risks involved.
“To be honest I was really pretty nervous going out there on Saturday,” he admitted. “I just kept thinking let’s max it down the run and get out of here as soon as possible.
“I had a few problems and the odd scare when I was out there. The conditions were so rough that I had the whole of the leeward part of the boat including the wing extension and the beam under the water as I tried to get her up to speed,” he said. ” Then I felt something pop and the boat just took off.
“I knew that this was most likely to be the last big day of the record attempts for this season and I knew it was mad fast, but I certainly didn’t want to have to go through this again so I just kept pushing down the course.
For many, raising the bar by such a huge margin would be where the story parked up for a while at least. But not for Larsen.
“This is a massive breakthrough which goes beyond sailing,” he told me. “We’ve come onto the speed sailing highway, proven a radical and controversial concept for certain. This is just the beginning.”