Paul Larsen's Sailrocket crashes while carrying out its first speed trial in Namibia 23/3/07

Sailrocket, the machine in which Paul Larsen hopes to break the world speed sailing record, has crashed while carrying out its first speed trial in Namibia, dismasting and fracturing it beams. See previous Sailrocket news story here. 

The Sailrocket team had their immediate speed record hopes shattered following a nasty incident last week which forced Larsen to abort the attempt.

According to Larsen the conditions for their first run on the African speed strip were ideal with a steady south-westerly breeze of 16.6kts but while sailing at 30kts plus, shortly after the start, the situation got out of control.

Larsen explained what happened: “I sailed downwind away from the beach for about 40 meters and then came up parallel to the beach. The wing didn’t pick up the wind so I swung more in towards the beach. She then quickly picked up the wind and rapidly began generating apparent wind taking off like she’s never done before. I made a point not to sheet in too much. The acceleration was pretty damned impressive even by previous standards.

“She then began to turn in towards the beach. I had given the rudder a little more aft rake in order to give it more feel after the ’round-up’ that occurred at the end of our last run in Weymouth. It now proved to be too much and I couldn’t correct the turn to windward. I was doing over 30 knots and the beach was coming up fast so I elected to abort.

“I eased the wing a little to depower and wham… It was all over. The wing slemmed down across the beam and into the water in an instant. Sailrocket slewed to leeward and stopped quickly. It was all over so quick.

“I was still buzzing from the boats performance but this was now mixed with the thought that that could be it. This was our worst scenario and I thought it was all over. I couldn’t bear to think of this possibility. We got the boat ashore and I checked the damage.”

Fortunately although the beam was fractured and split when the rig came down some of the internal bulkheads were still intact which meant she wouldn’t require a major rebuild.

Since the accident last week Larsen and team have worked non-stop on the repairs and Larsen says they hope to have her on the water again soon.

During this period Larsen has had time to consider what happened and came up with this conclusion: “I made two mistakes. 1/ I was barefoot and although it felt comfortable at rest, when I really had to stand on the controls I didn’t have the power that shoes afford. 2/ I hadn’t adjusted the foot steering controls to?compensate for not having shoes. When Sailrocket began to turn into the wind I couldn’t steer against it. The rudder had been given more rake so I could have more feel but it proved to be too much. I was being very careful not to oversheet the wing and this lead to Sailrocket turning into the wind. The line of thrust from the sail was angled well behind the keel/foil.

“I had two options as the beach approached rapidly, sheet on hard to bring the line of thrust forward and perhaps allow me to regain steerage… Or bail out. The trouble with option one was that I was already relatively close to the beach and sheeting on would quickly put us over 40 knots. If I couldn’t regain enough steerage then it would all be over in a couple of seconds. I wasn’t happy with the steering so chose to bail out instead. I turned into the wind and eased the wingsail out slightly. The rig came down instantly.”

“The good news is,” Larsen concluded, “the gig is back on!”