Paul Larsen in the Vestas Sailrocket runs at 65.45 knots (75 mph) to become the new World Speed Sailing Record

Australian Paul Larsen, sailing the British-designed and -built Vestas SailRocket 2, an inclined rig Hydrofoil, set a new 500 meter speed sailing record on Nov 16 with a 59.23 knot run in Walvis Bay, Namibia (video).

Larsen and the Vestas Sailrocket at high speed. Image copyright Helena Darvelid and Vestas.
On Nov 18, 2012, Larsen set a new record for the nautical mile at 55.32 knots while pushing the 500 meter record to 59.38 knots (video).

Both of the Vestas Sailrocket team’s technical leads, being Sailrocket 2’s designer Malcolm Barnsley and George Dadd, flew from the U.K. to join the team in Namibia two days ago, with a view to being on hand for what are expected to be further record breaking feats, with the action set to begin again on Saturday, November 24, Namibian time. Interested parties can follow Paul and the team live on Twitter.

The Vestas Sailrocket team. Image copyright Helena Darvelid and Vestas Sailrocket.

All three records (one on Friday and two on Sunday) are still awaiting World Speed Sailing Record Council (WSSRC) ratification, though a run November 12 (2012) which saw Larsen extend his own 49.19 kt World “B” Division (150-235 square feet of sail) Speed Sailing Record (set last year at the same venue) to 54.08 kts, has already been ratified.

The Vestas Sailrocket team. Image copyright Helena Darvelid and Vestas Sailrocket.

As the name suggests, the Vestas Sailrocket 2 is the second Sailrocket, having been launched in March, 2011. The boat was designed by Malcolm Barnsley and built in the Vestas R&D facility on the Isle of Wight (UK).

The first Vestas Sailrocket became the fastest sailing boat on the planet on December 3, 2008 with a 500 meter average of 47.366 knots, though it was still shy of the outright speed sailing record of 49.09 knots established earlier that year (March 5) by the windsurfer of Antoine Albeau.

During the 47.366 knot run, Larsen reached an unofficial peak speed of 52.22 knots, but on the very next run, it performed some death-defying acrobatics and destroyed significant parts of the boat.

The Vestas Sailrocket team. Image copyright Helena Darvelid and Vestas Sailrocket.

Larsen wrote in his blog on September 9, 2009, reflecting not so much on the dark cloud of the disaster as the silver lining it presented: “It may well turn out that the timing of the last failure was perfect. With a destroyed steering system and without the distraction of going sailing, Malcolm, George and I sat down with a clean sheet of paper to completely redesign Vestas Sailrocket’s control systems.”

His prophecy turned out to be very accurate, as the extraordinary Sailrocket 2 now appears to have brought all the technologies together to push past the 60 kt mark.

The Vestas Sailrocket team. Image copyright Helena Darvelid and Vestas Sailrocket.

The main fuselage and beam of the Vestas Sailrocket 2 are angled at 20 degrees to the direction of travel so the boat points directly into the direction of the ‘apparent’ wind at high speed to both reduce drag and increase stability.

The entire boat including rigging has an aerodynamic drag equivalent to that of a 74 cm diameter sphere and is capable of a three to one boat speed to wind speed ratio.

Larsen runs a blog covering his exploits in the Vestas Sailrocket 2 team and it’s well worth a read. His latest posting covers the record run itself and it is quite extensive … highly recommended.

The Vestas Sailrocket team. Image copyright Helena Darvelid and Vestas Sailrocket.

For those interested in the design and array of technologies used in making the fastest sailing boat on the planet, there’s no shortage of detail on the site, with detailed explanations of the objectives based on the lessons of the first Vestas Sailrocket, the subsequent design criteria, and a range of topics such as “power without overturning”, “living with cavitation”, “evolution from VSR1″, the construction, dimensions, details of the Wing-Sail and more. It’s actually surprising that so much information is freely available in such a competitive endeavor.

The Vestas Sailrocket team. Image copyright Helena Darvelid and Vestas Sailrocket.