Monday, September 22, 2008

Going Like Fifty

"It may well turn out that the timing of the last failure was perfect." Paul Larsen, pilot, Sailrocket

Wow. Summer is officially gone and nobody has broken 50 knots and the inching closer has been all in the muscle category. Remember when everybody thought big ole l'Hydroptere would have done the deed by now?

Instead Rob Douglas shows up in Namibia with a kite and gets the breeze and ever-so slightly ratchets up the speedsailing record to 49.84 knots. It's the first time since 1987 (Erik Beale, windsurfing, in the Trench) that an American has held the record.

Though I imagine that, while it was happening, it didn't feel anything like ever-so-slightly to Rob. If you fall at that speed it hurts plenty. And 50 knots? Close. Ridiculously close. And what of the glory teams with their complicated machines?

L'Hydroptere? Sitting in the south of France, still in commission. The latest update at reads:

"Thursday 11th September The technical team took advantage of a few days in dry dock to check the sails."

Wotrocket? The last update at reads:

"12 August Spectacular cartwheel ends Wot Rocket’s first official world speed record attempt."

Sailrocket? Hope springs eternal. I quote Paul Larsen:
"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."

Sailrocket is also in Namibia, the new capital of speedsailing and also the site of the Lüderitz Speed Challenge, which is where those windsurfers and kites are threatening to make hash of the 50-knot "barrier." According to the Lüderitz web site there will be no more sailing until Thursday (waiting for wind), so I guess it's safe to write as long as I'm quick about it. In a different entry, Larsen goes philosophical, "I was braced for the news that they had done 50 knots. In fact I was resigned to it. 50 knots will be just another number that comes and goes. This is one of the reasons we settled on the design of Vestal Sailrocket. It has the potential to go much faster. The MkII will be designed for a whole new era of speedsailing."


Right now it's game-on for the boards and especially for the kites. It didn't take all that long for kites to take over, now, did it?

What a comparison. L'Hydroptere still looks totally convincing. Capable. I almost want to say inevitable . . .

But here is the new man to beat, Rob Douglas . . .

Paul's Sailrocket is really very cool . . .

And so is the fastest woman on water, Sjoukje Bredenkamp. Here she is upping her own women's speedsailing record to 45.20 knots . . .

Sjoukje is probably capable of inspiring a mass migration to her homeland, South Africa . . .

And let's not short-shrift our Australian friends. The man at the center of the Wotrocket effort, Sean Langman, has a wealth of credentials that only begin with his 18-foot skiff titles. He's done it all, or I guess, not quite all . . .

For the record, Rob Douglas took the record from French windsurfer Antoine Albeau, who made 49.09 knots last March in the special-purpose "French Trench" in the south of France. That's been the main playground for speedsailing windsurfers. Douglas made his run in the "real" water of Walvis Bay, and I like that—Kimball