Sailing at 50 Knots - World Speed Record

Sunrise sailing - when the dolphins come to play
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As I meander along in my small sailing boat, doing four knots with just the headsail up and the sun rising in a blaze of yellow, over there in Namibia in Africa someone has just sailed at a speed of over 50 knots.

On Friday, October 3rd, with the help of fortuitously massive winds - 35-40 and gusting to 45, the Lüderitz Speed Challenge saw Sebastien Cattelan of France become the first human being to sail at more than 50 knots (93kph), a world record he held for only 24 hours before fellow Frenchman Alexandre Caizergues did not one but three runs over 50 knots, reaching a top speed of 50.57 knots (93.65kph).

As I drift along with dolphins around the bow I have to wonder why they do it. The 50 knot challenge has been a holy grail of speed sailing for the past few years, tantalisingly close. They're brave, and they're skillful, they're spending a lot of sponsor's money and the aerofoil technology is a story in itself.

They say that yacht racing was invented when they built the second yacht. Even before then, tea clippers were unofficially racing from the Far East back to Europe with the first crops of tea. When these fast sailing clippers were replaced by the slower but steadier steam ships, speed sailing became a gentleman’s sport for the ever more wealthy and fanatical.

However, it wasn't until the windsurfers and kitesurfers appeared on the scene that the pace really picked up, and the yachts lost the speed edge forever. Those who sail fast claim that it's a pure and noble pursuit, and well it may be.

My admiration and heartiest congratulations go to these newly triumphant speed athletes.

I'll tell the dolphins about it - they're sure to be interested.

SCatellan 50kt run long 03Oct Pic credit KOLESKY-Sandisk small
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If you wish to learn more about the speed challenge activities in Namibia, go to the Luderitz Speed Challenge website