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Wot Rocket to attempt to reclaim sail speed record

by Lisa Ratcliff on 7 May 2008
WotRocket to attempt record next week © Andrea Francolini Photography http://www.afrancolini.com/

The countdown to Australia's attempt to reclaim the 500m world speed sailing record last held in 1993 will begin this week with a Wot Rocket crew safety drill before on-water trials commence on Botany Bay next week. Wot Rocket is half sailboat and half sailplane; a nine metre long canoe style hull with two tiny foils, each about a sixth of the size of a Moth foil and a nine metre rigid sail, then a transverse beam out to an aerodynamic twin pod crew compartment. It is built entirely from carbon fibre and weighs approximately 400 kilos.

With a diver on hand, pilot Sean Langman and co-pilot Martin Thompson will practice an emergency evacuation from the upside down pod of Wot Rocket in the Qantas Jet Base pool (Sydney) this Thursday 8 May at 10am.

Then, from Tuesday 13 to Friday 16 May, Wot Rocket will be launched at the seaside suburb of Kurnell to attempt to break the current world speed sailing record of 49.09 knots (90.9 kilometres per hour) set by French sail boarder Antoine Albeau in France in March this year.

Should the record be broken unofficially, a bona fide World Sailing Speed Record Council timekeeper will be called in to ratify the time during an official attempt to put Australia back on top of the list of the fastest speeds ever achieved on water. The last time Australia held the record was when the trimaran Yellow Pages Endeavour set a then fastest time of 46.52 knots back in 1993.

The idea for Wot Rocket was conceived four years ago by 18 foot skiff champion, Rolex Sydney Hobart veteran and trailblazer Sean Langman who was inspired by the story of Burt Munro, the Kiwi who set a world land speed record on his modified Indian Scout motorcycle in 1967 at the Bonneville salt flats in Utah, USA.

Langman joined forces with leading Australian designer Andy Dovell, sought input from a number of 747 pilots for their invaluable aeronautical knowledge, had it built using the staff and facilities at his various Noakes Boat & Shipyards and finally teamed up with Wotif.com founder Graeme Wood who invested in the project because he 'likes left of field ideas'.

'We are really venturing into the unknown with next week's testing,' admitted Langman today.

The difference between this sailboat/sail plane and any that have come before it is that it will be attempting to break through the water speed barrier using a technology as yet untried on any sailing craft - supercavitation - to reduce the drag which is around 1,000 times greater in the water than in air.

Supercavitation will in effect mean Wot Rocket flies in a gas bubble created by the outward deflection of water by a specially shaped nose cone and the expansion of gases from its fin and foil design. By keeping water from contacting the surface of the body of Wot Rocket, this will significantly reduce drag and allow extremely high speeds.

The concept behind the Wot Rocket approach is to induce supercavitation at lower speeds where control can still be maintained and from there push through to the top speeds.

Supercavitation means Wot Rocket should only require a fraction of the 45-50 knot winds that Albeau needed to go 0.39 knots better than the previous record. A moderate 18-20 knots should do the trick believes Langman.
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