by Paul Larsen
Paul Larsen of Vestas Sailrocket 2 recounts the team’s record setting speed achievement and the excitement that ensued.
VESTAS Sailrocket 2 at the end of the run, slowing down - Vestas Sailrocket 2
Well the madness of the last weekend is calming down and we have had time to reflect a bit on what has happened.
I smile a lot these days.
Ben has been madly editing up the nautical mile run into a video and as I look at each edit and each camera angle it reminds of just what a fantastic run that was.
The 500 meter courses are short and intense. The actual 500 meter run is over in 16.4 seconds. You ride a couple of gusts and then bang, you're trying to bring it all to a halt. In my mind I'm evaluating each second and considering how it effects the average. Does this drag it up or bring it down? That's why I'm saying, 'That's fast, that's fast, that's good... this will do it'. It's my equivalent of 'one-one thousand,two-one thousand... counting seconds'. The mile... the mile is a whole different thing.
For starters the Walvis Bay speed strip is exactly 1.04 nautical miles long. It is a 'hammer head' beach between two lagoons.
You can see the magic mile of speed spot marked by the 500 meter strip here. For the mile run I start in the distant 'second' lagoon at the top right of the picture and come towards the yacht club. I run out into first 'Walvis Bay' lagoon to finish.
In order for me to hit the start of the mile flying I need to be dropped out somewhere in the exposed waters of the second lagoon. I need to get started in what is considered pretty rough water for a dedicated speed sailing boat. It's a bit like taking an F1 car off road. You can do it... but it's not ideal. VSR2 is a tough boat built to live in the real world of Walvis Bay. It's a slightly 'jacked up' F1 car. We decided to do the mile as it didn't feel very windy and I didn't think we would have good conditions for a shot at our previous Outright record. The tide was also high which meant that I could use the full mile and not be forced to stop by the shallows at the end. We had never attempted the mile with this boat so now was as good a time as any to try.
The startup procedure from a distant shore around the back of 'speed-spot' went really well. It took a long time but we got into a good position to get a run into the start of the course.
A proper small swell was running and VSR2 was rolling around as the RIB escorted me into position. My worry was that we would dip the low, horizontal wing extension between swells and do damage. Fortunately we managed to get away before this happened. VSR2 started planing quite quickly and I focused on picking up the transits to line me up with the course.
I had to ease the wing out a bit to stop from accelerating too hard. We were well positioned but had to cover a couple of hundred meters of lumpy water before we got in close to the nice flat protected water... the good stuff. I was running at 90 degrees to the swell so steering a lot to ride along the crests and choose a smooth line.
I was playing the wing to manage the speed and ... you know, sailing it like a normal boat. Whilst I was a bit worried about the risk... I was also enjoying playing with this wonderful boat in a new environment. I had to pick the point to start winding her up to speed. I know we can't hit the start at full pelt as it is just too rough but I wanted to push the whole mile hard.
I started the mile at only 38 knots. The wind had come up to near ideal design conditions so I knew that if we could get onto the course that the record would be in serious trouble. Well now we were on the course in good shape so the hammer went down. VSR2 launched quickly over 50 knots once I sheeted the wing in. I now had a glorious long minute to soak up this wonderful craft flexing her new found skills. I could see the gusts ahead on the water. The view from the cockpit is perfect. No spray. It's panoramic. The drops in speed between the gust induced lunges of acceleration weren't that big.
'This is good, that's fast, that's in the bank, this'll count...' By half way down I knew that Hydroptere was in serious trouble. We hit over 60 knots well before we went past the timing hut and camera position. The wind was registering 23-26 knots steady as we went past the Tacktick weather station.
We were hanging around the 58-60 knot mark when we got the next solid gust and flew deep into the 60's again. We peaked at 64.78 knots in this gust (74.55 mph, 120kph). The front float was sort of floating off the chop. It didn't feel like its motion was defined purely by gravity. This made me think that the rudder loads might be higher than expected. If this is the case then the beam/wing combination is too far forward and the front of the boat is starting to fly a little.
This is fast... but not ideal from a stability point of view. At times it felt like the float was 'lofting' and not just bouncing off the chop. I was coming towards the end of the course and planning my exit from the mile.
I knew by this stage that I had more than enough in the bank to bag a big average. I was entering the stage where I would start hitting the chop coming in from the long fetch of the first lagoon. At the point where I could begin turning into the wind by swinging into the first lagoon, I eased the wing and continued a long turn banging and bouncing off the chop.
Breathe. We had made it. The support RIB would be a long, long way behind. I checked the situation I was now in and made the boat stable.
That was an awesome soaking into our newfound world. The startup, the middle and the end were all just so incredible. I knew we had some big numbers sitting in that Trimble behind me. It took me a while to appreciate how intense that whole experience had been. I realised that 'That was it'. That was what I had been chasing for 10 years. Exactly that. Strapped into a wild prototype boat pushing it as hard as it will go and immersing my senses in the thrill of going at speeds that no-one had ever seen before. Yeah, that was it alright. That was the dream that fired the whole journey... and it was good. That magical mile had paid me back personally in full. Speed sailing and I are square now. Anything that comes after this is a bonus.
We gingerly brought the boat back in from the middle of First Lagoon and lowered the wing. Once again we came home in the dark. It was Sunday night and the town was quiet. We knew we had broken our own outright record again but had to process the data to get a feel for the mile. We were all pretty tired. We hadn't even expected to go sailing. No big winds were forecast and we were still getting over the celebrations of our first Outright record on Friday night. Saturday was a pretty dusty affair. No-one came down to the container for a long time on Sunday. We saw the data and knew that the Trimble would record somewhere around the mid 55 knot range. It turned into 55.32 knots in the end. Of course we were happy... but we had already been very happy. We knew we had to get excited again regardless of our tired state so we called Sarah... our local dealer of fine French champagne. We were very happy.
It consolidated our first run and showcased what a great boat we had on our hands. She is tough and versatile. She can handle some rough play and what's more... she is bloody efficient. The average wind as recorded on the base station was just under 25 knots. The peak gust during the run was 27 knots.
I had specified to Chris Hornzee Jones at Aerotrope that the boat and new foils must be able to do 65 knots in 26 knots of wind so that we can get 500 meter averages of 60. The way by which we have developed this boat to hit its targets is very rewarding to behold. Nice work Chris (I did remind him that 64.78 isn't exactly 65 knots. I think his reply to 'pull my head in' might have not come from an aerodynamic perspective)!
That was the perfect finish to an amazing weekend of speed sailing. Just amazing.
Malcolm and George have flown in and the forecast looks weak except for Saturday which looks huge! I'm trying to write this now but am also aware that today’s wind is blowing a lot harder already than forecast. I reckon we might be saddling up soon.
So here is the video from that epic mile run. I remembered to turn on the Gopro on my helmet and we took Timan's advice from the comments of an earlier blog and strapped a small audio recording device to the front float.
Right now we are tooling up to head out again. This slick team is back in action and it's great to see. We are all getting pushed hard now as the workload the project is generating spirals upwards. I'm really impressed by how they rise to the joblist. We have pulled the boat fully apart and given her a good going over. She's ready to be pushed once more.
As a final note, I would like to thank you all on behalf of the team for the joy and encouragement you have shared in your replies to this blog. I want to reply to you all but we are a bit overwhelmed at the moment. We read them all and share the emotion of this wonderful time in our projects life. A big page has turned for Sailrocket but I can assure you that there is more to come.
Vestas Sailrocket website