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Vestas Sailrocket - Out of time and at the bitter end

by Paul Larsen on 20 Apr 2009
Vestas Sailrocket is attempting to break the World Sailing Speed record on Walvis Bay in Namibia. Their time period for attempting this record has come to an end. Latest news from Paul Larsen.

The bitter end... Mon day 04/20/2009 - 07:47.

...Well... Damnit... things just didn't go our way I'm afraid.

We did all we could as the weather once again played games with us. We were looking for a solid, punchy day as was forecast but late in the afternoon the 14's and 15's on the Tacktick wind meter just left me feeling slightly sick.

Sure they were accompanied by the odd 20 and even 21 knot gust... but those 'holes' in the wind would kill us as far as a speed run would go. I knew that those numbers will have a significant impact on our future and will leave me with no fond memories. Local friends on kite and wind surfers stopped in at the timing hut to offer condolensces as they knew how much it meant to us.

Still we stayed on. Dead low tide was at 4.45 pm and sunset was at 5.45pm. At low-tide the wind was building a little and I wanted to get one last run in anyway. For all I know it could well be the last. I got Nick to go down to the end of the course and measure the depth. It was down to 70cm which would give me 10cm clearance at speed. I decided to go for the mile. It would be our only chance of any success.

We took Vestas Sailrocket up to the second lagoon launch pad and got her all ready. It was getting late but the wind was still building. Mike radioed in from the timing-hut that we had gusts to 23-24... this was more like it. Could we still do this?

It was late. The sun had already gone down by the time I dropped the tether. There were some good gusts shoving me forward as I headed dead down wind onto the course... but there were some lulls too. Maybe I would hit a big enough gust to give me a good 500 meter average on the way... maybe it would be enough to drag up a decent mile average.

The lights of Walvis Bay were on and guiding me at the end of the course. I made out the best ones that were aligned with my usual transits and focused on a perfect run. The start-up phase was fast and smooth. I was in close and made sure I had the wing right in. Visibility was good and the ride was smooth. I noticed the pod was flying very cleanly and took this to mean good speed. Control was excellent as I nudged in closer to the shore. The pod was really flying well and I commented that I hadn't seen it touch the water for some time. As the end of the course approached I made sure that I hugged the finish buoy as the deepest water was near there with the real shallows off a bit further to the left.

The boat felt so sweet on that run. She sailed just like the model did all those years ago. Locked in, pod flying and in perfect balance. Later when we downloaded all the data off the PI Research logger we saw that the strain guage on the rudder only varied by 26 kilos for the whole run. I knew that the end was slow but the middle average felt good. We took the pod flying as an indication of speed but I've learnt not to get excited. Once I dropped off the plane and increased the draft of the boat, I knew I was in danger of running aground. Eventually, further up the Lagoon I did. The new and expensive main foil dredged the bottom for twenty odd meters before we stopped. The team arrived and we packed up in the dark. I had read the numbers off the GPS and they weren't special. I mean it was another 40.7 knot mile run... but that isn't anything to get excited about. I felt pretty disappointed with the day in general. It was yet another rise and fall on a roller-coaster of emotions that has been going for a long time now.

We all thought the run was faster than the numbers were showing but later back at the container the big Trimble GPS backed up the little hand-held GPS numbers. I was gutted. The beer tasted very bitter as it was the champagne we were after. I could only manage a couple.

I called Malcolm to let him know. He had been following the local weather and figured we hadn't had the 'oomph' we needed. He sounded like I felt. We all drifted off home.

So today is the last day. 22 knots is forecast and we will remain ready. I hold out very little hope as the last few days have all showed some good peak numbers as far as wind goes... but have been full of holes. A 'swiss' wind. We have done 98 runs down the Walvis Bay speed-strip so we might just go out to round that number up. After that, we will pack up.

Well, this is speed sailing. Unless you are just bloody lucky, it WILL drag every last part of committment out of you. I can't believe that in the past two months that we haven't managed to beat our previous best. The boat is in such great shape. We finally have the boat/team/location we dreamed of and still there are pieces missing. So, as a team we will sit down and discuss our options for the future. Tomorrow we will begin packing up and prepare the whole container for shipping. Whether we actually ship it or not will depend on decisions further down the track.

All in all it's been an amazing time. The battle between Vestas Sailrocket and the Walvis Bay Speed-spot has been pretty epic. We come away as the fastest craft that this little beach has ever seen having chalked up a 52.26 knot peak, a 47.36 knot 500 meter average and a 42.09 knot mile average. Not bad... but in my mind... not good enough. So I guess that means it isn't over for the forseeable future.

If the wind does come today, against the forecast, I'll scream... and then sheet on.

Cheers, Paul.
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