Over 10 years have passed since the launch of the first Sailrocket in 2002, but on November 16, 2012 Paul Larsen, sailing Vestas Sailrocket 2, finally achieved his goal: to set a new outright sailing speed record (subject to ratification by the World Sailing Speed Record Council).
Where it all began
I remember the launch of the first Sailrocket in Southampton in 2002. Back then we thought the boat looked crazy, and its 'pilot' (for want of a better word) Paul Larsen, was more than a little crazy himself. But he was determined and believed he could achieve his challenge. Bit by bit, through triumph and disaster (most notably the machine's spetacular crash in 2008), through dogged determination, and the support of his team - including partner Helena Darvelid - the project inched itself closer to its goal. But it was a goal that kept on moving, ever upwards... by over nine knots over the course of those 10 years. The big question was could a sailing boat, albeit a radical one, beat the speeds set by the kitesurfing set?
Vestas Sailrocket 2 answered that question with a resounding 'yes!'
The writing was on the wall when Sailrocket 2 posted an impressive 54.08 average (see Sailrocket Hits 61.92 Knots!), just 1.57 knots off the record, on November 12. Then, just four days later, it smashed the previous outright record by the biggest margin in the record's history. The news broke on the team's live Twitterfeed: "That's it... We've smashed the arse off it! 59 knot average. Live from end of speed spot!"
Vestas Sailrocket 2 was launched in March 2011, in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, before heading for windy Walvis Bay in Namibia, where the first Sailrocket had set a 52 knot record - the fastest for a sailing boat. This season Sailrocket 2 returned, with a new foil package, and it was out on its 13th run, in moderate conditions with around 25 knots of wind average that Paul Larsen averaged 59.23 knots over the record 500 metre course - with his speed peaking at over 63 knots!
After setting the record. Paul Larsen wrote in his blog: "It's just soaking in now... with the Champagne. Calling friends, team members... all are family tonight."
He added: "I'm sitting here with great French champagne all around and smiling people. Vestas Sailrocket 2 sits outside on the lawn shivering lightly in the decreasing breeze. She has the noble composure of a race winning horse that struts around wondering what all the fuss is about. Christ... I'm buzzing and I know it is just going to get better. I will have this for life now. I have too many people to thank I don't know where to start."
"There's more to come"
Paul Larsen's words were indeed prophetic. Just two days later Sailrocket's website proclaimed: "The Outright biggest hangover is over... and the wind is blowing. Time to saddle up once more." Saddle up he did... and in pursuit of a new mile record, not only smashed that, but improved slightly on his record-breaking run.
"Just in after the most incredible run," Larsen reported. "A whole nautical mile dipping well into the 60's on each gust. We peaked near or over 64 knots and beat our previous 500 metre average. I don't think we cracked 60 knots as a 500 metre average though. But anyway... we smashed the nautical mile record."
A little later the numbers were confirmed: "Trimble data in now... 55.32 knots for the mile subject to WSSRC ratification. That's it. 63.98 knots 1 second peak... so definitely over 64 for a spike in there... and just marginally quicker than our previous best 500 metres at 59.38 knots..."
Watching the video gives just a small insight into how difficult Sailrocket is to sail... but Paul Larsen has had 10 years of training, but it was still a tough ask. "It's not an easy run to do on a course that is only 1.04 nautical miles long. I have to wind the boat up in rough water at the start and launch it out into rough water at full pelt at the end. Bloody interesting sailing in a boat specifically designed for flatter water."
The team continues its pursuit of even faster speeds, believing Sailrocket 2 is capable of even more. It's truly an amazing achievement, and there's every chance the record will be broken once again before the season closes.