Mid-air somersault

First records in the bag for Paul Larsen's Vestas SailRocket before it does some 'Donald Campbell' aerobatics

Thursday December 4th 2008, Author: Paul Larsen, Location: United Kingdom
The British speed sailing craft Vestas SailRocket piloted by Australian Paul Larsen has become the worlds fastest sailing ‘boat’ by attaining an average speed over the 500 meter record course of 47.4 knots*. On the following run while on target for the Outright world record it literally took off and performed the full ‘Donald Campbell’ in equally spectacular form flying over 30ft in the air upside down.

On the third of December in winds averaging only 22 knots, the super efficient, purpose-built craft attained peak speeds of 51.76 knots during the run down the Walvis Bay speed-strip in Namibia. The speed is enough to give the team the ‘B’ class world record and Larsen, the Australian National record. Most importantly to the team it gives them the unofficial title of world's fastest ‘boat’. This leaves only the windsurfers and kite boarders to beat.

Pilot Paul Larsen: “ Conditions were perfect and I was hungry to begin the record haul. After seven years of testing and refining this wonderful concept craft, I calmly felt that if it was going to happen... it would be today. Vestas SailRocket flew down the course in perfect control. I sat at about 90-5% power and concentrated on sailing a good straight course close to the beach where the flat water was. I knew it was fast but was pretty surprised at the end at how fast it was... especially as I knew there was more to come. Malcolm’s design had performed just as he predicted. Of course I was pretty happy but the possibility of breaking the outright record was right before us so we turned the boat around and headed back up the magic mile for another crack at the record. At that stage I was unaware that we had punched a big hole through 50 knots. I didn't want to just rattle the opposition's cage... I wanted to crush it.”

On the second run Larsen sheeted the solid wing in hard to get full power. Vestas SailRocket accelerated like never before pulling 0.35 Gs up to a speed of 52 knots before taking off from the water like an airplane at the end of the runway.

Larsen described what happened: “As soon as the whole nose lifted I thought ‘oh s**t... we had discussed the possibility of this and here we are’. The nose just kept coming up and I was pure and simply flying. No noise, no spray... she just kept going up until I was vertical. I waited for an impact but there was none. When she went fully inverted and there was still no impact I knew I was a long way up...at least the height of the rig. At this stage I thought ‘when she hits upside down... get out as soon as you can’. She slammed down hard and despite a few bruises and a smashed helmet... I was out of that cockpit in a flash. It was pretty gutting but then it comes with the turf. We are sailing prototype craft to new extremes here. The team will gather round and we will be back in action as soon as possible. I have no doubt that with a few tweaks to the geometry we could have absolutely smashed the outright and nautical mile records(having done 1000 meters at 46.4 knots). The dream is real!”

Malcolm Barnsley, Vestas SailRocket’s designer commented: "We are very pleased with the speeds achieved by Vestas SailRocket at such an early stage of our official record attempt period. Speeds are in line with our predictions for the wind conditions and we expect to go significantly faster in the near future. The team has done a fantastic job of mastering the operation and handling of this highly specialised ‘point and shoot’ sailing dragster.

"We have been aware of the potential for the ‘lift off’ that occurred yesterday, from an early stage in the project, and had already made minor changes to steer away from it. We have several quick ways of further tuning the geometry of Vestas SailRocket and are very confident a repeat of yesterday's accident can be prevented."

A full damage assessment of the boat will be carried out today and plans made accordingly. The world record attempt concludes on 20 December.

See more photos here

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