Wot Rocket back in action

As Macquarie Innovations posts a 50.43 knot run

Wednesday April 1st 2009, Author: Lisa Ratcliffe, Location: United Kingdom
Following a spectacular crash last August that resulted in multiple breakages, the Australian Wot Rocket world speed record attempt is gearing up again with creator Sean Langman and co-pilot Joe de Kock stepping back into the pod.

In the last six months the bar has been raised by the kite boarding community, which has twice broken the 50 knot barrier over 500 metres, forcing visionaries such as Langman to establish a new Holy Grail and push themselves and their technology even harder to make the record books.

“While I congratulate the kite boarders, I feel going 50 knots in 50 knots of wind is akin to falling off a cliff,” believes Langman. “ Wot Rocket is exciting as we push to sail up to three times the speed of the wind.”

Wot Rocket’s testing ground has moved north from Botany Bay to Lake Macquarie due to the proximity to Noakes Newcastle yard, where modifications can be easily made, and the flat water. Instead of a bumpy westerly or nor’east chop, Wot Rocket can utilise the smooth runway, allowing it to build speed to the point the half sail boat half sail plane starts lifting up on its foils, much like an international Moth.

The first trial off Belmont’s 16 foot skiff club was held a couple of weeks ago with former league star now TV frontman Andrew Ettingshausen stepping into the co-pilot’s seat as part of a film shoot for The Discovery Channel program Sportstar Insider.

TV commitments aside, in a 16 knot sou’easter Langman and de Kock, the crash test dummy from last August, took the opportunity to try out the latest round of modifications including a new closed hydraulic steerage system which controls the aft foil direct from the pilot’s control column. The new hydraulic cylinders mean the pilot can turn the rudder with ease and adjust the pitch of the foil by increments of half degrees.

The new hydraulic system has added set up time but once the oil has bled the pilot can push a button and the controls respond like a flight simulator as opposed to the previous push/pull rod and cable system which flexed and lagged.

Project manager Josh Alexander explains: “The closed hydraulics are direct rather than the lag time created by the previous rod and cable system. The hydraulics are 1:1 which means the steering wheel and tail plane joy stick are connected directly to hydraulic rams, the force generated by the movement of these elements moving the interconnected rams. No power other than human is employed.”

“The maneuverability was the best it’s ever been,” reported Langman following Wot Rocket’s first test sail for the year. “Previously I wasn’t able to control it in more than seven knots. It was hard to push it along without knowing how to stop.”

The idea of an extension piece that jettisons off has been put to one side for now - the force it exerted on the wing sail was pushing the nose of the hull down. To bring the forces into alignment Wot Rocket’s wing size has been increased by 15% with a metre added to the top of the carbon fibre wing sail and a strip added along the trailing edge.

A new Nexus instrument package has been installed including a wind wand on the leading edge of the wing sail that gathers data which allows the co-pilot to trim to the apparent wind angle.

“Rather than sailing like a sailor we are now flying like a pilot, and sticking with our numbers,” Langman added.

The Wot Rocket sailing team has doubled since its last outing, Martin Thompson returning from an overseas stint to join de Kock as co-pilot while project manager Josh Alexander will take the driver’s controls regularly during the testing phase to allow Langman to observe and explain to co-designer Andy Dovell what’s happening inside the pod.

“I’m going to be more involved in the design process, to do this I’m getting off the boat. But when we go for it officially I’ll be driving, unless a different combination proves superior,” Langman admitted.

The Wot Rocket team is ready to mobilise at Belmont when ideal conditions - 16-18 knots out of the south east - present.

The current 500 metre World Sailing Speed Record of 50.57 knots (93.6 kph) was established by French kite boarder Alexandre Caizergues at Luderitz, Namibia, late last year.

Close to the record mark are Australian sailors Simon McKeon and Tim Daddo who made history in 1993 with the Lindsay Cunningham designed Yellow Pages. The pair leapt back into the limelight last Thursday night when Macquarie Innovation powered down the Sandy Point speed course near Wilsons Promontory in Victoria at an average speed of 50.43 knots, coming within a whisper of breaking Caizergues’ record.

Noakes Boat & Shipyards and Graeme Wood, founder of Australasia's number one accommodation website Wotif.com, are major sponsors of Wot Rocket. Other sponsors are Nexus Marine, Warringah Plastics, Harken, Gurit Australia and Superyachting.

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