Pod on Wot Rocket speed sailer breaks up during drop test

Thursday May 8th 2008, Author: Lisa Radcliff, Location: United Kingdom
Today was the day Wot Rocket creator Sean Langman was dreading. Having to exit Wot Rocket’s pod as it quickly filled with salt water was proving nightmare material and when the pod was dropped almost three metres into the water off Woolwich Dock to test its strength as well as that of its crew, Langman was out the door within seconds.

Kitted out with breathing apparatus, safety harnesses and crash helmets, the Wot Rocket crew of pilot Sean Langman and co-pilot Martin Thompson completed a successful emergency evacuation simulation today at Woolwich Dock while principle sponsor Graeme Wood looked on.

The force of the impact revealed a weakness that could have proven disastrous had it not been discovered. The Perspex covers didn’t withstand the impact of the drop and shattered in a number of places which means less flexible polycarbonate canopies will be installed before next Tuesday’s first test sail on Botany Bay.

“Better that it happened here than while smashing across Kurnell doing 50 knots,” declared Thompson once he and Langman were ashore, the latter with minor cuts from the cracked shield and both a little shaken, but still smiling.

When asked what he remembered from the impact, Langman recounted: “I remember hearing the crack of Perspex, the sound of rushing water and my own heart pumping”.

The first safety drill involved the crew sitting in the pod while it was lowered into the water using a crane. The pod tipped on its side then began filling slowly with water as the crew evacuated successfully.

Then came the more spectacular hoist and drop of the Wot Rocket pod into Sydney Harbour.

“I’m glad we got this out of the way, now the next chapter begins,” said Langman who four years ago dreamt up the design for Wot Rocket while in the shower. For he and other daredevil sailors, this all-Australian attempt on the current world speed record of 49.09 knots and the ‘holy grail’ of 50 knots is akin to the four minute mile or breaking the sound barrier.

Wot Rocket’s nine metre rigid sail, transverse beam and canoe-shaped hull will be trucked down from Newcastle this weekend and on Monday 12 May, 2008, the half sail boat/sail plane will be assembled at Kurnell for the first time with its new components, including a brand new wing which was only finished today. All the electronics still have to be installed in the pod including GPS and wind and speed instruments to measure Wot Rocket’s speed as its skimming along Botany Bay up on its foils.

Langman and Thompson plan to test the design in a controlled manner next week and will be happy if they can squeeze 20 knots of speed out of it.

“It will be like driving a Ferrari through a school zone,” laughed Thompson today.

Langman sympathises: “Next week is about testing the systems and taking it slowly but if the breeze reaches 20 knots it’s going to be hard to hold it back”.

Once testing is complete, the project team will dismantle Wot Rocket to check for any structural weaknesses before an official attempt on the world speed sailing record begins in the winter months.

With a handful of teams around the world aiming to be the first to knock French sail boarder Antoine Albeau off the top of the World Sailing Speed Record Council’s list for the fastest time over 500 metres, Langman today declared “2008 the year of the speed record”.

More photos from Christophe Launay on the following pages.....

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