Saturday, December 15, 2007


Dave White, previous holder of the production speed record (he just lost that to Patrik Diethelm), is setting up a speed event in South England - Driven By Wind uses a sheltered stretch of water behind a sandbar. He'll set up timing equipment. This creates some nice competition for the Masters of Speed on the ditch in Southern France (which gave us Finian's current outright record of 48..7 knots), and Martin van Meurs has already demonstrated the potential of the place by breaking 50 knots on the GPS over 100 meters. Finian is getting a worthy adversary to play with, as Antoine Albeau has already shown he can be fast on the ditch even in suboptimal conditions by posting 46.55 knots on his first day there (see news item for November 21 as the Masters of Speed site).

Meanwhile, the kiters are getting closer and closer to 50 knots (hey, they can run in three inches of water - that sure makes for smooth conditions...), and the big-budget contingent is hard at work as well. Hydroptere already has the nautical mile record and had just been reconfigured to break 50 knots over the required 500m distance. Macquarie Innovation looks downright low-budget compared to that (until, of course, you remember that their budget is still probably an order of magnitude higher than even Finian's).

While Driven by Wind and Masters of Speed use WSSRC-certified video timing, there's a whole community of windsurfers using GPS to challenge themselves and their mates all over the world, posting their tracks and speeds on And on the Maui Sails forum, there's some interesting discussion on the democratizing effect GPS has on speed, as well as what a nice competitive outlet it is for sailors all over the world. It's not ready for "official" records yet - there are some remaining precisions issues, and the GPS community operates on the honor system, with some rudimentary QA done on the data by the site administrators. But it's just a matter of time until someone builds a device that enables cheat-proof, high-precision tracks good enough to satisfy those outside the community, and lead to ratification by the WSSRC.

This winter sure seems like a good bet for breaking 50 knots - whether it be a windsurfer (most likely in my book), a boat, or a kiter. Long term, windsurfers are running into diminishing returns on speed gains - we'll probably have to come up with some innovations to defend the record against kites and boats, which seem to be on a steeper part of the learning curve. Ultimately, it's all good, though. Bragging rights vis-as-vis the kiters and sit-down-sailors are fun, but as long as people are inspired to go out and push themselves a little bit, it's all good.

The advent of GPS speedsailing, coming along at a time when there was finally a real push for records again, is creating energy that simply wasn't possible the first time speed was big. Sure, I remember the early days of speed, when windsurfers became the fastest sailing craft. Check Barry Spanier's account of those days to go down memory lane (or to marvel at it all if you weren't around the sport back then). And when 40 knots was broken, it was huge. But it wasn't as if people were going out and lining up on speed strips - the timing equipment was expensive, and it was impossible to cost-effectively run speed trials for the masses (the closest anyone ever came were probably the Gorge guys around Ken Winner's timing equipment and the 100m speed run on the Klickitat - Bruce has some great pictures of those runs on the wall in theSailworks loft).

Today, people are going nuts over GPS - and it's not just the dedicated speedsters. Anyone can go out on their slalom or freeride stuff and see how fast they can go. It's natural to want to see, and for anyone who's a bit competitive, it's a fun thing to do when there's nobody else around to compete with.

So strap on your GPS, point it deep, and send it - it's fun, and just like racing, it just might make your a better sailor in the process by giving you a reason to push yourself a bit. Plus whenever people see you come in from a session, they always ask the same question - "How fast can you go on that thing?" Showing them a GPS readout makes for a great conversation piece.


James Douglass said...

Yeah, it's amazing how close all the different classes of sail-powered craft are now to each other and to the outright record.

What's your personal best speed on the water?

G-42 said...

I've had quite a few tracks with 100m or longer stretches averaging 35-36 knots. Interestingly, those speeds were pretty universal regardless of the gear used (100 liter board w/ 7.2 or 6.0, or 70-ish liter board with 6.0 or 5.0). Seems the limiter was always water state - there's just so fast you can go in open water on regular slalom gear. I've had one run (at the Event Site) where I had a 2 second interval of 37.9 knots, but that might have been a blip (although it felt pretty special when it happened).

I can see how smooth water and decicated speed boards would make a huge difference - not sure you can crack 40 knots without those two conditions.

Until I find a reliably smooth stretch of water close to home, I'm unlikely to invest in dedicated speed gear, though.

It's still kind of fun carrying a GPS even on a slalom session in relatively rough water - seems to provide another little reason to push oneself.