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Fastest sailboats: The teams aiming for a record-breaking 80 knots

It’s been nearly a decade since Sailrocket set a new record to become the world’s fastest sailboat. Now two teams are hoping to set a new record with their radical designs

A little over a decade ago the race to create the fastest sailboat, or fastest sail-powered watercraft was on. Ultimately it was Vestas Sailrocket 2 that claimed a new speed sailing record with such a significant jump that the competition cooled for some years.

Now, a French team and a Swiss team are both hoping to set a new record and in so doing become the fastest sailboat known to man.

The 50 knot mark had long been referenced as sailing’s sound barrier due to the difficulty of making a craft capable of sustaining speeds over that elusive figure. But with everyone from kitesurfers, to windsurfers, and purpose built boats aiming at that target, it was only a matter of time before it fell.

When, in 2012 Paul Larson’s Vestas Sailrocket 2 smashed the previous record, posting a new outright world record of 65.54 knots, they easily become the fastest sailboat to ever take to the water.

Specialised foils

Sailrocket was a very advanced concept-boat and one of the many keys to their record breaking was the development of a supercavitating foil.

Put simply, cavitation occurs when the water flow on the low pressure side of a foil gets so low that it ceases over the foil surface and a vacuum or cavity appears – usually at around 50 knots.

Larson and his team produced a foil with a large flat trailing edge, which, at speed, forced the water to detach from the trailing edge and create a void in the water, essentially in the shape of a foil, but not made of anything solid. This is often referred to as a ‘supercavitating’ foil, as it uses the cavitation to positive effect, actively encouraging that cavitation in the desired fashion.

Having proved the concept with their record run, all had gone quiet on the speed sailing boat front and it looked as though the fight to create the world’s fastest sailboat was done. Now, it would seem, the fight is very much back on.

Both of the teams intending to challenge for a new speed sailing record list ambitious targets, both aiming for 80+ knots. If this sort of speed could be achieved it would be very impressive indeed.

The Syroco aims to be the world's fastest sailboat

Photo: c/o Syroco

Syroco

If having a top-flight speed sailor as a part of your team is a mark of potential, then Syroco certainly starts off in impressive style.

Alex Caizergues is due to pilot the boat and is the co-founder of the project. He has a wealth of speed sailing records and wins to his name, including holding the outright world speed sailing record on two occasions on his kitesurfer. Additionally, he has won the Kite Speed World Championship four times. So he certainly knows his stuff when it comes to going fast on the water and could well be a key part in this team’s ambition to create the fastest sailboat ever recorded.

The Syroco concept – named after the ‘sirocco’ warm wind originating in the sandy expanses of the Sahara desert – is essentially made up of three components: the hull or module; a kite, which provides driving force; and a hydrofoil, the purpose of which is to compensate for the vertical force and to provide a counter to the forces generated from the kite. This foil is on a long vertical with a T-foil at it’s base.

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The foil and the kite operate in tandem, so if the kite flies higher in the air the foil will rotate to sit deeper in the water and if the kite is closer to the surface, the foil will be move to be more horizontally aligned with the surface.

Although we may be used to foils operating as lifting surfaces, the foil used by the French-based Syrocco team will broadly be used to keep the whole craft in the sea and prevent it flying off. In theory this balancing of forces from the foil and the power-generating kite, means the harder the kite pulls, the more negative lift will be required on the foil to maintain the equilibrium.

Photo: c/o Syroco

Clearly the faster the craft travels, the more drag is induced by the foil, but other than this, the forces should match up to create a situation where more power simply develops more speed, which develops more apparent wind and so power etc.

As with Vestas Sailrocket, the team are looking into supercavitating foils – clearly an essential part of the project should they achieve their goal of 80 knots.

This year, 2021, the Syroco team are due to get a remote controlled ¼ scale model of their boat on the water and thereafter, all going well, hope to be able to make an attempt on the record in 2022.

Follow the progress of Syrocco at their website.

The SP80 aims the be the world's fastest sailboat

Photo: c/o SP80

SP80

The SP80 was conceived by three graduates of Swiss engineering school, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne; Benoît Gaudiot, Xavier Lepercq and Mayeul van den Broek. The SP80 probably qualifies as a slightly more ‘normal’ concept – as much as that statement can be made when referring to one-off craft aiming to be the fastest sailboats in the world.

The craft will use a pair of floats located on each side of the main cockpit to produce stability and is designed to skim the surface. In this respect, the concept is not so far away from the current fastest sailboat in the world, Sailrocket, which also skimmed the surface.

Also similar to the Sailrocket concept is a large foil at the aft end of the craft which will take care of the lateral forces from the kite used by the SP80 team. This foil will be what they refer to as super-ventilating – ventilation is different from cavitation as it refers to air sucked down along the length of the foil from the surface.

As the SP80 foils break the surface, they will be manipulating this ventilated air in a similar way to that which Syrocco is manipulating air created by the cavitation pressure voids. Thus the team has superventilated foils rather than supercavitating.

Another superventilated foil features at the bow, which will be used as a rudder, while a further two small foils sit under each float to keep the boat skimming over the surface.

A key part of the SP80 concept, and one where both it and Syroco are similar, will be the aft kite control module. This module can rotate around the circular aft section of the hull and is attached to the main foil.

SP80 prototype on Lake Geneva. Photo: Guillaume Fischer

Thus as the kite increases in height, the large aft foil rotates closer to being parallel with the water’s surface and as the kite gets closer to the water, the aft foil becomes closer to vertical. Again this is a system designed to counter the forces of the kite, maintaining a flat boat while power increases.

The SP80 team has already made and tested a prototype on Lake Geneva and they also intend to be out on the water and aiming for a record run in 2022.

It seems the race is on to create the world’s fastest sailboat again, and 2022 looks set to be a very big year.

Follow the progress of SP80 at their website.


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