For most casual observers, interest in sailboat racing is confined to the America’s Cup. That competition will culminate in San Francisco Bay in 2013, but another sailing contest, which makes the America’s Cup boats look cumbersome, is now raging off the windy shores of Namibia.

The Vestas Sailrocket 2, which made its debut in March, is in pursuit of the world Outright Speed Sailing Record, as sanctioned by the World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC). The current record is held by American kiteboarder Rob Douglas, who set the mark last year with a 55.65 speed run in Luderitz, Namibia. The last sailboat to hold the record was the trimaran Hydropetere, which reached 51.36 knots back in 2009. The futuristic Sailrocket 2, is now hot on the trail of the record.

vestas sailrocket
image via Vestas

On Oct. 19, the Sailrocket 2 took a huge step in the pursuit of the speed sailing world record. In her first 500 meter run, the boat skimmed over the water at the astonishing speed of 54 knots, equivalent to 100 kilometers per hour (km/h), or 62.14 mph. The speed was reached on a day with high winds and gusts around 30 knots, equal to 55 km/h or 34.52 mph. These figures were set with two people on the boat.

According to Vestas, the boat’s pilot/sailor, Paul Larsen now says that the boat has been fine-tuned and is ready for real runs at the record. “The progress has been so rapid that we barely have had time to digest one set of data before the boat has jumped further up the speed sailing ladder. I am more confident than ever that the world record is within our grasp,” he says.

The boat is a high-tech, design and engineering wonder. According to the crew’s figures, the entire boat including rigging has the equivalent aerodynamic drag of a 74 centimeter-wide sphere and is capable of a 3:1 boat-to-wind speed ratio. When the boat is sailing at high speeds – generally above 50 km/h – only the main foil, the rudder and the “step”: of the forward float are in the water.

Updates on the speed-record quest can be found on the Vestas Sailrocket site.

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