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Posted by on Aug 22, 2019 in Equipment, Technique, Windsurfing News | 1 comment

Sailing speed records over the years – Need for Speed

When you get your board planing for the first time, the experience is both scary and exciting. Suddenly, instead of slowly gliding along, you start skipping on top of the surface of the water like a thrown stone. The sheer speed and acceleration of that feels like no one could ever go even faster and that you must hold the sailing speed records 😉

And yet, speed records for sail-propelled watercraft are being beaten nearly every year. In this short article, we’ll have a look at the history of the sailing speed records and the bygone golden era of speed windsurfing!

But how to record speed accurately?

In the old days, any sailor could tell tales of ridiculous speeds they were capable of achieving. But with so many unverified claims, it was impossible to say who was the fastest.

Sailors in the dock, jokingly edited to talk about speed records.

That changed in 1972, when the World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC) was established. The organisation aimed to provide an impartial and measurable results from an increasing number of record-breaking claims. Therefore, they’ve established simple rules: the entry was based on average speed over the distance of 500m. Over the years, WSSRC has added multiple longer-distance record classes, including the 1 mile and, since 1988, a range of off-shore sailing routes.

However, the 500m record remained the main source of competition. Ever since 1972, a continuous arms-race of manufacturers and athletes has begun. All of them, with one goal in mind: to be the fastest!

Cats and windsurfers

Crossbow II sailing around Portland, UK
|Dave Culp Speedsailing|

For the first couple of years of the record’s existence, it was held by the same man: Tim Colman. On his Crossbow and Crossbow II catamarans, Tim has raised the bar for his successors up to 36.0 kts. As impressive as it was, the future of sailing speed records lied in smaller crafts.

Speed​​-surfing to the top!

In 1986, French windsailor Pascal Maka began the era of dominance of windsurfing as the fastest water-craft. From his record of 38.86 kts established in Sotavento, windsurfers have dominated the leader-board, with only a brief pause in 1993. The last world record established by a windsurfer was Antoine Albeau’s 49.09 kts from 2008.

Kite-surfers and space-age watercraft

Many say windsurfing is slowly reaching it’s inherent limitations when it comes to speed. And while there were several new windsurfing-specific records since 2008 (all belonging to Albeau), the leadership has been taken by other vessels. In the following years, the top spot has been bouncing back and forth between kitesurfers and modern catamarans. With their massive surface area and experimental hydrofoil designs, the two disciplines have left windsurfing far behind.

Currently, the fastest sailboat in the world is the Vestas Sailrocket 2, bravely piloted by Paul Larsen. The fastest recorded pass from 2012 has taken the plane-boat hybrid to a whopping 65.45 kts. That’s over 75 mph!

Vestas Sailrocket 2 - the current vessel holding the world speed record
Vestas Sailrocket 2

Let’s get back up to speed

While it’s going to be difficult to take back the overall record, Albeau has definitely not said his last word just yet! Every year, the daredevil attends the famed Lüderitz in Nambia to try to beat his own speed record. In his run from 2015 the French windsurfer has managed to achieve 53.27 kts, close to the magic 60mph barrier.

Antoine Albeau at the start of the speed course. Looking to set sailing speed records
Antoine Albeau at the start of the speed course

While the record is still miles away from Larsen’s 65 knots, windsurfer’s still got a lot to be proud of! The kitesurfers with their giant flying wind-catchers and catamarans with sails the size of an air-plane wing might have the speed advantage. But when considering the weight-to-sail area ration, windsurfing is far and away the most efficient at using the wind.


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1 Comment

  1. Hi when is your next beginner windsurfing lessons thanks Amanda