Either you innovate or you stagnate, that’s a simple rule of life, and sailing is no exception. In order to drive the sport and to keep people interested one has to innovate, take some bold steps, maybe even make a mistake or two. Actually there is nothing like a mistake or two to make people take notice. Who remembers that fateful day when oneAustralia, challenging for the America’s Cup, snapped in half during a race? Since then boat construction and carbon technology has come a long way but it took a disaster to focus attention.
Many new innovations are really just new twists on old ideas. Take for example the fixed-wing mast and sails on the current crop of Americas Cup boats. The AC teams have taken the technology to the next level, but the technology itself has been in play for decades. I can still remember watching the C-class catamaran Patient Lady sailing with a fixed wing for the Little Americas Cup back in the late 70s and early 80s.
Over the years class associations and rule makers have tried to balance the degree of innovation against safety and expense, and the result has not been great for the sport. Box rules have stifled innovation with no commensurate cost savings and some would argue that they have led to boats that are less safe rather than more safe. Time will tell where the Volvo Ocean Race will end up now that they have made the decision to go to One Design, and of course we wish the event well, but it’s hard to not feel disappointed that this cutting edge fleet, one that has been responsible for so many great new ideas, will no longer be pushing the technology envelope.
Highly innovative projects like L’Hydroptere and Sail Rocket continue to break new ground and it’s great to see them still pushing into new frontiers. Right now L’Hydroptere is on stand-by in Los Angeles waiting for a weather window that will allow them a fast and safe passage across the Pacific in an attempt to break the record from LA to Hawaii. This amazing project has struggled through years of financial setbacks and catastrophic breakages, but with perseverance and true grit they not only set the outright speed record for a sailboat at a staggering 52.96 knots, they have attracted the truly elite French sailors as crew for the trans-pacific crossing among them Yves Parlier, Jean le Cam and Jacques Vincent. These guys don’t show up to go sailing unless they are sure of conquering new territory.
In their first year of sailing the Sail Rocket team was barely able to crack 30 knots let alone their ambitious goal of 50+ knots. As they pushed harder and harder there were some spectacular crashes including a few times the boat went vertically airborne only to come crashing back down in a hail of splintered pieces. Nine years after the project was conceived they were finally able to crack the 50 knot ceiling. It took finding a sponsor to fund a larger version of the same design, a conversion from a soft sail to a fixed wing, and most of all a never-say-never attitude that kept the team focused and on track.
At SpeedDream we take inspiration from those that have already blazed the trail. In order for us to achieve our lofty goal of becoming the worlds fastest monohull we have to recognize the traits of those projects. Innovation seems to be a central theme and we too have tried to push barriers and stretch limits, but we have done so within the bounds of designing a prototype that draws upon proven ideas and takes them to the next level. For example a canting keel is not new, but a Flying Keel most certainly is. We have also drawn from powerboat designs with the stepped hull, and high-speed ferries that utilize wave piercing bows to increase efficiency and save on fuel.
If sailing is to continue to attract new blood we all need to take a close look at where things have been, for only from looking to the past can we have a clear vision of the future. We also need to look at the present and be thankful for those before us who came up with great ideas like roller-furling sails and the hand-held GPS. Most of all we need visionaries who can see what the future may look like. With SpeedDream we hope to play a part in that future. – Brian Hancock