ten years after

SpeedDream’s Brian Hancock shares his perspective on the Vestas Sailrocket….

On a chilly, blustery day in Fall 2002 I made my way to Weymouth on the south coast of England. It was a pilgrimage of sorts. I have always been a huge fan of fast boats and back then Weymouth Speed Week was a Mecca for speed enthusiasts from around the world who came to do a timed run over a 500 meter course. Before I started sailing professionally boat names like Crossbow and Slingshot were burned indelibly into my mind. They were the revolutionary speedsters of the day, radical boats capable of unheard of speeds (which back then was around 30 knots.)

By the time I got to Weymouth kite boarders and wind surfers had taken over as the fastest sailing vessels and they were ripping it up close inshore where the wind was steady and the water flat. The main reason for my trip was to write an article about a brand new boat that a good mate, Paul Larsen, had built. He called his project Sailrocket and along with his partner Helena Darvelid they had come up with the first generation of what Paul called the 60-knot sailboat. It certainly was unlike any other boat I had ever seen. The origins of the design were in a book by the renown rocket scientist Bernard Smith entitled The 40 Knot Sailboat. Without complicating this story by trying to describe Smith’s concept, suffice is to say that it was a radically new way of thinking and the boat that Paul and Helena had built was futuristic in the extreme.

I chased Paul down the short course in a fast RIB but despite the conditions being almost perfect Sailrocket was barely able to hit 30 knots top speed. I know Paul was a bit disappointed; they were aiming for 50 but were also realistic in their expectations as those were early days. “There is a ton of room for development,” Paul told me. “For starters we have a soft sail. At some point we will build a fixed wing and that will greatly improve things.” Paul is nothing if not an eternal optimistic and his engaging enthusiasm leaves no one in doubt that he is on a mission to succeed. I left Weymouth that day optimistic, but secretly feeling that kite boarding was the future and an actual sailboat was never again going to hold the record. Read on.