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Weymouth Speed Week 2022 - 50 years on, and one of the best ever

by Weymouth Speed Week 27 Oct 2022 20:00 BST 15-21 October 2022

Little did Sir Tim Colman (yes, he of mustard fame) and James Gregono know when they and their peers started Weymouth Speed week in 1972 to see just how fast their boats could go over the now legendary 500m course. This historical place that many, many world and national records were set including Icarus, Crossbow, and later Fred Haywood broke the 30 knot barrier on a windsurfer.

Sailrocket started life here, and went on to break the outright World Record. Speed sailing started here and gave birth to the World Sailing Speed Record Council that now adjudicates over all speed sailing records from 500m to around the world. This year's entry list was over full, with 120 competitors from all around the world lining up to take part.

Nowadays WSW is not the fastest place for speed sailing, with places like Luderitz and Walvis Bay taking the limelight for 500m. However, WSW is still very well attended and is still super popular 50 years on. The atmosphere is like no other sailing competition. Rivals help each other with encouragement and equipment, with the bonus of the freedom to innovate and think outside the box.

The expectation was also ramped up by the promised arrival of two legendary boats and their skippers. Icarus, a foiling catamaran that first took part in 1972 (50 years ago!) had been restored by Alun Davies who had been entrusted with her by James Gregono, the original owner-designer and pilot of this revolutionary boat. She broke no fewer than 7 world records over its time attending WSW and last sailed in 1985. The second needs no introduction. Vestas Sailrocket 2 was returning to its roots where the project started. At 65.45 knots, this is the fastest sailboat ever made, and was years of development and sacrifice by its owner, and pilot Paul Larsen.

An epic wind forecast was an added bonus to the 50th celebrations this year. Would the windsurfing harbour record of 38.44 knots set by Anders Bringdal 14 years earlier be broken? Would the Wing Foiling fleet, taking part this year for the first time, set new records or be so slow they would be mobile chicanes? What speed would Icarus produce? The kiters were also looking to break the overall harbour record set by James Longmuir in 2019 at 41.29 knots.

The competitors were greeted on the opening day with 30 to 35 knots from the south-west. Local, Scotty Stallman was the standout windsurfer, who started competing here when he was just 13. Achieving some blistering 500m runs, almost two knots ahead of the competition. In the Wing Foil fleet they were more than holding their own, and the Kiters were able to use the super flat water right by the beach and flying.

When the results came in Scotty achieved 38.02 knots, a fantastic speed but missing the event WS record by.4 of a knot. James Longmuir on his kite also had a storming run of 41.19 knots, missing beating his own record by an even narrower.03 of a knot. The Wing Foil fleet was out to prove they were also a force to be reckoned with. AFS Rider Bruno Andre from France blew our minds with a truly amazing run with no harness achieving 29.19 knots, but he also was disappointed his speed didn't start with a 3.

Unfortunately Icarus missed the opening day and Paul Larsen came down with Covid! SailRocket was all dressed up with no-one to sail her, so we didn't get to see them sail in these close to ideal conditions. Taking up the baton was Alan Blundell's boat Variscary returning this year and was fastest boat of the day, piloted now by his son Ian, achieving a respectable 20.9 knots. Despite these fantastic speeds that us mere mortals dream of, all fleets felt they could achieve more, and there was unfinished business.

For the next few days the winds very were strong, but from the East and then the South, which meant the course had to be set out in the choppy waters of the harbour. Under the circumstances the speeds were fast, but not record breaking, and interestingly in the changing conditions the fastest vessel of the day was swapping between the fleets, and on two of the days the wing foilers were faster than the kiters.

On Monday Vampire and Icarus arrived. Vampire is a foiling catamaran, one of only two ever made, and stepped up to show what a modern foiling catamaran could do and was very impressive, clocking over 30 knots out in the harbour. In light airs on the Thursday Vampire was the fastest vessel of the day. What was fantastic to see for everyone was 50 years of Speed Sailing evolution on the water at the same time. Icarus was no slouch, despite being 50 years old and being treated very gingerly. She came up on the foils and clocked a very respectable 18.37 knots in the choppy waters. Even the Portland dolphins came up and swam alongside her as a mark of respect.

As the week moved on it became clear everyone was focused on Friday, the closing day, which was shaping up to be even windier than the opening Saturday. Friday arrives and the forecasted winds were just not happening. Southerly winds coming over the top of Portland and straight down the beach course at 180 degrees were not helping. Everyone was out trying, knowing it was their last chance, but no one was getting good speeds in the gusty winds, especially at such a broad angle. Then the torrential rain came which killed the winds. Was it all over? The race officer Karen Battye, with only a few hours to go, makes the decision to give the rescue boats a break as they were soaked through.

With an hour to go before the close of the event, the race officer reopened the course. The wind was back and savage. Gusting over 40 knots the angle was still very, very broad. All the contenders were out in force trying everything in the book to make the most of the challenging conditions. Then, before they knew it, the course closed at 4pm, then the anxious wait for all the GPS timing units to come in and be read and the results be worked out. Assembled in Spinnakers Bar at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy the exhausted racers waited.

After a long wait to verify the numbers, Pete Davis from the organising committee stood up and started delivering the results. Would the records fall?

First up, the Wing Foilers... Bruno Andre, with less than 9 mins to spare, broke the 30-knot barrier with 30.05 knots which we believe is an unofficial new Wing Foiling World Record. Beating his French team-mate in to second place, Emetic Mouret had been pushing him hard all week and in 3rd place top Brit Richard Hobson.

Next, the windsurfers, with just over 30 mins to spare, 21-year-old Scotty Stallman beat the Windsurfing harbour record with an incredible 38.64 knot run, beating Swedish pro windsurfer Anders Bringdal's record set in 2012.

Kiter James Longmuir didn't go any faster and had to console himself with fastest of the week with 41.19 knots set on the opening day.

Fastest female Wing Foiler went to Helena Darvelid (Paul Larsons other half).

Fastest boat was Vampire, piloted by Kyle Stoneham and crew at 30.58 knots.

Zara Davis, world windsurfing 500m speed record holder, returned this year taking part in the Windsurfing and Wing Foil fleets and won women's fastest of the week for an incredible 11th time.

Finally, thanks to the WPNSA for hosting us, our race and rescue crews, especially our Race Officer Karen Battye, who comes over from France every year, the back room staff, especially Mike George who has modernised the timing system this year, and to our sponsors, without whom we would not be able to run the event.