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September 2022

The other types of sailing

by Mark Jardine 12 Dec 2022 19:00 GMT
Emirates Team New Zealand's wind powered land speed world record attempt at South Australia's Lake Gairdner - December 11, 2022 © Emirates Team New Zealand/James Somerset

Look on Wikipedia and the opening paragraph for Sailing's entry is, "Sailing employs the wind - acting on sails, wingsails or kites - to propel a craft on the surface of the water (sailing ship, sailboat, windsurfer, or kitesurfer), on ice (iceboat) or on land (land yacht) over a chosen course, which is often part of a larger plan of navigation."

Sailing isn't defined by the boat or craft, but by the physics of deriving power from the wind, and as this has become more and more efficient, it has been possible to sail faster and faster.

While Emirates Team New Zealand's main focus is on defending the America's Cup, they have a little side-project going to break the land speed record. When it's not been raining, Glenn Ashby has piloted 'Horonuku' on South Australia's Lake Gairdner, a large endorheic salt lake, and on Sunday he achieved the goal, recording 222.4 kilometres per hour (that's 138.2mph or 120 knots) in just 22 knots of wind.

This is a marked improvement over the 202.9km/h recorded by Richard Jenkins on 26th March 2009 in Ecotricity Greenbird on Lake Ivanpah, California, USA.

Some may see this as a distraction from the America's Cup but Emirates Team New Zealand Principal, Matteo de Nora, sees things differently: "The land speed project has been a new opportunity to push the boundaries in aerodynamics, structural forces, construction methods and materials fields. What is often underestimated is that the technologies we explore in challenges like this - or in an America's Cup campaign - are ultimately the foundation of tomorrow's technology. Being ahead of the times in technology is what fascinates us about all the challenges faced by the team so far."

The team aren't done yet, and aim to push the record even further, most likely in early 2023. Maybe they're trying to target the record claimed by an ice yacht of 143mph on Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin, way back in 1938, but there are some doubts about that speed and how it was recorded.

Many moons ago, in Southampton, a group of friends and I invented a radio-controlled land yacht class, which we eventually turned into a one-design called the 1DL. We had some great fun racing them in the late 90s and early 2000s in car parks, using traffic cones as marks, and even revived them recently for an event. The retail boom signalled the end of regular racing, as the car parks started to get filled with cars, but maybe we can get them back out in the downturn and as shopping continues to move online.

Back on to the water, the Bembridge Illusions held their 40th Anniversary Regatta over the weekend. For those who don't know the class, it's a sit-in 12ft keelboat designed by Olympic bronze medallist Jo Richards. It's a bit like a 2.4m, as used in the Paralympics until 2016, but also has a spinnaker.

It was a bitterly cold weekend in the UK, but 23 hardy sailors still went out to enjoy the racing, which continues throughout the winter on the Isle of Wight. Being so close to the water there really is no place to hide when the bow hits a wave!

All this goes to show, once again, how diverse sailing can be. Fast, slow, ancient or modern, on land, on ice, on sea, or above the sea, you can be powered by the wind in many ways.

With foiling boats, the boundaries are blurred between surface-borne craft and flight, leading to the question, 'is gliding sailing?' After all, another word for a glider is a sailplane, they use naturally occurring currents of rising air, and they share many similarities with modern sailcraft in both wing and foil shape.

In the same way, kitefoilers are also similar to paragliders and, as you can see below, they're certainly not afraid of getting some airtime. Maybe sailing is a bigger pastime than we thought?

At the end of the day definitions are just what is meant by a word. As long as we're out enjoying the wind and the world around us, who really cares what the actual definition of sailing is? The great thing is that there are so many ways we can enjoy it.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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