San Francisco Bay sailing speed record set by l’Hydroptère DCNS
World's fastest boat partners with local experts to certify historic 1-mile speed run and gives speed demo in Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race
On Friday, l’Hydroptère DCNS, the fastest sailboat on the planet, set the first certifiable one-mile sailing speed record on San Francisco Bay. A race committee under the authority of the Yacht Racing Association of San Francisco Bay (YRA) and the San Francisco Bay Area Multihull Association (BAMA) declared a preliminary one-mile speed record of 37.5 knots (43.2 mph / 69.5 kph) based on visual timing that will be certified on analysis including precise Global Positioning System (GPS) plots.
The race authority set a one nautical mile course angled between the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, in winds of 16 knots gusting to 20 knots. The beginnings of an ebb current kicked up tight, square waves. The boat made five passes at a record run between 2 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. The second run was fastest. The third run was threatened by a large excursion boat that did not yield way.
The all-French crew for skipper Alain Thébault consisted of two of the world's most celebrated ocean racers, Yves Parlier and Jean Le Cam, his long-time co-skipper and expert ocean racer Jacques Vincent, and boat captain Warren Fitzgerald. They were joined for the record run by the world's fastest sailor, kiteboarder Robert Douglas, who holds the outright sailing speed record of 55.35 knots (set on a special speed track in Namibia).
"When we learned there was no formal sailing speed record on this extraordinary bay, we knew we must see what we could do," said Thébault afterwards. "Our project has always been about showing how fast sails can fly, and we were so happy to work with the sailors of San Francisco to set this record."
The winds were lighter than usual for San Francisco Bay, but had winds been high enough to demonstrate the boat's full speed potential, safety considerations in the heavily trafficked bay suggested a limit of 45 knots. The boat has flown at 56 knots, and reached a top speed on the bay of 44.5 knots on Wednesday. Sustained speed, such as over a one-mile course or ocean passage, is a harder challenge than top speed.
The one-mile speed course was set up by experienced race committee representatives from a half-dozen local yacht clubs and associations. US Sailing Certified Race Officer Eric Arens (Richmond, Calif.) served as race officer, and Bob Naber (Alameda, Calif.), who is an officer of both YRA and BAMA, was official observer.
"It was hard for our two mark boats to perform the calculus, remain precisely stationary, and track times in the middle of the pitching bay. I was proud and pleased to partner with Eric and the committee to put together a process and protocol to do it in these tough conditions," said Naber, a multihull speed expert who recently helped BAMA create a virtual speed track. "When l'Hydroptére DCNS accelerated up onto its foils, it was like watching Star Wars, going to light speed."
The l'Hydroptére DCNS record sets a baseline for later speed testing of any boat that tries to break a sustained speed record. YRA and BAMA will apply the experience gained to future one-mile speed tests.
With the record in the bag, Thébault and his men then took part in the Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race organized by the St Francis Yacht Club. For safety reasons, l’Hydroptère DCNS was not officially entered and set off a few minutes before the official start given the horde of windsurfers, kiteboarders and sports dinghies. Thébault and his crew remained at the head of the fleet from beginning to end and managed to thwart the numerous pitfalls dotted along the seven miles or so of the course between the Golden Gate Bri dge and San Francisco Bay Bridge. The crew teased out the potential of the flying trimaran despite the current, the big chop and the mostly downwind course. They successfully dodged the wind shadow of the island of Alcatraz and then flew along to the finish line.
This comes as the first reward for Thébault, and his crew in their preparation for the project's major offshore challenge: trying to break the Transpacific sailing speed record between Los Angeles and Honolulu. The ultimate aim is to demonstrate the offshore potential of 'flying' sailboats.