by Rob Mundle
The world’s fastest sailor – the only man who knows what it’s like to sail at an average of 65.45 knots – will be part of the 30th anniversary Audi Hamilton Island Race Week in August.
Australia’s Paul Larsen smashed the existing world sailing speed record over 500 metres by near 10 knots in November last year when he piloted his futuristic multihull, Vestas Sail Rocket, across Walvis Bay, in Namibia, at a speed which peaked at 68.33 knots. A few days later he raised the world record speed for one nautical mile to 55.32 knots.
Now, by returning to Audi Hamilton Island Race Week from England where he now lives, Larsen will be heading to the place where his thoughts of becoming the world’s fastest person under sail were germinated.
Larsen worked at Hamilton Island between 1996 and 1999 as a sailing activities manager on the resort’s Catseye Beach, and also for the island’s bareboat charter operator, Sunsail. He went to the island after learning to sail in country Victoria and going on to become the state champion in the Hobie Cat class.
‘I’ve always loved sailing fast. It was while I was in the Whitsundays that I read a book – The 40-Knot Sailboat – and that changed everything for me. The book was written by an American rocket scientist, Bernard Smith, who had some remarkable theories on high speed sailboat design which I could relate to. I knew there and then I had found my goal.'
After ‘regrettably’ leaving Hamilton Island, Larsen went to Europe to gain experience in the international offshore multihull scene. He later based himself in England and started developing his theories on creating the world’s fastest sailboat. Soon after he teamed up with naval architect, Malcolm Barnsley, and together they expanded Smith’s theories, which were based on a premise that effectively eliminated the tendency to capsize.
Paul Larsen aboard Vestas Sail Rocket
‘I can’t wait to get back to the island in August and experience Audi Hamilton Island Race Week,’ Larsen said from his home in Weymouth. ‘It will be like a special home-coming because Hamilton Island is where it all started for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s changed. I’m told that the Oatley family has done a magnificent job developing the island into a world class destination.’
Larsen will be telling of his world speed sailing record experiences at a special Sailor’s Forum to be staged during Race Week. He is also planning to compete in some of the races during the week – and if he does he’s hoping the racing experience will be different from when he worked there.
‘My job back then was primarily to open beers on the downwind legs and keep the charterers happy,’ Larsen reminisced. ‘Even so, it was great fun. I always enjoyed it.’
Paul Larsen (centre) enjoys his job at Hamilton Island in the late 1990's
Incredibly, little more than one month after establishing a new world sailing speed record, Larsen had gone from one extreme to the other. In January this year he was part of a small crew that sailed a replica of Ernest Shackleton’s tiny, 6.9 metre whale boat for the re-enactment of the great explorer’s remarkable 1916 rescue mission in the Southern Ocean.
While Vestas Sail Rocket achieved more than 60 knots, this adventure saw Larsen travelling at an average speed of just three knots over the 800 nautical miles from Elephant Island, near Antarctica, to South Georgia Island.
Once back in England after attending this year’s Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, Larsen will continue to pursue his ‘form of madness’. He and Barnesly intend to refine Vestas Sail Rocket in the hope of making another record-breaking run on the same course in Namibia later this year.
‘I think we can get this existing boat to more than 70 knots, maybe even 80. After that we will continue with our plans to make this concept capable of achieving safe trans-ocean passages where average speeds of 50 knots will be achievable. I have no doubt this is the future in the sport. It’s a concept which has the potential to be applied to all forms of sailing as we know it.’
Entries for this year’s much-anticipated 30th anniversary edition of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week continue to be lodged at a record rate. The 50th entry to be registered was Geoff and Vicki Player’s impressive Beneteau Sense 50, Silver Minx, from Sydney.
Luxury carmaker, Audi, returns as the Title Sponsor of Hamilton Island Race Week in 2013. The German premium brand will host a range of special events on the island for yacht owners and guests to enjoy during the week.
More at www.hamiltonislandraceweek.com.au