The current World Sailing Speed Record holders are set to smash their own record and reset the benchmark well beyond the challenging 50 knot barrier. The Australian syndicate's radical new yacht 'Extreme 50' is an obvious development on the current record holder 'Yellow Pages Endeavour', but with a few undisclosed improvements. Ronstan's Andrew Coutts interviews 'Extreme 50' and 'Yellow Pages Endeavour' designer, Lindsay Cunningham, on his latest project:
Coutts: What was it about the World Sailing Speed Record that caught your interest?
Cunningham: We could see a good opportunity of taking the record. Sailboards were the record holders. They were obviously a very good little machine but not anything like an optimal machine. We had been designing and building fast catamarans, my father and I for years and years and with an interest in speed. We have had the Little America's Cup now for a number of years and the rest of the world are not challenging us anymore, although we may have a challenge out of America in Summer 96.
Coutts: Many of your colleagues see you as a quiet unassuming person, in fact, with the last campaign we did not see a lot of you in the press. How do you feel about media and that side of a campaign?
Cunningham: It doesn't interest me. I'm interested in designing and building things that will work. I'm a compulsive designer I suppose. It's just my nature. Some people like the limelight, it doesn't attract me particularly.
I'm even scared in some ways because so many people do get into the limelight and suffer because of it. I'm just naturally quiet.
Coutts: You mentioned the word compulsive before. Do you decide the limits and barriers?
Cunningham: Not on my own, no. This time it depended on Tim (Daddo-Mainsheet) and Simon (McKeon-Helmsman) saying they wanted to go to the next step. I was quite happy to go with them. From my own point, I've proved to my own sastisfaction that the idea works, we can go faster than a sailboarder goes in 40 knot winds, in 20 knots of wind. I got a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that the basic scientific principle works. That we could make them work.
Coutts: I believe you have contributed to the One Australia America's Cup Syndicate.
Cunningham: I provided them with a little information, but not much and attended only two of their meetings.
Coutts: They rely very heavily on computers for the "proving" rather than the "hands-on" approach that you seem to adopt.
Cunningham: We have basic computer models and a lot of theoretical design work. I've spent as much of my time at home at night doing the calculations and analysis work as I have done building the boat. Even with computers though, the computer models are only as good as those people who design and interpret them.
Coutts: So the wing is the way to go with these craft?
Cunningham: Given maximum sail area limitations, aerofoils do perform better than soft sails in most conditions. The flexibility we've got in the aerofoil these days means soft sails just cannot get near them.
Coutts: Where did the tripod design come from Lindsay?
Cunningham: It's just basic physics. If you want to go as fast as you can, you've got to control the direction you go in and control the sail force. We decided that these tasks would be better done by two people. The weight of the crew pad provides both the down force and stability. The tri-foiler 'Long Shot' actually uses hydrofoils to pull the weather hull down which is a basic limitation because of the drag it creates.
In 'Extreme 50' the crew provides the counter weight to the aerofoil without that drag and they have to be housed in one hull. Next you need a second hull with sufficient length to give longitudinal stability, but because we also need a minimum wetted surface length for planing, I opted to use two small hulls intead of one long one.
Coutts: How are your speeds recorded and ratified as world records?
Cunningham: The IYRU have a World Sailing Speed Committee who ratify records. They nominate a commissioner who confirms that everything is done according to their rules including sail and boat measurement in line with class rules. The timing of the speeds is done with a video camera at each end of the course with a 100th of a second timing marks on them. The boat sails past these video cameras which records the passage of the boat over a surveyed 500 metres distance. We synchronised these cameras and we can compare the two times directly.
Coutts: What records are you shooting for in this attempt?
Cunningham: The outright, which happens to be the C-Class range, we also leave off a bottom section of the wing and go for the B-Class this time. We did last time, and currently hold the World D-Class record.
We'll have a go at the ladies record if the opportunity arises. Tim's mother sailed it last time and we hope that she has the opportunity.
The new boat is easier to sail than 'Yellow Pages Endeavour' because the rudder area is greater and steering is easier.
Coutts: Pushing the limits, the crew are really test pilots. I see they both wear helmets and body armour - What are the risks?
Cunningham: You make many thousands of decisions when you design something and a small percentage of these are critical, and you've only got to get one of these wrong to have an accident.
In this campaign the probability of having a problem is much less than the last one because we've had the experience of the last one.
But we are going faster and there may be a barrier there that no-one else has ever reported anywhere or encountered, that is unforeseen.
Although the 'Yellow Pages Endeavour' went 50 knots, we've identified why it wouldn't go faster and I'm pretty confident this one will be right. But until the event you cannot be absolutely sure.
Coutts: You've gone on record before as saying, if you build things that don't break they're too heavy.
Cunningham: Well, to a point.
Coutts: How does Simon and Tim feel about that?
Cunningham: They keep sailing the thing, so that's the risk they want to take I guess. We test things as much as we can. For example, we tested each fin up to 100kg (220lb) for side loads and even if a fin breaks the craft is designed to bear away from the beach.
So, we put a lot of thought into designing the thing so it was safe. In fact they even had me talked into sailing it the other day - Now that's confidence in your own project!