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Speed Sailing FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions)

(Note: These FAQ's are neither written nor approved by the WSSR Committee. Comments, clarifications and corrections are welcome. E-mail: WSSRFAQ@dcss.org)

Contents:

What's so great about Speed Sailing? Doesn't this just encourage freakish boats?

Why not a requirement for sailing in both directions, then averaging the two speeds? Or perhaps a windward/leeward course?

Why are fundamental variables, like wind speed and wave height, ignored?


Isn't all this a bit silly? Surely, the big ocean racing catamarans and trimarans of today are routinely sailing at speeds equal to or higher than these "flat water freaks?"

Why 500 meters? Everyone knows that boats, especially small boats, are far faster on average over shorter courses.

Why not longer courses? Wouldn't a measured mile, 10 km, or 24 hour speed records be important, too?

Regarding the issue of, "shall be propelled by the natural action of the wind." Wouldn't utilizing a windmill to energize a set of batteries, then zipping through the course under electric power, be using "the natural power of the wind?" Aren't open ocean wave systems caused by the "natural wind?" Why aren't speeds using "surfing" conditions allowed?

How about releasing a manned helium balloon into a 70 knot gale, trailing a bit of line in the water, and timing this "yacht" for 500 meters. Would this be acceptable?

What about accelerating a hydrofoil from rest, then dropping off the floatation hulls and continuing on foils alone?

What's this about "at least one crew?" Aren't model boats allowed?

Why is the precise time-of-day of a run so important? What happens if there is a tie?

I see skippers changing whole rigs, foils and crew on the beach between runs. What exactly constitutes an "entry?"

Must a WSSR-approved speed course be exactly 500 meters in length? How must it be measured?

Just how accurate must timing equipment be? Does the WSSR require horrendously expensive timing schemes?

What about tidal (or other) current on the course? At what point will an attempt be invalidated?

What about this "stored power" issue. Can an entrant use powered winches, or powered foil actuators? How about powered navigation gear, such as a GPS, or automatic wind-sensing/auto-pilot gear?

How is "unusual" sail area (such as inflated kites, wingsails, or Flettner rotors) measured?

Just morbid curiosity, but what sorts of "cheating" have been tried?


 
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What's so great about Speed Sailing? Doesn't this just encourage freakish boats?

The original concept of speed sailing grew out of "bar bets," of the who's faster, cats or tris category. By having so few rules, wildly disparate boat-types may compete directly against each other. Even today, many such arguments are settled on speed sailing courses (multihulls/Aussie 18's; planing hulls/foilers; big boats/small boats; kite rigs/wing sails). Originally, there were no sail area classes even; these were instigated in the late 1970's, when a single large yacht, Crossbow, eclipsed all smaller boats' speeds. It was thought classes were necessary to prevent the sport from stagnating. Later of course, tiny sailboards beat all comers. Today, the area classes are largely a publicity gimmick, allowing an entrant to go after one or several "world records" without having to mount an assault on the outright record.
A second reason for the minimal rules approach is to actually encourage "freaks." Over the years, many "freakish" sailing innovations were first promulgated for high speed sailcraft. Hydrofoils, surface piercing boards and rudders, single, stepped and multipoint planing hulls, sinker sailboards, so-called "self-reefing" sailboard rigs, super cavitating fins, kite rigs; all these are making their way towards mainstream consideration, yet all were first considered "freakish." Today's one-way, planing wingsail speedster may not be able to sail in more than 6" of chop, or outside a very narrow wind range, yet bits and pieces of such innovators will certainly make their way into mainstream yachting one day. Or just as likely, they will spark some related, yet quite different idea in a "regular" yacht designer's mind. (Yellow Pages Endeavour, for instance, is working hard to solve the problem of cavitation of her "ordinary" vertical daggerboards and rudders. Though highly secretive, should they solve this, it will one day be of great importance as ocean racers break the 40-knot speed barrier).

Contents | WSSR Regs

Why not a requirement for sailing in both directions, then averaging the two speeds? Or perhaps a windward/leeward course?

Closed course minimal rule sailing is already fairly popular; the C-Class catamaran "Little America's Cup" is one example; there are many others. Such rules produce very efficient "generalist" boat-types, in which off-wind efficiency is sacrificed for windward efficiency, or vice-versa. While there is no doubt this produces "healthy" designs, it limits exploring the extremes of yacht design. Similarly, requiring "two-way" records not only dis-allows asymmetric boats altogether (and there are some *very* good asym ideas floating out there; some tried, and some not), it also requires a yacht to be measured on a course (square reach), which is inherently not her fastest. As this course is well to windward of a boat's fastest, such a requirement will reward upwind advancements over downwind ones. Without doubt, boats similar to current designs such as D-Class cats would prevail.

Contents | WSSR Regs

Why are fundamental variables, like wind speed and wave height, ignored?

Many believe that windspeed should be measured, and a boatspeed/windspeed ratio used (either in conjunction with or instead of max speed) to rate speed sailboats. Early on, this sounded quite reasonable, yet today the two fastest boats in the world (YPE and a sailboard), while only a knot or so apart in speed, sail in fundamentally different wind regimes. Artificially separating these boat-types into non-competing classes would cease to answer the question of "who's fastest?" In addition, there is a very real problem with wind speed measurement. Does one measure the wind on shore, or near the yacht? Instantaneously or average over the run? At the beginning, middle or end of the course? At what altitude should it be measured (remember, speedboats extract power both very close to the water--sailboards, and very high above it--free flying kites)? Once a "standard" is set, how to assure straightforward, affordable compliance?
As to wave height, there is some consideration. While open-ocean venues are not disallowed, "auxiliary" energy input such as that gained by surfing down large waves, is specifically excluded. Sailing in ordinary chop is expected to slow, not speed any boat, so is not measured. Again, were it included, elaborate standards of measurement would be needed.

Contents | WSSR Regs

Isn't all this a bit silly? Surely, the big ocean racing catamarans and trimarans of today are routinely sailing at speeds equal to or higher than these "flat water freaks?"

To date, no large multihull has approached the top sailing speeds over any official 500 meter course, though a number have been entered. Typically citing a too-short "run-up," these big boats are still winching their sails in, and accelerating, as they cross the finish line. While open ocean 24-hour speeds suggest they *should* be capable of breaking current 500 meter speed sailing records, all too often, these speeds are encountered under surfing conditions offshore. Further, today's entire sport of ocean racing is pivoting around maintaining the yacht's absolute top speed, at every moment. A big displacement multi, capable of 33 knots of boatspeed, will more than *double* her drag at 47 knots, necessary for breaking the outright record. Can she simultaneously double her rig's output, remain upright and also maintain her overall lift/drag ratio? Far from a foregone conclusion.

Contents | WSSR Regs

Why 500 meters? Everyone knows that boats, especially small boats, are far faster on average over shorter courses.

Very early on, 500 meters was chosen as a compromise distance. The early organizers were keenly aware that shorter course, "gust speeds" are always higher than sustained sailing speeds. They were also aware of the difficulty in accurately measuring longer distances, and the difficulty in getting an "edge of technology" craft to hold together over a longer course. They wanted to time a craft's highest "sustainable" speed, and compromised on 500 meters, though the US-established Measured Mile came a close second, and is still used. Curiously, with the very high speeds now sailed, it *is* possible to sail an entire 500 meter run on a single gust of wind ( at 45+ knots, a boat trasverses 500 meters in less than 22 seconds. Meteorologically, a wind gust is expected to last no more than 20-25 seconds). This is amply demonstrated at large sailboard events, where a sailor's fastest run may be 5% faster than the average of his own half-dozen next fastest runs for the day.
On the subject of run lengths, it is fairly well known that instantaneous speed will be faster than average speed over 100 meters, which will be faster than 500 meters, and so on. This difference is predictable within a narrow range for most boats. Nobody, to my knowledge, has used this predictability to estimate what a specific boat, measured at a specific distance, is capable of over different distances. However, it is documented that record-setting boats *have* sailed at speeds well above their record runs. There is little doubt that YP Endeavour has sailed well above 50 knots, as have half a dozen of the world's fastest boardsailors. Crossbow II regularly "pegged" her on-board knotmeter at 40 knots, yet her fastest measured speed was 36. Thus, a sailor who has been radar-timed at, say, 35 knots should be aware he or she has a ways to go before hitting the "big time" in world-class speed sailing.

Contents | WSSR Regs

Why not longer courses? Wouldn't a measured mile, 10 km, or 24 hour speed record be important, too?

The Measured Mile, 24 hour speeds, and other distances *are* allowed by the WSSR, but are considered to be different records. These have all been lumped under the term "speed sailing," as have the breaking of specific destination speed records; Sandy Hook to Lizzard Point, San Francisco to Yokohama, and many others are now under the auspices of the WSSR Committee.

Contents | WSSR Regs

Regarding the issue of, "shall be propelled by the natural action of the wind:" Wouldn't utilizing a windmill to charge a set of batteries, then zipping through the course under electric power, be using "the natural action of the wind?" Aren't open ocean wave systems caused by the "natural action of the wind?" Why aren't speeds using surfing conditions allowed?

The WSSR has interpreted the "natural action" rule to mean natural action of the wind, in close proximity to and precise time frame as, the actual attempt. Any time-shifted energy scheme is defined as "stored power;" one could as easily use the windmill to disassociate water into hydrogen and oxygen, then later employ an Unlimited Class hydroplane, converted to burn hydrogen for the run. Wind waves, generated over long times by distant storms, are placed into this same category.

Contents | WSSR Regs

How about releasing a manned helium balloon into a 70 knot gale, trailing a bit of line in the water, and timing this "yacht" for 500 meters. Would this be acceptable?

Curiously, this has been ruled allowable, though it comes close to violating Rule 8 "capable of accelerating from rest, afloat." Presumably, such an entry would need to be launched from a shoreside or floating hangar, and this might contravene the rule.
This example is often given as an argument for the "freakishness" of speed sailing. And yet, the technical difficulties necessarily overcome by any such actual attempt likely *would* lead to advances in storm sailing, dirigible design and kite sailing. *My* hat would be off to the organizers of such a stunt.

Contents | WSSR Regs

What about accelerating a hydrofoil from rest, then dropping off the floatation hulls and continuing on foils alone?

This was specifically tried many years ago, and ruled disallowed under Rule 8. While it doesn't *say* "all the yacht's parts" must accelerate from rest, nevertheless, the WSSR determined this is what the rule means. No "shedding" bits of the yacht is allowed. Looking at it another way, one could define the "yacht" as only those bits which actually enter the course. These bits, and these bits only, still must be capable of "accelerating from rest, afloat." Relatively simple inflatable hulls, which are not deflated nor shed, are allowed. After several challenges, both sinker sailboards, and kite powered waterskiers were ruled allowed.
On a similar bent, if a yacht has two sections (as a kiteboat), both sections should cross both the start and finish lines with the same attitude with respect to each other. It would be feasible to "slingshot" a hull forward, just before the finish line, stealing energy from the decoupled rig. In practice, this is largely left up to the on-site observer. I am unaware of any run being disallowed because of it.
Similarly, a scheme to connect a huge parachute to an anchor, via a 3-4 part "reversed" tackle, and pulling a waterskier at 3-4 times the wind speed, dead to leeward through the course, was disallowed. The anchor, tackle and line were all deemed to be part of the "craft," yet only the pilot and waterskis would enter or complete the course. Further, little of such a craft would be "afloat" at any time.

Contents | WSSR Regs

What's this about "at least one crew?" Aren't model boats allowed?

That is correct. It would be possible to design a very fast boat, full size, if crew weight were not a design constraint. It was decided that this was an unhealthy direction for high speed sailcraft design to take. Technically, a small non-participating human (such as a child) could be carried, the yacht being remote controlled, to partially circumvent this rule. Common sense, and very likely the on-site WSSR observer, would dictate otherwise, however.

Contents | WSSR Regs

Why is the precise time-of-day of a run so important? What happens if there is a tie?

Should two or more attempts by different skippers/boats each break an existing record, on the same day or event, and should both normally be ratifiable, the first run will be considered on its own merits (and must break the existing record by two percent). The second attempt, even if faster than the first, must beat the now-new record by the requisite two percent, or it will not constitute a ratifiable new record.
Times are now often measured to one-thousandth of a second. However, they are then rounded to the nearest hundredth, and two identical speeds, to the same rounded hundredth second, are considered a tie in speed, though not in time. (In point of fact, any run which, though measured faster than an existing ratified speed record, but not faster by the requisite two percent, will be considered a "tie," though will not be ratified as such.)

Contents | WSSR Regs

I see skippers changing whole rigs, foils and crew on the beach between runs. What exactly constitutes an "entry?"

Normally, a "boat" may change rigs, crew (not skipper), foils, or other gear, but not hulls, and normally be considered a single "entry." A sailboard, on the other hand, may change rigs, hulls or other gear, but must not change crew, in order to be considered a single "entry." The Rules specifically state that the Record shall be held by the "skipper" of a winning entry. There is some question, but only in regards to entry fees, whether a skipper change, on a "boat" becomes a separate entry, or not. Generally, sailors ascribe "boat" records to the craft, not to the skipper. There have been instances of sailboard entries wearing false entry numbers, in order to illegally increase a team's score, in team events.

Contents | WSSR Regs

Must a WSSR-approved speed course be exactly 500 meters in length? How must it be measured?

Typically, a WSSR-ratifiable course will be 505-520 meters in length. It is not uncommon to lay out three courses, using a single set of transits, allowing the organizers to "swing" the course 10-15 degrees, either way. This effectively allows for wind shifts of up to 30 degrees (or 60 degrees, considering the reverse courses). In such case, the "square" course will need to be near 520 meters, in order that the "slewed" courses still be longer than 500 meters. It is common for any course used in an actual, ratifiable run to be re-measured, at the organizers' expense and under the official Observer's control, after the run before submitting it for ratification.
Normally a course is laid out using ordinary surveyors' equipment. Either hand-held tape, or laser measuring equipment is acceptable, so long as an accredited surveyor certifies its accuracy in writing. I am unaware of any course measured by global positioning satellite equipment or similar being submitted to the WSSR Committee for ratification.

Contents | WSSR Regs

Just how accurate must timing equipment be? Does the WSSR require horrendously expensive timing schemes?

This version of WSSR Committee Rules is aging. It is most common nowadays for any attempt to devise electronic "gates" at start and finish, and to report times and sail numbers electronically to a central computer for recordation. The activation of these "gates" takes a number of forms; a human may observe the boats' passing a pair of transit posts and calling "start" and "end" either over voice lines, or via an electronic switch. A sail number is usually included. Alternately, the "gate" may include an infrared beam which the entrant breaks, a short-range transmitter, carried by the entrant may trip a receiver at the start/finish; even a laser-scanned bar code on the entrant's underwater fin or daggerboard has been proposed. Most usually, a redundant back-up system is employed; typically a video camera, running throughout the event, with a calibrated time clock in the frame. Thus a record attempt can be checked against the video tape.
As recently as 1984, however, a World record was broken using only 6 stopwatches and an auto's headlights. All electronic links and radios failed during a heavy storm, and the "start" team signaled the "finish" team by flashing lights. 4 of 6 timepieces agreed within the accuracy of the watches, and the WSSR Committee not only ratified the record, but defended it in the face of protest.
The accuracy and veracity (cheating has occurred) of any timing system is the responsibility of the organizers, and needs be demonstrated to the Official Observer, who is usually the arbiter, though the organizers may appeal an Observer's decision to the WSSR Committee. Again, typically, any organizer who contemplates using an unusual timing system is well advised to submit it to the WSSR for approval long before the event or attempt. Many times, a relatively small change in procedure may be suggested which, if not followed, would result in un-ratifiable times.

Contents | WSSR Regs

What about tidal (or other) current on the course? At what point will an attempt be invalidated?

As of the date of the above rules, typically a current in excess of one-half knot would invalidate a record run, and the course would be closed. This is under the control of the official Observer, however, and should he/she determine that a faster current is both sufficiently steady and quantifiable, throughout the course, he/she may allow higher current speeds. Measurement of current speeds, and correction of record boatspeeds, must be both to the Observer's satisfaction, and also are subject to WSSR Committee ratification.

Contents | WSSR Regs

What about this "stored power" issue. Can an entrant use powered winches, or powered foil actuators? How about powered navigation gear, such as a GPS, or automatic wind-sensing/auto-pilot gear?

This rule has been oft-challenged and translated. If a boat has batteries aboard, and uses them for other than instruments (as for an auto-pilot, or foil-height actuators), some method of regenerating the electricity used is required (as by a wind- or water-generator), and the entrant must prove that the state of his batteries is the same after the run as before. Though well beyond the "instrument-only" rule, this has become a normal allowance. Instrumentation is clearly allowed; a GPS would be fine; connecting it to an electric auto pilot requires re-generation of the power used. Mechanical auto-pilots are allowed, as would direct-connect watermill/winch grinders, for instance.
Human-generated power, and human-powered control surfaces (as in a pedaled Flettner rotor) is acceptable. A human-powered wind or water propellor, assisting the sails' power, is not allowed.
More esoterically, systems such as a hang-glider towed water-skier could be allowed, provided, a) The hang glider pilot "kites" his aircraft up from rest afloat (Rule 8), picks his waterskier up in deep water (Rule 8 again) using either a non-elastic tether, or can prove the elongation of the tether is the same at the beginning of the run as at the end (Rule 6), and b) That the hang glider crosses both the start and finish lines at the same altitude, and at the same attitude, with respect to the water skier (Rule 6 again). Alternatively, at least one WSSR Committee member told me that a hang glider likely would be allowed to launch from altitude ashore, provided that his run-start and finish altitudes were identical, and he was able to demonstrate that he could kite the craft up from the surface, at least once.
For kite-powered craft, second-boat assistance and kite-launch from shore have both been allowed (though either seems contra-indicated by Rule 8). However, a second boat may not tow the kite in order to launch it, nor power it to altitude, then transfer it to the sailcraft. Any powered sensors or actuating devices, on the kite or other airborne element, are subject to the same regeneration rules as on boats.
Helium inflation, of kite, balloon, or other airborne element, has been contested and ruled acceptable, by the WSSR Committee.

Contents | WSSR Regs

How is "unusual" sail area (such as inflated kites, wingsails, or Flettner rotors) measured?

Typically, measurement of wingmasts, wingsails and inflated kites or other structures is taken as half the total surface area of both "skins" of the structure. This is in accordance with the IRYA standards, for measuring wingmasts and wingsails. Note that this is not the "projected" area of the rig.
In addition, in measuring rig or rig elements capable of accelerating independently of the craft (such as kites, windmill or auto-gyro rigs), and also for ultra-high lift rigs (Flettner or Thom rotors), the sail area measured is the "blade" or rotor area only, and not the "swept," "disc" or "effective" area. This is a distinct advantage for these types of craft, and is currently allowed in order to encourage their development.

Contents | WSSR Regs

Just morbid curiosity, but what sorts of "cheating" have been tried?

A number of schemes have been attempted. By far the most common is also the most innocuous: A very fast run is flawed by a timing bobble, someone blocks the video camera at a crucial moment, a radio link fails, etc. It is not uncommon for the timing crew to "interpolate" the time, and attempt to ratify it. Though potentially perfectly innocent, this is very much *not* allowed. Timing crews are often provided by the entries themselves, or are subject to bribes, nationalism, even enthusiasm for breaking a record at *this* event. The WSSR observer for any event must not have any ties to any entry, and almost always must be from another country than the one hosting the event. The WSSR is very quick to de-certify any observer allowing questionable runs, and their observers are scrupulously conservative and honest.
Other outright cheating incidents have included two sailboards, wearing the same number, to cooperate in "switching" during runs at crowded events; the starting boat not being the finishing boat. (At least once, this was the unintentional result of a timer mis-reading a sail number. The video tape appeared to corroborate the fast run. The entrant himself dis-allowed it, insisting he could not have been that fast.) Outright bribing of timers has been tried; "nationalism" in timing and/or control personnel has been an issue--some events now run with professional timing teams, unassociated with anybody in the sport. Even perfectly bona-fide, ratifiable record runs are sometimes suspect, and a quiet investigation of the boat, team or event organization may be contemplated by the WSSR, prior to ratification.

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