Paul Larsen hopes to use his speed sailing expertise to improve 'practical' yacht design

As if it wasn’t enough to achieve the realisation of an 11-year dream and sail the fastest boat on the planet, record holder and ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the year nominee Paul Larsen now has his sights set on changing the face of yacht design.

Australian-born Larsen, who has lived in Weymouth, Dorset for 14 years, aims to use his speed sailing expertise to improve ‘practical’ yacht design, with a goal of breaking a transatlantic record.

With his SailRocket 2 team, Larsen achieved ‘incredible speeds in not that much wind – 65 knots in a 27-knot average wind. The sailing equivalent of supersonic flight.’

Now he wants to apply these speed sailing concepts to getting humans and materials from A to B using wind and water.

Larsen and his team, based at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, are already creating 2m-long remote-controlled scale models and ‘playing around’ in Portland Harbour waters.

Among their ambitions is to create a comfortable sailing yacht that can cross the English Channel faster than a powerboat – 45 to 50 knots should be possible, although it is still early days, says Larsen.

The 43-year-old said: ‘We need to prove it to ourselves first.

‘But then we want to be able to take people across the Channel and say “We’re going quicker than a powerboat”. And we’re not going to wear drysuits, it’s going to be much more comfortable.’

Larsen grew up in rural Victoria and didn’t start sailing until he was 10 years old. At 13, he began building model boats, letting them go in muddy dams.

‘Because I didn’t have a conventional upbringing in sailing I didn’t know what a sailboat should look like so I had to work it out for myself,’ he said. ‘I found it fascinating, and that persists to this day.’

Larsen’s team are now looking to make sailing ‘more efficient’, and in turn widen its application to include commercial and naval shipping as well as benefiting leisure sailors.

‘For us, it’s gloves off. We want to show you can build a very fast boat with very little resources: that you could build a boat with plywood in your backyard and do the Round the Island Race in any wind condition and be at the sharp end of the fleet.

‘I want people to say “I was going to buy a £200,000 carbon-fibre boat, but these guys have just turned up in a £25,000 boat and thrashed us.”‘

Unconventional yacht design

Larsen adds: ‘Other boats aren’t going wrong, but they follow evolutionary paths. The thing with sailing is it has become almost a frivolous pastime, for leisure or competition.

‘Few people use it for practical means in the military or for cargo: that’s now a backwater of development.

‘A lot of investment goes into the leisure market but it hasn’t been taken a lot further in a practical way. It’s almost like windmills: they went out of interest for a long time, but as we evolved and developed we realised that wind energy is something real and can generate serious power to rival other energy production.

‘With sailing we’d like to do the same. When we were working on SailRocket we came across some interesting stuff, like you can use the sail to do more than power the boat – it can assist with stability. We made a 15-knot increase in a couple of weeks and broke a record. That starts to open up new dimensions.

‘In less than five years’ time we could be doing 75 to 80 knots or, more importantly, going just as fast in 20 knots of wind, so that a yacht carrying cargo, two crew and next to no fuel can compete across oceans with the best powerboats in the world.

‘Yachts already circumnavigate the world much quicker than powerboats.’

The new project is expected to take several years of development work.

He added: ‘We want to make sure we know enough about any concept’s ability to realistically deliver so when we eventually sit down and talk to potential sponsors or patrons we can answer all their questions.

‘We’ll be asking someone to back us for a long ride.

World Record Breaker

Paul Larsen and his Vestas SailRocket 2 boat and team in Namibia, South Africa, smashed the 60-knot barrier with a speed of 65.45 knots in November 2012 – 10 knots faster than the previous 55.65-knot record set by kiteboarder Rob Douglas in 2010.

At the same time the Nautical Mile record was blitzed with a speed of 55.32 knots, breaking Alain Thébault’s Hydroptère record of 50.17 knots set in Hyères, France in November 2009.

Larsen said: ‘I didn’t know if it was going to work until the final two weeks. My two biggest fears were that it wouldn’t work, or that it would and take me on one heck of a ride.
‘Eleven years of work and sponsorship depended on it working, and then it did happen in the most incredible way.’

Paul Larsen has been nominated for the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year 2013. The winners of the male and female categories will be announced on Tuesday 12 November 2013.

Pictures: Paul Larsen with a model of Vestas SailRocket 2 and with the actual speed sailing craft. Credit: Helena Darvelid/Vestas Sailrocket