A French startup called Syroco is planning to beat the world sailing speed record next year with a concept that’s — well, sometimes “different” doesn’t quite cut it. They’re calling it the Moonshot 1 Speedcraft, and it is very likely the first one of … these, that you have ever seen.
Oh, and Syroco doesn’t want to just beat the sailing speed record. They want to smash it, aiming for 92 mph. That’s nearly 50% faster than the current record, held by Paul Larsen, who reached 55.32 knots (63.7 mph) on his Vestas Sailrocket 2 in November 24, 2012 in extremely windy (obviously) Walvis Bay in Namibia. Alas, beating an established, nearly decade-old record at all is going to take some doing. Beating it by 50%? That’s going to take some outside the box thinking, and the Moonshot 1 definitely has that. “We had to rethink the way to go faster on the water, but it had to be as safe as it was efficient,” says Alexandre Caizergues, co-founder of Syroco.
Like the bellytank lakesters of hot-rodding yore, the vehicle itself is a streamlined piece of lightweight, low drag goodness. In this case, it’s pulled along by a kite, and maintains its connection to the water via a long keel with a foil wing at the bottom, which serves to help lift the streamliner out of the water and steer it once it’s in the air.
It’s a wild concept, one that’s been talked about for a few years. Earlier this week, however, the good people at Syroco did something that seemed unthinkable just a few months ago: they actually got it to work!
“This was a very important step in the validation process,” reads the company’s website. “The team knew it would fly, it worked in computer simulations. Now it works in real life!”
Not for nothing, but they seemed almost as surprised as I was. To their credit, they did everything right to prove the viability of their concept. “For this campaign,” they explain, “the test platform consisted of a fast boat rigged with a 5-meter-high mast system that could provide a traction angle equivalent to the one of the kite. The prototype was strung to this rigging that essentially simulated the kite, and as the chaseboat picked up speed, the prototype gently lifted over water. The foil came into action, providing the opposing force as defined in the aile d’eau concept. And it started flying!”
So, it works, but a working concept is still a long way from a record run. The next hurdle the Syroco designers have to face is cavitation. That is, the air bubbles that build up around a foil wing as it moves progressively faster through a given fluid. In this case, at speeds that no sailing vessel has ever reached. “The big challenge is finding a foil shape that works at both high and low speeds,” says Yves de Montcheuil, the other Syroco co-founder. “Our goal is to take advantage of the cavitation and not, like most racing sailboats, fight against it.”
“The startup is developing foils that use ‘super-cavitation’ — a frictionless cavitation used by torpedoes and some propellers. It also plans to expand that technology beyond sailing into commercial shipping,” writes Robb Report’s Michael Verdon. “Speed isn’t just our end goal,” Montcheuil told him. “Our software simulation platform, Syroco Efficient Ship, lets us apply our research and help shipbuilders make much more efficient hulls that will reduce their carbon footprint. Nobody else is working with this kind of technology.”
The whole thing is super clever, of course. That said, I keep coming back to a comment from our own Steve Hanley, who said, “Fascinating, but as an avid sailor, I have a hard time calling that a ‘sailboat’.” I think he’s got a point, and this speed record should have a big ol’ asterisk beside it, once it does fall.
That’s my take, anyway. What’s yours? Watch the video explainer below, then let us know what you think of this two-man Moonshot 1 Speedcraft record running “sailboat” in the comments section at the bottom of the page.