Sheffield engineering firm backs world speed-sailing record breaker

Posted on 15 Jan 2013

Sheffield structural engineering firm Ekspan is celebrating the smashing of the world speed-sailing record by the boat they sponsored.

The company based on Brightside Lane, Attercliffe, has been a key sponsor of the British-built Vestas SailRocket 2 for the past ten years.

The vessel made the biggest leap forward in sailing since records began, when it reached an astonishing 65.37 knots (75.23 mph), in Walvis Bay, Namibia last November.

Ekspan chief executive Matthew Dronfield attended a celebration event at Vestas’ research and design facility at Newport, Isle of Wight, alongside all the VSR2’s team, including Paul Larsen who was responsible for piloting the boat to its astonishing landmark.

Mr Dronfield said: “We were absolutely delighted to see the record broken in such an emphatic way. In terms of its significance in speed-sailing it is akin to Bob Beamon’s leap in the Mexico 1968 Olympics or Roger Bannister breaking the four minute mile.”

Ekspan sponsored the SailRocket 2’s hydrofoil, the critical design feature which enables the craft to retain contact with the water at very high speeds.

Dronfield added: “To understand the importance of this bit of design you have to cast your mind back to Donald Campbell’s 1967 world speed event and how his boat flipped at high speed, breaking up and killing him on Coniston Water.

“The underwater hydrofoil is an absolutely vital part of the craft and negates the potential for the vessel to flip when it is going as fast as it can.”

For the project team, breaking the record has been a long awaited ambition. The first prototype for SailRocket was launched in 2004 and has undergone many adjustments since, led by its designer Malcolm Barnsley.

Some of the most significant changes occurred after an incident in 2009 when the original SailRocket performed death-defying acrobatics, which destroyed significant parts of the boat.

On his blog in 2009, Paul Larsen said: “It may well turn out that the timing of the last failure was perfect. With a destroyed steering system and without the distraction of going sailing, the team and I sat down with a clean sheet of paper to completely redesign Vestas Sailrocket’s control systems.”

His prophecy turned out to be very accurate, as the SailRocket 2 has brought all the technologies together to push past the heralded sixty-knot mark.

Following his record-breaking feat Paul said: “We are buzzing. No one has done this with a sailing boat before. This shows how unique and revolutionary the boat is.”