Just How Fast Can Wind-Powered Watercraft Go?


Photo: iKiteboarding

The other day we wondered if a wooden sailboat might be our most sustainable and efficient mode of transport. Certainly watercraft propelled by just the wind do skoot along, (although we doubt handmade wooden ones would compete for any speed records today.)

The record, at time of writing, is 50.57 knots (~94 km/hr or 58 mph), set by Frenchman, Alexandre Caizergues, late last year, on his kiteboard over a distance of 500 metres (~547 yards). The last yacht to hold the 500m speed record was the Australian designed yacht (Yellow Pages Endeavour) with 46.52 knots (86.2 km/h or 53.5 mph) achieved in 1993 and held until 2004, when it was broken by a windsurfer clocking in at 46.82 knots. Mind you, such records are accomplished by exclusively developed craft and equipment, combined with venues and conditions specially selected for breaking records. (If someone knows where we can locate records for wooden boats we’d be most grateful.)

In the meantime the International Sailing Federation’s World Sailing Speed Record Council note that that the fastest solo, non-stop, circumnavigation of globe in a single hull yacht is 84 days (by Michel Desjoyeaux sailing Foncia.) Not quite the in the time imagined by Jules Verne in his famous novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, but impressive nevertheless.

Trimarans can accomplish the feat in about 50 or so days. And indeed there is a trimaran hydrofoil, the Hydroptère can obtain velocities of up to 46.88 knots. Mostly because at those sorts of speeds it only has a few square metres of craft actually in the water.


Photo: Sailing Anarchy

The longest distance attained from 24 hours worth of sailing single-handedly in a monohull yacht is about 500 nautical miles (926 kilometres or 575 miles). Grab yourself a crew of eight and you can add another 100 nautical miles to that record.


Photo: Boat Banter

The Age of Sail lasted about 300 years, until the advent of steam ships in the mid 19th century, which travelling independent of the Trade Winds, were able to cut transit times for passengers and cargo in half. The last real clippers trimmed their sail in the 1920’s.

Will we live to see a day when the modern technology of indulgent record breaking is harnessed with ancient craftsmanship, for the practical utility of moving people and product efficient over water? The impact of peak oil and carbon dioxide overload may hasten just such a time.

And, as we have seen (links below), even steel tankers are rediscovering the merits of sail.

::World Sailing Speed Record Council

More Modern Sailing Ships from TreeHugger
First Transatlantic Voyage of Kite-powered Ship
Cargo Ship with Kites: First Trans-Atlantic Trip a Success!
Solar Sailor Sun Sails To Be Fitted to Chinese Cargo Ships
Wave-Powered Boat Sails from Hawaii to Japan, Slowly
Grain Shipped Under Sail Reduces Carbon Footprint

Tags: Boats | Energy Efficiency | Renewable Energy | Wind Power