At the Lüderitz Speed Challenge 2008, the Frenchman Sebastien Catellan was the first person to reach a speed of more than 50 knots (average speed over a distance of 500 meters) in a wind-powered vehicle. The kiters in Namibia surpassed the magical border several times. What makes the kiters so fast?
Catellan's record did not last long, however. Just one day later, his compatriot Alexandre Caizerguez reached 50.57 knots. Now Alain Thébault is preparing to save the sailors' honor with his trimaran "l’Hydroptère". In the meantime he reached a top speed of 52.86 knots, but could not keep the speed above 500 meters.
Dirk Hanel, holder of the German kite speed record (42.44 knots), points out that the friction and the wetted area when kiting are many times less than with a sailboat or a windsurfer board. In addition, they only recently found an ideal spot in Lüderitz to set records. There are often very strong winds on the course in Namibi. The water, on the other hand, is almost completely smooth. Good for kiters, because even the smallest waves can be a hindrance. The conditions in Lüderitz, according to Dirk Hanel, could even be improved: “With the help of a 50 centimeter high wall that keeps waves off, the water would be even smoother.” Then one or two knots more speed would be possible.
With the speed record in gusts of a maximum of 45 knots of wind, Hanel also believes that the efficiency of converting wind speed into speed is greater with kiters than with windsurfers. During the record run by Irish surfer Finian Maynard four years ago, it was blowing at more than 50 knots. Speed projects from the yacht sector, on the other hand, require significantly less wind. According to Hanel, there is also potential in the development of aerodynamically better wings. So the record could be set even higher. “The material that has now been used to beat the 50 knots comes from series production. Anyone can buy it in the store,”he explains. Many other projects are also trying to break the speed record. Although the kiters are now the first to reach 50 knots, Dirk Hanel does not believe that the efforts of the others will slacken. "With a lot of sponsors they have enough money!"
Paul Larsen, who runs the Sailrocket project and has been trying to break the 50 knots for years, names the good conditions in Lüderitz as the main reason for the kiters' record. Still, he is certain that sailing boats will eventually be the fastest. Compared to the kiters, not many in the yachting field would have gone to great lengths to achieve high speeds. Those who tried would have been quite successful so far. “The kiters hold the record at the moment - but that's not the end of it!” Says Larsen.
What is astonishing, however, is that the kiters have managed to reach such extreme speeds with just a few years of preparation. We will see what else is possible.