Syroco vs SP80: The race to create the world’s quickest sail boat

(CNN) – The world record in sailing speed has been unbroken for more than eight years.

In November 2012, the Australian Paul Larsen reached 65.45 knots (or 121 kilometers per hour) in his Vesta Sailrocket 2 in south Atlantic waters off the coast of Namibia.

Two competing teams, one in France and one in Switzerland, are now tirelessly striving for the same goal: to build the fastest sailboat ever built.

One is led by the former world champion and there are two brothers involved – but in opposing teams.

Paul Larsen is a sailing speed freak. His boat Vestas Sailrocket 2 broke the world record in speed sailing for one mile in 2012: 78.26 miles per hour! What is he up to now?

Return to fame?

For Alex Caizergues, 41, a four-time kite speed world champion from France, setting speed records on the water is nothing new.

In 2010, Caizergues became the first person to break the 100 kilometers per hour mark with wind power alone.

With this feat he also set a new world record in speed sailing. A short-lived reign as he was dethroned a few days later by his French compatriot and kiteboarder Sebastien Cattelan.

But now Alex Caizergues has hired a team of extreme athletes, tech entrepreneurs, and financiers to help him reclaim it.

The science of smooth sailing

The sirocco is a warm wind that comes from the sandy expanses of the Sahara. This occasionally violent south-east wind, known to sailors throughout the Mediterranean, gives the Caizergues project its name.

The marine technology startup Syroco, based in the port city of Marseille, is working on a wind-powered boat that can cross the 80 knot limit, which corresponds to 150 kilometers per hour.

But let’s forget about the traditional sailing boat concept first.

Syroco is nothing like that: it’s essentially a six-foot-long fish-shaped capsule pulled by a kite.

The capsule hangs a few feet above the surface of the water. It would almost fly if it weren’t for a retractable arm attached to a submerged slide that provides stability and direction, as well as the only point of contact with the water.

The two people sitting in the capsule have the task of steering both the kite and the foil for optimal balance and movement – not an easy task when the sea surface is flown at 80 knots.

Syroco: It’s a sailboat, but not as you know it.

Courtesy Syroco

Aerodynamics and fluid dynamics

Caizergues tells CNN Travel that it is confident it can make its first record attempt on schedule in early 2022.

Until then, Syroco’s first step is to test a radio-controlled, exact replica that is a quarter the size of the original and should be ready earlier this year.

The striking, stylized design of Syroco is the result of extensive research in the fields of aerodynamics and fluid dynamics.

It is precisely because of these technical capabilities that the startup hopes to derive most of the project value, as this record breaking attempt will not serve as a one-off stunt, but rather as a launch pad for wider ambitions

Moonshot approach

The idea is for Syroco to act as a long-term catalyst for marine technology innovation. “We prefer the Moonshot approach. We want to broaden the technological framework,” says Caizargues.

Syroco’s eclectic founders and early supporters include tech venture capitalists operating in both France and Silicon Valley, a solo Oceanic sailor, and co-founder of a NASDAQ-listed software company.

“It’s not so much about setting a new record as it is about developing new technologies that will make the world of sailing more efficient,” says Yves de Montcheuil, one of Syroco’s co-founders, before highlighting the project’s environmental impact.

“The work we are doing here in areas like supercavitation has many industrial applications and can help the shipping industry reduce emissions by making ships more efficient.”

Cavitation is a physical phenomenon that occurs when bubbles form around objects moving in water under certain speed conditions. When the pressure changes and these bubbles collapse, they create a shock wave that hits the surfaces they are exposed to, such as B. ship propeller, can damage.

However, engineers have learned to use cavitation to create a bubble-like effect that envelops underwater objects, reducing friction, and allowing them to move at high speed. This is what’s called supercavitation, a technology used by some advanced torpedoes and propellers.

Syroco expects to be able to commercialize the data and know-how acquired in this area, for example in the development of computer-aided simulations, and is already starting to work with partnerships and other players in the shipping industry in order to use them in industrial applications.

The race has started

SP80 sailboat

The SP80 is a Swiss rival of Syroco.

Oceane Suchel / SP80

Another, so far speculative, consideration is whether this venture could develop into a new sports franchise: a kind of Formula 1 on the water, in which super-fast high-tech sailboats could regularly compete with one another.

If that were the case, the Syroco team could soon find a worthy rival in the SP80, a project launched in 2019 by three graduates from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, a prestigious Swiss engineering school that also supports their development.

The team is just a few hundred miles north of Caizergues’ operations in Marseille.

The central capsule is similar to the Syroco concept, but in this case it is not lifted above the water, but flies over the surface with the help of two lateral foils that protrude from each side.

Like breaking the sound barrier

“This is the engineering solution that will help you overcome the cavitation problem,” co-founder Mayeul van den Broek told CNN Travel. “This is one of the reasons why it is difficult for conventional ships to sail faster than 40 or 50 knots. It is like trying to break the sound barrier on an airplane.”

The SP80 team is currently focused on breaking the record rather than finding longer term uses for its technology. Other than that, it is aiming for the same 80 knot barrier as Syroco and within a similar time frame.

“Of course we know each other,” says van den Broek when asked about the competition between the two projects before revealing that SP80 co-founder Benoit Gaudiot is the brother of Syroco engineer Thomas Gaudiot.

“There are some rivalries that beat the record, but I think rivalries also spur both teams on,” said van den Broek. “It will also help us speak and raise awareness of what we are trying to do here.”

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