So who are these speed freaks? One is Nick Povey. Also one of the organizers of Speed Week, Povey is a business consultant, father of three, and an avid boardsailor who volunteers his time to ensure that there's place where like-minded sailors can get together and pursue their form of the sport. He also helps to make sure that their participation can be quantified in terms of hard numbers by sophisticated timing devices.
“Speed Week is organized and financed by enthusiastic volunteers,” explains Povey. “The people who attend cover a very broad spectrum. Several are very successful and talented engineers who are experts in their chosen field. Some are very wealthy and come to enjoy the excitement and challenge, some are very talented sailors, and some are sponsored professionals, and still others have very little in the way of funding, but make up for this by sheer determination.”
Among the broad spectrum that Povey describes is Bob Downhill, a long time speed-sailing enthusiast who has been integral in running the event for the last decade and has attended almost every edition of the event. Downhill is an active member of the Amateur Yacht Research Society, which also assists in organizing Speed Week. Povey credits Downhill with reviving the event after it died in the mid ‘80s when the sponsorship dollars dried up.
As he has been in previous years, Downhill remains a fixture along the beach at Portland Harbor. In customary fashion, last year he brought his novel, aluminum tripod craft to the event a sort of slewed half spider powered by a canted rig. Although Downhill's unusual creation didn't set any new speed records, it did draw a lot of attention.
Over the years, Speed Week has ingrained itself into the collective consciousness of those who thrill to this unique discipline. Acknowledged milestones include Tim Colman's Crossbow II hitting 36 knots at Weymouth in 1980, a record that stood for over a decade. And the outright top speed ever achieved at Speed Week occurred in 2000 when Richard Jones unofficially recorded over 37 knots on his board during a practice run. Last year, boardsailor Nick Beaney walked away with the top accolades for hitting 35.22 knots.
All of this fun is available for a mere 120 British pounds (roughly $186.00), a little less if you're riding on a board. But those aren't the only costs associated with speed sailing, as one of the professionals that Povey mentions learned last year. Chris Calthrop set a world kitesurfing speed record at Speed Week last year (33.38 knots), and then went on to nearly end his sailing career in a spectacular crash. It was a squally day with the winds recording gusts up to 45 knots. Calthrop remembers having such an easy time of setting that record, that he says he figured 40 knots was within reach, so he decided to “go all out.” He says when he got up to 35 knots, he started to lose the rail as the board was accelerating out of control. Calthrop nose-dived to avoid an idle boardsailor near the end of the course and he wound up in the hospital, needing reconstructive surgery on his face.
Povey says that some 50 participants are expected to attend Speed Week this year. That's not an earth-shattering number for an event that's been in existence since 1972, however, this isn't an event that should be measured in the number of participants, but in the intensity of their commitment. Though the event may have been born as a way of laying to rest the extravagant claims of yachtsmen regarding the prowess of their vessels, it exists now as public forum for anyone to obtain accurate information regarding the speed of their designs. And that's the beauty of Speed Week; there are essentially no rules. The participants don't have to meet minimums for seaworthiness or controllability, or anything, which makes this event the ideal proving ground for both experts and dreamers to build whatever kind of vessel they fancy. Without Speed Week, it's certain that the bulk of us would never see boats like those that will populate the shores of Weymouth next week. And who knows, a few of the ideas that are fostered here might just someday play a role for mainstream sailors.
The Need for Speed by Dan Dickison
Speed Sailing Overview by Dan Dickison
The World of Kite Sailing by Ben Hilke
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