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Old 10-20-2000
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Dan Dickison is on a distinguished road
Faster than the Wind

Is it possible for a sailing boat to go faster than the wind?

Dan Dickison responds:

The short answer is yes. If you consider iceboats and landsailers, these craft regularly exceed the speed of the wind because they sail on a medium (ice and land) that has less friction than water. However, there are many waterborne craft that can exceed the speed of the wind as well. These are mostly planing monohulls, lightweight multihulls, and foil-borne sailboats. When a boat moves through the water, the forward movement of the boat combined with the wind creates a phenomenon we call apparent—wind that's the wind that the sails feel—and this is a slightly stronger wind. For example, the wind you feel when you stick your hand out of a car window is a combination of the car's speed and the existing wind. As a boat begins to build speed, this apparent wind builds too, allowing the boat to sail slightly faster. So you can see that it's possible for a boat to sail faster than the existing wind. Usually the three kinds of boats I mentioned above are those whose performance regularly exceeds the speed of the wind, but conventional monohulls can do this too under the right circumstances. For a more in-depth treatment on this topic, you might want to pick up a copy of Frank Bethwaite's High Performance Sailing.

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