The year 2012 has been in many ways a momentous one for sailing. The Olympic regatta was contested at Portland, which was also the birth-place of speed sailing and of the WSSRC, which was set up to provide fair and accurate measurement of speeds achieved under sail. Shortly before the 2012 Olympics, our governing body ISAF announced that for the next Olympics in Rio kite-sailing would be added to the list of events. May we modestly point out that it was in a WSSRC event at Portland that kite-sailing was first seen in competition, and, following the usual tantrums that accompany the creation of any new sport, was welcomed into the ISAF family. Today, the fastest speed under sail is 55.65 knots, achieved by Rob Douglas of USA in a WSSRC supervised event at Luderitz, Namibia. And if anyone visiting the 2012 Olympic regatta needed to see what this fantastic new sport looks like, they only had to glance towards Chesil Beach where local enthusiasts could be observed zooming up and down the old 500m speed course, whenever the breeze was up.
It is somewhat ironic that the creation of the World Sailing Speed Record Council resulted from the boastful claim of a paint company. This outfit, which made a special soft graphite paint, announced that the C-Class catamaran Lady Helmsman, (which was indeed a very fast boat) had sailed at 30 knots. This so annoyed Bernard Hayman, editor of Yachting World that he demanded to know how this speed had been measured and was told that by sailing close to the promenade of Southend- on-Sea, the boat could be paced by a car.
That was ridiculous, but inspired the magazine to propose a new event, devoted entirely to measured speed. The Royal Yachting Association agreed to organize it and after an extensive search Portland Harbour was selected as the best venue and, because of its geography, 500m was determined as the distance to be sailed.
An excerpt from "A Short History of Timing" on the World Sailing Speed Record Council
Download the PDF: sailspeedrecords.com/a-short-history-of-timing.html