Luderitz Speed Challenge

After a week of near calm, broken only by bizarrely unseasonal rainstorms and drizzle, today dawned bright, clear and windy.

The speed strip was opened again, and competitors had another opportunity to train and familiarize themselves with it.

A number of new people have arrived in the past few days - Fred Kloren, Hennie Bredenkamp, Marc Avela pulled into town yesterday evening from Cape Town, and needed a bit of a run to get the 1100km of sitting in a comfy chair out of their legs. It was a great preview for tomorrow, especially for the competitors who had arrived as recently as yesterday.

With the wind blowing blowing between 25 to 30 knots, many riders were recording speeds in the low forties, the fastest time of the day going to Sebastian Cattelan, who recorded an unverified time of 46.5 knots, with Rob Douglas, Jerôme Bila, and Alex Caizergues all hot on his heals.

The rough water near the end of the strip was again proving challenging, with heavy chop -- hitting ‘speed-bumps’ 20-30cm high when you’re doing 80kph+ requires a lot of strength, balance and luck to save a wipeout.

Today’s run showed that almost everyone has stepped up their game from last year, as competitors were recording “training” times that two or three years ago would have meant new records - and the wind was barely even blowing as hard as it can - and does!

Everyone is looking forward to this weekend when the wind is really supposed to come through, with forecasts looking at adding another 10-15 knots to today’s conditions.

Tomorrow, the riders will finally get a chance to prove that their new equipment and new technique will translate into new personal bests and new world records.

Luderitz Speed Challenge

In the build up to this weekend’s forecast of heavy wind, many people are optimistic that this year’s Speed Challenge will again produce new national and international speed sailing records.

What many people overlook though, is the fact that these results will only become official records after the governing body, the World Sailing Speed Records Council of the International Sailing Federation, ratifies the results. This is why Michael Ellison, the WSSRC commissioner overseeing the 2009 Lüderitz Speed Challenge, is a very important man.

Michael, himself a master mariner, began sailing when he was a child, and went on to work as a merchant marine for most of his life. Michael first became an official observer in 1973, a year after the WSSRC was formed, when he wrote a letter suggesting some changes they needed to make in order to improve the competition.

The council liked his suggestions and invited him to join. This is a man who has now observed countless world record breaking speed sailing runs in the thirty six years he has been officiating. This is a man who knows what it takes to break records, with a powerful sense of what is a fast setup, and what is record-breaking.

I asked Michael today whether he thought it was likely that this year’s Speed Challenge would again produce another world outright speed sailing record.

“Definitely,” he said with the calm certainty that comes with his incredible amounts of experience. “Look, last year, we had three different guys break fifty knots, all on different boards, all using different kites, all of them with different body weights.”

“What this means,” he went on to explain, “is that no-one has found the optimum formula yet.” This year has seen a lot of development on the speed boards - last year the boards were wider with a distinct cut-out at the tail, this year the boards are narrower, with more flex and some concave. There’s also been a lot more training, so the riders have a lot more experience under their belts. “Any one of the these guys, or girls, could have the right wind, blowing in the right direction, with the right water at the right time, and then we could have another two knots. Then we’ll have a new world record,” says Michael.

“What’s important is these guys think they can do it - so they’ll do it”

And if they do, do it, Michael will be right there, helping to make it official.

Luderitz Speed Challenge

It’s time! Now! Well, in a few days. The forecasts are looking excellent for a huge blow this weekend, everyone is very excited about what looks like some record-setting conditions.

There are few days left to fix everything that the rain and a strong north wind broke on the run last weekend -- it was insane, most of the inhabitants of Luderitz have never seen weather like that! Unfortunately the north wind was good for destruction, not speed sailing. But it stopped, turned around, and is picking up again from the perfect southerly angle.

Apart from repairs to the chop killer, organisers are busy digging a section of channel with a bulldozer to maintain the correct depth.

Three more French riders have arrived: Stéphane Caous, Maxime Richard and Patrice Menossi arrived two days ago, guided by the smell of strong wind.

Also coming up for this weekend's action is the “Xelerator” captain, Fred Kloren representing Holland, as well as Marc Avella our Spanish Champion. Rob Munro is also on the way (most famous for being British and holding the nautical mile record in kiteboarding, along with fellow Langebaan resident, Hennie Brendenkamp.

But until the weekend, the riders are alternately tweaking and tuning their equipment, and hanging out like tourists seeing the sites. So for your amusement (until the racing action gets going, check out some pics from around the town, particularly the “ghost town” at an abandoned diamond mine.

Stay entertained... and stay tuned for this weekend.