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Ex-Dahlgren scientist's designs lead to sailing record
Dahlgren scientist's 'visionary' design captures new sailing speed record

 Bernard Smith works on one of his innovative sailboats in 1977.
Photo by Barry Fitzgerald
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Date published: 1/2/2009


A sailboat based on concepts of a retired Dahlgren scientist has raced to a new speed record off the coast of Africa.

Vestas Sailrocket averaged 47.36 knots (nearly 55 mph) over a 500-meter course Dec. 3 in Namibia, according to the World Sailing Speed Record Council. On its next run, however, the lightweight, solid-wing craft became airborne and back-flipped into the water.

The crash, one of many in the five years of the boat's development, did not injure--or diminish the joy of--Paul Larsen, the 40-year-old Australian leader of the project and pilot of the boat.

"I am now safe in the knowledge that no one can dispute that this is a very viable concept of enormous potential. In fact, I think it is perhaps one of the most significant speed sailing craft of all time. The concept behind this craft is future proof," Larsen wrote on his blog soon after his record run.

Videos of Larsen's spectacular run and flip have been seen on sailrocket.com and YouTube by thousands of people, but Bernard Smith is not among them.

"All my friends have tuned in on his Web site and are overwhelmed with awe, but I haven't seen it yet. I don't have a computer," said Smith, whose 50 years of work on radical sailboat concepts helped blaze a trail to Larsen's Sailrocket.


Smith, 98, a former resident of King George County, retired as the technical director of what was then called the Naval Weapons Laboratory at Dahlgren in 1973. He now lives in Florida.

Smith began his sailboat work in 1957 while working as a rocket scientist at the Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake, Calif. He continued building experimental craft at Dahlgren and at his retirement homes in King George on Rosier Creek and in Boca Raton, Fla.

In books, patents, papers and articles, he named his various designs Aerohydrofoils, Monomarans, Sailoons and Fliptackers. His most recent work, "The Ultimate Sailboat," was self-published in 2004.

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Sailrocket: www.sailrocket.com
World Sailing Speed Record Council: http://www.sailspeedrecords.com
Hydroptere: http://www.hydroptere.com/_en/
Bernard Smith's sailboats: http://www.geocities.com/aerohydro/home.html

"To one who has turned lifeless materials into a thing alive and forced it to do his bidding against the resisting forces of nature in silence, without fuel and without defiling air or water, there can never be anything more wonderful than the sailboat. "The sailboat never offends the senses of fish, fowl or man. To make it move faster is to make it more a thing of freedom and beauty."

--Bernard Smith, "The 40-Knot Sailboat," 1963