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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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BY FRANK DELANO
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.
SEEING NEW POSSIBILITIES
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.
World Sailing Speed Record Council: http://www.sailspeedrecords.com
Bernard Smith's sailboats: http://www.geocities.com/aerohydro/home.html