The crew of the high performance offshore racing yacht Xena went onto stand-by mode in Sydney today in preparation for their bid to establish a new mark for the world 24-hour sailing record for single-hulled yachts.
They are waiting for a strong-wind system to develop in the Southern Ocean and sweep across the Australian continent to the east coast for them to begin their bid. Yachting meteorologist Roger Badham is monitoring weather patterns for the crew.
Led by owner Sean Langman, and with hard-driving David Witt as sailing master, the crew of eight is confident the specially developed Open 60 design will become the first monohull to break the 500 nautical mile barrier. Their first target though is to beat the current 24-hour record of 467nm set by the French yacht 'Amor-Lux-Foie Gras Bizac' during a gale-lashed Atlantic crossing in February.
Xena needs to average 19.5 knots to beat this mark. When announcing plans for the record run to the media in Sydney today Langman said that given ideal conditions the yacht could average more than 21 knots and beat 500nm.
"The amazing thing for us is that when we leave Sydney we won't have any idea where we are heading," Langman said. "The only thing we do know is that we will be sailing as fast as possible, no matter what the direction. The wind will decide where we finish up. It could be Brisbane, North Queensland, Noumea, Fiji or even New Zealand. We are taking enough food for six days, so hopefully we'll break the record during that period."
Langman told of one recent situation where the yacht's speed was treated with total disbelief. At Easter, when Xena set the course record for the 310nm Brisbane to Gladstone race, the crew of a ship would not believe that a yacht was actually passing them in the middle of the night when the ship was travelling at full steam. Xena was averaging around 22 knots at the time.
"The ship called up on the radio and asked us to identify ourselves and state our destination," Langman said. "When we told them it was a sailing yacht that was passing them the radio operator simply replied with the 'BS' word."
Langman and Witt, both champions in the 18ft skiff class, described their yacht as being little more than an overgrown skiff. And like an 18ft skiff, their biggest fear was nose diving when sailing at full speed under spinnaker: "The one thing we don't want is big waves," Langman confirmed. "This yacht planes like a skiff, it doesn't surf. During the Hobart race two years ago we hit 30 knots. The good news is that the faster it goes the easier it is to handle."
Xena's designer, Andy Dovell, of Murray, Burns and Dovell, said that despite Xena being 'low tech' he was confident it could break the record: "This yacht certainly isn't state-of-the-art when it comes to construction. It was very much built to a budget using fibreglass sandwich and a foam core, not carbon fibre. We've refined it as much as we can, even down to changing the position of the keel bulb to minimise the risk of nose diving."
Only the mast and new boom on Xena are made from carbon fibre.
Langman also confirmed today that should Xena set a new world mark he will have a spectacular trophy created as a symbol of the achievement. It will be like the 'Blue Riband' for the fastest time across the Atlantic. It is to be awarded to any yacht that officially sets a record in the future.