"The ultimate in speed sailing": Moth master White aims to break women's nautical speed mile

By Ben Miller | 28 May 2015

Sailor puts Moth under Science Museum lights ahead of cross-Channel quest and world record attempt in 2016

A photo of a woman in a wetsuit standing next to a sailing vessel inside a blue museum
Hannah White at the Science Museum© Anthony Upton
It’s just as well that Hannah White, the seafarer who will attempt to break the women’s nautical speed mile on a hydrofoiling vessel described as the Moth, specialises in endurance sailing.

Her high-speed vehicle, presented to the public at the Science Museum for the past three days, has given her a platform to learn an entirely new skill set: no-one has attempted a Channel crossing, as White will do later this summer, on a Moth, meaning her tenacity is perhaps as important as her velocity.

A photo of a sailing vessel on a lake moving at high speed
© Anthony Cullen
“I knew this was an ambitious project both technologically and physically,” says the presenter and lover of “all things fun”, preparing herself to build new muscle groups and embark on a strict regime featuring 15 hours of sailing and eight hours in the gym each week.

“We’re aiming at the ultimate in speed sailing. The clever thing is not only the speed at which the boat will travel, but the speed at which we can build it.

A photo of a woman in a wetsuit and helmet holding some kind of sailing vessel
© Anthony Cullen
“The boat needs to develop quickly as we approach those frontiers because, quite simply, we don’t know exactly what the subsurface hydrofoils will be like.

“We have parameters from our design work, and we have the best sections supported by data we can access. But there are the finer details which need to be able to evolve – and evolve quickly.”

She compares travelling on the Moth at 30 knots – well below the low-40s the team need to reach – to a rally car reaching 100mph on ice.

“Spray, poor visibility, sliding and gripping at the same time,” warns White. “A sailing boat at this speed is a beast – a runaway train accelerating downhill in its own breeze, travelling faster than the wind.

A photo of a woman in a wetsuit and helmet on board a high-velocity sailing vessel
© Anthony Cullen
“And all the time one slip can mean the whole thing hitting the water and probably a hefty repair bill.”

David Chisholm, the Technical Director of the project, says the design has been fine-tuned to offer “the best possible shot” at achieving the dream in 2016.

A photo of a woman in a wetsuit and a man in jeans standing next to a sailing vessel
© Anthony Cullen
“The water on the top surface of the hydrofoils will be under such low pressure as we approach our maximum speed that it will boil,” he explains.

“When it does it releases gas - and that gas pocket sits on top and behind the hydrofoil, but is much larger in volume than the frontal area of the ‘foil. It acts like a brake.

A photo of a woman in a wetsuit and a man in a shirt standing inside a blue-lit museum
© Anthony Upton
“As the boat slows down, the gas bubble - we call it ‘Cavitation’ - disperses and the boat can accelerate again. We will be able to reach that speed all day long but not pass it – like a rev limiter in a racing car engine.

“High-speed sailing is an ancient art but if you have no rule books or guidelines to work from, you have to use and trust your own research, thoughts and ideas.

“Combine these with technology and you can then develop ideas into tangible forms and manufacturing components in titanium and carbon fibre. If you want to break records, you have to do things differently.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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