If they were motorists, they’d surely be ticketed. Going over 45 miles per hour on the Vineyard is illegal.
But the dozen world-class athletes who competed in the second annual North American Speed Sailing Invitational attain their formidable speeds not on paved roads but on water. They raced on Sengekontacket Pond, Cape Pogue Bay and Katama Bay, depending on the wind conditions of each location. During the competition, which ended on Tuesday, the high-flying kites became familiar sights.
Event founder Rob Douglas, who has been speed sailing since 2002 and competing since 2008, started the Invitational last year after participating in a similar competition in France. Brothers Morgan and Jamie, as well as Bill Lynch of Edgartown, also traveled to France to participate in the races.
“They did such a good job [organizing the event] over there,” Mr. Douglas said in a phone conversation on Wednesday. “[This is] kind of returning the favor.”
Although the apparatus is exactly the same, speed sailing is distinct from kiteboarding in that the ultimate goal is moving extraordinarily fast, not performing acrobatics or taking a leisurely wind-powered ride down the shoreline. Brock Callen, Jr., a first-year participant (Mr. Callen was the race director last year), described speed sailing as “Let’s see how much power we can harness [with the kite].”
Top-notch speed sailors can achieve speeds well in excess of the actual wind conditions — for example, going 21 knots when the wind is blowing at 7 knots. Mr. Douglas twice set world records for speed sailing, clocking 55.65 knots (the equivalent of 64 miles per hour) in a 2010 tournament in Namibia. He won this year’s International Kitesurfing Association Speed World Championships held in Salin du Giraud, France.
The courses are laid out along a 250-metre straightaway on the designated body of water, and racers compete in timed heats, with timing kept via GPS devices. The average of each racer’s top two fastest times is used to determine the winner.
There were no speed sailing competitions in North America until the inaugural Invitational last year. That event proved a success, and the races returned for a second time.
Competition ran from October 15 to October 30, with 10 races held during the two-week span. Despite the temptation to race during Sandy’s higher-than-usual winds, the participants stayed off the water once wind speeds exceeded 55 knots.
“To have a race in that much wind, you can do it, you do world record events in that, but better safe than sorry,” Mr. Douglas said. Still, the group did go out on Saturday, racing in 20 and 30-knot winds during the early stages of the storm.
The Invitational featured three-time world champion Alex Caizergues of France, French national champion Sylvain Hoceini and United Kingdom record holder Dave Williams. And yet, despite the caliber of the athletes competing, the event was mostly unknown to Islanders. And that’s how the organizers like it. They avoided promotional saturation, Mr. Douglas said, in order to keep the focus on the races themselves.
“This event is all about the people who are competing,” said Brock Callen, Sr., this year’s race director and program director for Sail MV.
For those who did happen upon a race heat, the visuals proved impressive. Matthew Cohen of Newport, R.I., was the event’s official photographer last year, and reprised his role this year. He was once again impressed by the sheer speed of the racers, as well as the technical skills needed to maintain the speed. Mr. Cohen captured the action using still cameras, small GoPro cameras, and HD video cameras to create a multimedia experience for those who could not attend, even going so far as to live stream the heats for off-Island audiences.
“It’s been an amazing experience to shoot,” he said.
Racing on the Vineyard makes for a “really unique time,” said competitor Damien LeRoy of Jupiter, Fla. Mr. LeRoy was last year’s Kitesurfing Athlete of the Year, and particularly enjoyed racing along State Beach, although Cape Pogue was equally beautiful.
“It’s spectacular,” Mr. LeRoy said of his time here.
2012 North American Speed Sailing Invitational Results
There were two competitions held during this year’s Invitational, one for the individual racers, and one between the American and European racers. This year, the American team took home the Lynch Cup, named for participant and financier Bill Lynch.
Rob Douglas, owner of the Black Dog Tavern, took first place in the individual competition, which is scored in similar fashion to a golf tournament: low score wins. Mr. Douglas also achieved the top speed during the tournament, hitting 48.96 knots.
1st: Rob Douglas (USA) 6.9 points.
2nd: Damien LeRoy (USA) 23 points.
3rd: Alex Caizergues (France) 31.4 points.
4th: Brock Callen (USA) 32 points.
5th: Jamie Douglas (USA) 33 points.
6th: Christophe Prin-Guenon (France) 38.87 points.
7th: Alex Aguera (USA) 41 points.
8th: Sylvain Hoceini (France) 55 points.
9th: Morgan Douglas (USA) 61 points.
10th: David Williams (United Kingdom) 63 points.
11th: Bill Lynch (USA) 87 points.
12th: Marie Navarre (France) 93 points.
Check out more photos of the speed sailors braving high winds this week.