PURSUING SPEED THROUGH INNOVATION
18th October, 2012
SPEEDDREAM SAIL TRIALS - ROCKLAND
Like many great projects SpeedDream started on the back of an envelope, a series of sketches outlining an idea that would one day become, providing it all worked, the world’s fastest monohull. But it’s a long way from sketch to reality and for a while the drawings sat lifeless in a desk drawer. Vlad Murnikov had other things to do, like earn a living as an architect, and the innovative ideas sketched out were nothing more than that; innovative ideas.
One of the most striking things about the sketches was a keel that seemed able to be canted in excess of 80 degrees. Canting keels have long become standard on performance monohulls but their range was limited, confined by hull shape and restrictive class rules. Vlad was not thinking of rules. His idea was to be the fastest and the only way to achieve this was to leave rules aside and introduce some new creativity into old ideas. Canting the keel in excess of 80 degrees meant that when the boat heeled it would come out of the water and in doing so reduce drag and increase efficiency. In fact the whole SpeedDream concept was based on increasing efficiency and not on applying brute force as much of modern yacht design seems intent on doing.
While Vlad discussed his design with engineers and other naval architects he needed someone who could articulate his vision to a broad audience, and that is where I came in. I was intrigued and more than a little interested, but neither Vlad nor I were in any position to start a new venture, especially one that was intended to change the sailing world. The sketches, however, were powerful forces and before we both knew it we were fully committed. Our goal was simple: to refine the design and build a prototype. The boat would not only be a test bed for a larger record setter, it would serve as a symbol of the unique styling and innovation of all future Vlad Murnikov designs. The aft-raked wave piercing bow and sculpted hull shape could be applied to a broad section of cruising boats to add distinction as well as enhance performance. Indeed the company we formed, mxSpeedDream, has a complete portfolio of designs ranging from a 16-foot skiff to a 130-foot Super Yacht.
The sketches, and later the design itself, not only drew me in but they also had a powerful effect on others and after some hard work we were able to secure investors for the company. I would like to think it was our charm that got them to stroke a check but in fact it was in the innovation behind the project that captured their imagination. With their investment we were off and running. Vlad teamed up with Rodger Martin Yacht Design to help with some of the finer points of the design and he pulled together a terrific team of builders, engineers and suppliers. Earlier this year a boat was ordered from Lyman Morse Boatbuilders in Thomaston, Maine.
The sketches and renderings of the prototype design continued to work their magic. Far away in Moscow, at the headquarters of Russia’s largest search engine Yandex, the drawings had caught the attention of the company founder and CEO. He had built his own company, one of Russia’s most successful privately owned companies, by forging new ideas in technology and by 2012 the Yandex search portal was attracting over 48.6 million unique viewers. Arkady Volozh is a man with vision and he recognized the vision behind SpeedDream. Not long after a meeting in Paris last December Yandex agreed to become a technology partner of SpeedDream. They also agreed to a financial commitment that enabled us to carry out some rigorous testing of all aspects of the design.
Drawings and engineering diagrams are one thing. Building the boat is quite another and at times I am sure the team at Lyman More must have been wondering what they had taken on. The result however, is nothing short of spectacular. The hull and deck is clear coat carbon and looks amazing say nothing of weighing nothing. In fact the hull and deck weigh less than the keel bulb and blade. The futuristic form is all about function while below decks a sophisticated system is in place to cant the all-important keel.
So how was it to finally sail the boat? In my sailing career, one that spans 30 plus years, I have had a handful of highlights. The first time I rounded Cape Horn in a full gale stands up there as an amazing experience. Watching a fleet of Class 40’s cross the start line of the Portimão Global Ocean Race, an event that I co-founded, was equally incredible. The day we first sailed SpeedDream stands there alongside the very best days of my life. It was cold and dreary, very little wind and no prospect of things clearing for a while. We sailed away from the dock like a pure thoroughbred ought to, but did take a tow to get us into deeper water where we had more space to sail. Finally with the sails up and dripping, we sat going nowhere. It seemed like an unfair hand to be dealt after all the work and planning. But then a tiny breeze picked up, it’s dark patch working it’s way toward us over a glassy surface. SpeedDream felt the puff and heeled slightly. The boat moved effortlessly forward leaving barely a trickle as a wake. Then more wind came and as it increased we hit the button that would activate the keel canting mechanism. The rest was pure magic. SpeedDream sailed one and a half times the speed of the wind perfectly on its lines, and the keel, the one first sketched on a napkin two years earlier, was right there flying alongside in close formation. It was almost as if we were sailing in one of our own renderings. Indeed we were sailing in a dream, but rather than one of those elusive nightly visits, this was a tangible dream; a SpeedDream.