The Fastest Sailor in the World

Richard Jenkins was 19 years old and a lifelong sailor, in small boats and ocean going boats, when fate sent him off on a special tangent—to set a world record for the fastest sailing vessel on land. It took him, oh, only ten years.

The Volvo Ocean Race is not about being sensible.

The young man had been working on an engineering degree in his native UK when a part-time job led Jenkins to notice a record-hopeful sitting neglected in a corner, stuck there by its builders after they realized how hard this was going to be. "I thought, this is a travesty," Jenkins says, knowing now what a journey it has been. He took over the project and within a year had hit 112, "and meanwhile in the U.S. this fellow Bob Dill went 116 mph at Ivanpah Dry Lake in Nevada, which I knew was going to make my job harder."

As you watch the video, place yourself in the cockpit with Richard Jenkins and figure that you have been living on a shoestring for ten years. You have built three ships, learning from each, redefining and then refining the problem each time. You have tried and tried on an airport runway in England. You have tried and tried and had some revelations at Ivanpah Dry Lake ("as soon as you run on dirt, you see everything the wind is doing"). You have been all the way to Australia only to have the weather shut you down with nothing to show for it, and now you are back at Ivanpah riding the third of three wind events in a row. All that wind has allowed you to experiment and get the tire selection just right, tire inflation just right, weight-distribution just right, but with that much wind comes the dust, and the visibility is shot and out on that lake bed, baby, there's stuff you could hit—

Either Too Hot or Too Cold, All the Way Around

Anybody could design a boat for sailing around the world that would be more sensible than a Volvo 70. The Volvo Ocean Race is not about being sensible. It's about immersing the sailors (literally) and then immersing the fans (figuratively). The race and the boats were born to be extreme.

Puma, the only U.S. entry in the 2008/09 Volvo, is now preparing its team to return for the 2011-12 competition, again with two-time U.S. Rolex Sailor of the Year Ken Read as skipper. These boats can hit 40 knots. Typical below-deck comforts consist of a bench for the navigator. It may not be possible to go 110 percent day and night for weeks at a stretch, but even within the notion of pacing yourself, there's no real letting up. Figure that the jib trimmer, as he's engulfed in a wave, is easing the sheet out just a bit, knowing the boat is slowing down, and he's ready to re-trim as he pops out from under.

Crossing the Equator more than once, rounding Cape Horn once (that's enough!), you're always either too hot or too cold. But it's only 39,000 miles.

The Value of Sailing to Extremes

Along about the time the Moth turned 80 years old, the class looked ready to up and die, leaving few mourners in its wake. The class had enjoyed a longer run than most. It would have been easy enough to shrug off the disappearance. But then the Moth lifted out of the water on foils (not miraculously; with an incredible amount of hard work) and morphed into the hottest dinghy going.

In its 2009 world champion, the Moth also fielded the current U.S. Rolex Sailor of the Year, Bora Gulari.

If balancing above the water on foils looks a bit too tippy-woogie for your taste, the man himself says, "I’m barely in control most of the time. I love it." Bora supplied our link to Moths flying and crashing on the Columbia River, one of North America's prime spots for extreme sport.

Editor's Note: This is the second of our "Going to Extremes" series. Stay tuned for more Extreme stories about fishing and high performance powerboats.
Read Going to Extremes: Personal Watercraft and Wakeboarding