Glenn Ashby is no stranger to moving like the wind, but he’ll have to travel much faster to break the world record in his sights.
- Yachtsman Glenn Ashby’s exploits include America’s Cup glory in 2017
- He now shifts his attention from the sea to the land
- He wants to be the first to drive at 250 km/h in a wind-powered vehicle
A champion sailor, the America’s Cup winner has in recent months shifted his focus from sea to land, particularly to the plains of Lake Gairdner in South Australia’s far north .
While its goal is to drive at 250 kilometers per hour, there will be no petrol, or any other fuel, propelling it.
Instead, he’ll be piloting a ship powered solely by the breeze.
“It’s the world ground wind speed record we’re trying to break,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide’s Jules Schiller.
“The current record is 202.9 km/h and we are trying to beat it… within the next two months.”
Hailing from Bendigo, Ashby’s fame rests on his yachting exploits.
Olympian and multiple world champion, he led Emirates Team New Zealand to a famous victory in the 2017 America’s Cup, and the same team will be behind him as he tries to make history at Lake Gairdner .
While the change of surface – from saltwater to salt lake – will be a challenge, the change of vessel will be a little easier to negotiate, he said.
Named “Horonuku”, which means “sliding quickly on land”, the so-called land yacht looks like a cross between a dragster and a glider.
“We have a big long arm about eight meters wide sticking out one side of the craft that has about 850 pounds of steel and lead and a wheel underneath,” Ashby said.
“It’s like the keel of a yacht that’s on its side, and it’s basically stopping us from rolling and behind me is a strong carbon fiber wing sail of about 10.5 meters.”
Salt lake chosen for its ideal surface
Lake Gairdner has already hosted feats of the kind Ashby is about to embark on – a favorite of daredevils, it was the site of Rosco McGlashan’s 1994 Australian land speed record of just over 800 km/h.
ABC Radio Adelaide regular and Triple J Science Hour host Dr Karl Kruszelnicki said the flat surface of a salt lake was probably the best possible place for such an endeavor.
“You can reduce friction,” he said.
“With a boat, you have a long hull and there is a lot of friction, [and] you can reduce this by having small airboats.
“But on land, we have a lot of technology for low-friction wheels.”
Ashby said the South Australian site was chosen after a careful selection process.
“We looked at various options in Australia and indeed around the world,” he said.
“We targeted Lake Gairdner only because it has, in general, a very good surface.
“There is unfortunately a little water left [there] for the moment but it’s drying.”
The current world land speed record for a wind-powered vehicle was set by British engineer Richard Jenkins in 2009.
To build the momentum to overtake him, Ashby said Horonuku would need a “track” of around 7km “to eventually reach what we hope will be close to 250km/h”.
“We’re aiming for 30 to 35 knots of wind. We’re kind of looking at doing about seven times the wind speed,” he said.
“You start slow and you build slowly and we weigh around two and a half tonnes in all.
“Once we start rumble it’s a pretty hairy ride.”
‘Big new challenge’ is ‘reasonably safe’
It may seem paradoxical that a vehicle driven entirely by the wind can move much faster than it.
But, as Dr. Karl explained, the principle has been exploited by sailors for centuries.
This involves something called “apparent wind” – and relies on the fact that traveling at an angle to the wind can generate more speed.
“We’ve known how to do it for thousands of years,” Dr. Karl said.
“After doing it for a while, tacking left and right, the sailors found that sometimes they were moving through the water faster than the speed of the wind.”
He said he would be watching Ashby’s progress with “extreme interest”.
“Seeing physics in action is always a joy,” he said.
Horonuku has already arrived in Adelaide and will be trucked to Lake Gairdner in the coming weeks.
Ashby will boldly follow the ship’s wake. But is he nervous?
“I like to think it’s reasonably safe – that’s definitely what I tell my wife,” he laughed.
“Compared to a lot of other boats I’ve sailed on over the years, but on the water obviously I think this is the safest [vessel] I have sailed before in my life.
“It’s definitely something very, very different from what I normally do, so it’s a big new challenge.”