WSSRC - World Sailing Speed Record Council
The integrity of WSSRC has always depended on the skill and hard work of its Commissioners – men and women who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time standing on windswept shores or in icy water while strange sailing craft flash pass. One who has been involved since the very beginning is Michael Ellison who has quite literally spent years of his life ensuring that the right competitor gets the right time and that it is an accurate one. Here’s how he recalls it: Time? A frightening thought - I spent over a year on Fuerteventura alone ! The start was two weeks in Australia for Yellow Pages. A month in California for Longshot, a month or six weeks in Namibia for kites and then Sailrocket each year since 2006
Luderitz only has a small airport, a sign on the gate says “Please hand your guns to a member of staff before boarding the plane”. Usually I am driven from Cape Town or last year from Johannesburg by a competitor. It normally takes over 24 hours flying time to South Africa via the Gulf or via Frankfurt to Windhoek. Two weeks in Tonga (2004) and two weeks in Cape Verde islands clocked up some flying hours plus the driving time down to the numerous early “annual” French events, totting up several months in total at Ste Marie, Fos, ort St Louis, Leucate, etc.. I hope that we can get across that WSSRC needs new records and our aim is to help improve speeds - but at the same time we owe a duty to existing record holders to see that their speed is fairly exceeded. I like to point out that every competitor’s best speed is their personal record and therefore every attempt has to be measured with similar care.
Mike Ellison gives a tonguein-cheek account of the Commissioner’s task:- “The WSSRC sends observers (nowadays commissioners) to ensure “a level playing field” and, in addition, a course marshal will be appointed to sort out matters such as time to start, safety procedures and order of starting. At all inshore events nowadays timing is by video cameras at the start and finish, with the pictures showing the transit posts and numbered sails or vests, plus a clock showing 100th second on one screen. The film can be sent by land line or radio and this is a weak link because, although it may work perfectly in 40 knots of wind, a 55 knot gust might blow the aerial over just when a record run is in progress - or wires might
be submerged at high tide. These risks are accepted, but if the Commissioner closes the course because the rescue boats are being rescued, the generator has run out of fuel or the water becomes too shallow, these are considered deliberate acts.
Those with the fastest times are delighted, those who expected to become the fastest - always the majority - are furious, and quite certain that it was only done to prevent them recording a faster speed. The Commissioner goes to interesting but windy places around the world. Requirements for the task are endless patience to wait for the wind which will blow “tomorrow”, broad shoulders to accept that the fastest run ever has not been recorded due to some fault of theirs, and knowledge of the wind and water to understand the new designs and ideas coming on.”
And finally, John Reed rounds off the story....
“I am privileged to have been involved with the WSSRC since its inception, to have seen it grow from a part-time job, with an occasional attempt, to a full-time
occupation. It started as a British fringesport and is now fully international with our army of Commissioners around the World. The first world record was for 26.3 knots timed with hand stop watches across buoyed transits. Now the record is well over 50 knots using GPS measuring and video timing, and I recall the excitement when the first yacht circumnavigated in under 80 days – now it’s 45 days. Truly the WSSRC is the yardstick of sailing development and its work keeps me well out of trouble...!”