Story by Marita van Rooyen
Photographs by Eric Bellande
UPDATE: Check out the video’s of the competition on YouTube.
“The scene is set around the gathering at a far-off spot of different kinds of enthusiastic personalities from all over the world.
Surrounded by enchanting desert colours, the universe has created the best conditions to allow this group of privileged persons to push and expand the limits of the possible.
Once again this very special place where time stands still promises glory and the writing of new history… It is this timeless environment that will remain the favourite playground of the adrenalin fighters where the intoxicating need for speed and the taste of victory echoes with historic fulfilment…”
This is Sophie Routaboul talking about the 5th annual Lüderitz Speed Challenge, which is taking place from 5 November to 16 December.
At about the same time every year when the Christmas rush gains momentum, a group of international speed freaks hit the coastal town of Lüderitz to compete for the title of king or queen of speed sailing. Here, the international windsurfing and kite-surfing communities meet to battle it out in the reputable event-specific canal that officially made Lüderitz the fastest sailing spot on earth.
All set to break the 60-knot barrier
The super-speed canal, which was constructed with the exclusive aim of smashing the ultimate speed record, allowed Rob Douglas to exceed the 55-knot barrier in 2010. Only two contesters worldwide have ever attained these speeds, and both of them on the Lüderitz Canal.
But once you’ve tasted success, you’ll forever be hungering for more, and, of course, the organisers couldn’t wait to go bigger and better. “Old records are no news,” explained organisers Sébastien Cattelan (European record holder and GPS world-record holder) and Sophie Routaboul (second-fastest woman in the world).
The canal was then widened, lengthened and deepened to create even smoother water surfaces, and enable faster speeds. And this year’s challenge is to break the 60-knot barrier! “No other event or place in the world would be more suitable to attempt this crazy record!”
Windsurfers will strut their stuff from 5 November to 2 December, while kite-surfers will battle it out from 3 to 16 December. Participants include a whole range of international, record-breaking speed fanatics, including Namibia’s very own Stefan Metzger, who holds the current local record in kite-surfing.
2007 – French nationals and speed lovers of note, Sébastien Cattelan, and his companion, Sophie Routaboul, were scouting around for the best speed-sailing spot in the world. At the age of 32 Sébastien was already a pioneer of speed sailing and developing kite-surfing equipment in his home country.
In 2004, he and Sophie had stumbled on the coastal settlement of Lüderitz. They became absolutely convinced that this was the perfect venue for breaking the world record in speed sailing. The natural lagoon at Lüderitz offered exactly the right conditions.
When the warm desert winds accelerate through the surrounding hills, and reach the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, they cause thermal atmospheric pressure that creates incredibly high wind speeds. The couple organised the first Lüderitz Speed Challenge in 2007.
2008 – Although speeds increased year by year as the sport of speed sailing gained momentum, it was considered impossible to break the 50-knots-per-hour barrier.
Up until 2008 that is. Sébastien set out to become the fastest man in the world using a sail on water, and achieved this on the Lüderitz Lagoon.
One of the reasons for this achievement was the installation of a ‘chop killer’, a wooden barrier placed in the shallow waters of the lagoon, which ensured a smoother slide and increased the wind-speed angle, resulting in an increased performance of 50.57 knots over 500 metres. And suddenly the world’s speed-sailing community was aware of this diminutive little coastal setting in the Namib Desert.
2009 – Just one month before the start of the 2009 Speed Challenge, the Hydrofoil, L’Hydroptere, broke Sébastien’s world record by achieving 51.36 knots in France. Sébastien had to claim back his title.
A plan was made to improve the speed-sailing conditions even further: the organisers decided to create a channel alongside the existing 500-metre strip to ensure flat water and a better wind angle.
And it paid off! In 2009 sailing speeds were dramatically increased, despite the lighter wind conditions experienced due to the El Niño phenomenon. A top speed of 50.98 knots was reached in that year.
2010 – A few months before the 2010 event, Sébastien was training in Lüderitz when he hit the jackpot by clocking almost 63 knots, the highest top speed ever recorded. This year, theworld speed-sailing record for men and women was broken, as well as 12 national records. And the 55-knot barrier was broken three times during the event!
2011 – Although the newly constructed channel made a world of difference, the conditions still needed improving for faster records to be set, especially for the windsurfing community.
A great deal of money and time was invested to research the possibilities of widening and lengthening the channel, creating even smoother water surfaces for faster speeds, and improving the safety of the venue.
Construction of the channel was finally approved after an Environmental Impact Assessment, and – supported by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism – it was excavated. It was here, in 2011, that Swedish windsurfing legend, Anders Bringdal,reached a top windsurfing speed of 50.7 knots. Among the ten competitors of the testing team, five records were broken. This included new Namibian, German and Angolan national records.
2012 – The playground is set for the world’s best speed-sailing event. Now to beat the 60-knot barrier…
New records were announced on almost every day of the 2012 event! Here’s something for the windsurfing record books:
On the fourth day of the event, the never-before-broken 50-knot barrier was properly smashed: first by Swedish record holder Anders Bringdal (50.41 and then 50.46), and then by Antoine Albeau from France (50.62 knots).
Pushed on a daily basis by Anders, Antoine broke the World Record eight times over the competition’s four-week period, ending with the fastest time of 52.05 knots, making him World Champion for the 20th time! He took his leave saying, “The Lüderitz Speed Challenge is the dream of every speed fanatic!”
What’s more, many national records and national multi-discipline records were also improved, with Namibia’s very own Matthias Röttcher reaching 47.34 knots on the fifth day of the event. At time of going to print, the kite-surfing part of the event was still in full swing.
Future challenges can only be legendary!
This article was originally featured in the Travel News Summer 2012/2013 print edition.
You can download the magazine here.