Whether you are a sailor or an ordinary human, it was hard not to be transfixed by Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking skydive jump this weekend. Baumgartner rode a helium ballon to 128,020 feet, or to the edge of space, and jumped out. His freefall lasted 4 minutes 20 seconds, he hit a speed of hit Mach 1.24 (or 833.9 mph), breaking the sound barrier. He also broke the skydiving altitude record of 108,000 feet, set by Col. Joe Kittinger, which has survived for more than 50 years (though Baumgartner broke the altitude record he did not break Kittinger's freefall record, which stood at 5 minutes 35 seconds). Most important, Baumgartner lived to tell the tale.
I was thinking about Baumgartner as I checked in on Paul Larsen and his indomitable Sailrocket team. They
are camped out down in Walvis Bay, Namibia, and preparing to try and break through the 55-knot speed sailing ceiling with some design tweaks and new foils. Larsen thinks that if they have it right they can get into the 60s, which would be, for a sailboat, the equivalent of a 128,000 foot freefall. And that possibility both thrills him (he's been after this record for a long time now) and scares him.
I'm going to be following carefully because I feel like they are on the edge of making a sailboat go 60 knots. That's a crazy speed, and with all due respect to the kiters, there is something fundamentally different (for me) about breaking that speed barrier in an actual sailing craft.
I'm hoping Larsen pulls it off, just like I was hoping Baumgartner would succeed. There are people who are always imaginging the impossible, and pushing the envelope. And when they succeed they make the world a more interesting place, and make it easier to imagine breaking through other seemingly impossible barriers. That's important.