In praise of Malcolm Barnsley

A decade ago I read an article about two men setting out to break the outright world speed sailing record – then just over 45 knots.

They were proposing to build a radical new kind of sailing boat.

There were pictures; a remote controlled scale model, clearly sailing at high speed.


Wow. My inner engineer stirred. The forces on such craft were, at least in theory, as balanced and as aligned as possible. Balanced. Aligned. Zen sailing. Fast.

The piece also included a photo of the two men behind the bid, taken at the 2003 Southampton Boat Show


Last weekend, the man on the right, Aussie Paul Larsen, finally helmed Vestas Sailrocket2 to a new world record of over 65 knots.


For decades the 500m record had been inching up in tiny increments, fraction of knot by fraction of knot. Assorted kiteboarders were the most recent holders. Sailrocket2 obliterated the record by over 10 knots. Paul, an Australian, put it thus: “We’ve smashed the arse off it!

Indeed, Sailrocket2’s peak speed was 68 knots. That’s 78mph. Over 125 km/h. Wow.

You should read Paul’s blog, watch the video and thank Vestas Wind Systems and the team’s other sponsors. The whole project fills me with joy.

But I want to return to the other man in that 2003 photo. He’s on the left in the photo below, wearing a wooly hat. He and Paul are walking back up a Namibian beach. They’re carrying the all-important GPS data logger so the new record can be verified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council.


His name is Malcolm Barnsley. He’s a British engineer. He designed Sailrocket2, and she’s very much his baby. Malcolm has spent most of his adult life trying to break the speed sailing record, and for over a decade has doggedly been tweaking and fettling this particular design.

It’s not always been plain sailing. The first version of Sailrocket proved somewhat unstable.

Paul found himself underwater, unconscious, after that one. Many designers would have given up. (Many helms, too!)

You can tell from the photos and videos that Malcolm doesn’t much fancy the limelight. He’d rather be designing foils, or modelling cavitation, the sworn enemy of all speed sailors. He’s very keen on proper attribution, notably for Bernard Smith, whose musings Malcolm has made real.


But the brutal fact of the matter is that ideas are cheap. Malcolm spent a decade making a potentially great idea work.

This wonderful bit of video, shot straight after the record breaking run, is purest engineering valediction:

“All those bloody sums… and all that stuff… it does actually mean something in the end. But you’ve got to do a lot of work to make it mean something. And we’ve done all the work.”

Malcolm Barnsley, I salute you.

Kenneth Grange at The Design Museum

Kenneth Grange show at The Design Museum

Last month Jo and I left the kids asleep in bed and dashed off to be first in line for the last day of the Kenneth Grange exhibition at The Design Museum in London.

It was rather like seeing your youth laid our before you. The hairdryer with which my mother dried our hair. The food mixer with which I’d blast imaginary enemies. The camera I drooled over in the Argos catalogue. The parking meter outside the Science Museum in Birmingham. The electric toothbrushes we were never permitted.

And the train. That train.

Kenneth Grange pretty much defined 1970s Britain by designing *a train*.

This decade’s equivalent? I’ll wager  it’s something digital.



Killing Zombies: How to *really* delete yourself from Facebook

I decided to delete my Facebook account a couple of days ago. I found I was hardly using it – certainly not enough to justify upsetting friends who assumed otherwise and were thus unwittingly ignored.

It’s somewhat harder than it should be to *permanently* delete all your data from Facebook. By default Facebook encourage you to ‘deactivate’ your account, which leaves all your data in their systems, albeit hidden from other users. Should you ever log in to Facebook again, even via a Facebook Connect login to a 3rd party site like Digg, then your whole Facebook account will spring back into life whether you want it to or not. Deactivating your Facebook profile turns your profile into a Zombie. You’re forever at risk of triggering it to wake from the dead and take a bite out of you.

Here are 7 steps to *really* delete your data from Facebook:

    Step 1: Login to
    Step 2: Click on the ‘Account’ link in the top right of the page
    Step 3: A menu will pop down. Select ‘Account Settings’
    Step 4: Change your Facebook password (click on the ‘change’ link to the right of the word Password)
    Step 5: Go to this page and click ‘Submit’
    Step 6: Click on the ‘Log Out’ button.
    Step 7: After 2 weeks, your data should be deleted from Facebook.

Make sure you don’t log-in to Facebook at all during the 2 week period – be that via Facebook Connect, the Facebook iPhone app, embedded ‘Like this’ buttons on other websites. etc. Changing your password reduces the risk of doing this by mistake.

New blog, new rules

I’m blogging again.

Or at least, I’m motivated enough to mothball the 8 year-old spammed-to-death carcrash of a Movable Type install on my server and shift to a hosted WordPress blog mapped onto I’ll leave all the old MT posts as they are on Tying to import the posts is not worth the inevitable pain.

Pleasingly, the  DNS CNAME domain mapping malarkey required to get pointed to my wordpress blog was a doddle – all sorted via simple web interfaces.  I even changed the domain registrar for without having to leave my browser to do battle in unixland. Amateurs can now fiddle with the Internet via the Web. Excellent.