Wotif.com, a website that invites hotels to fill vacant rooms at the last minute for heavily discounted rates, which he launched in 2000, is growing. This month it announced post-tax profit for the six months to January were up 20 per cent, year on year.
“Hotels are a shock absorber for us,” Wood tells Executive Lifestyle. “They have to meet fixed costs so they want to keep their rooms occupied. We have plenty of new initiatives under way. Things certainly haven’t calmed down. We’re not in defensive mode.”
Wood hasn’t modified his other pursuits either. Despite the economic malaise, it’s business as usual for his various projects aimed at Australia’s troubled youth, projects that help kids get off drugs, save the environment, and even discover the joys of opera and sailing.
Aside from all this is a dream to crack sailing’s Holy Grail: hit 50 knots in a yacht. A relative newcomer to sailing, Wood has taken to it passionately and competes in every major race on the Australian calendar. His TP52 Wot Now came third overall in last year’s Sydney Hobart, while his other big yacht, Wot Yot, crewed by young sailors, came 14th.
So it’s well within his energetic style to back Wot Rocket, which he hopes will prove the fastest yacht on earth.
In many ways, Wot Rocket replicates Wood’s Wotif adventure. “Both were germs of ideas that were turned into reality quickly,” he says. “Moving quickly is key because there are always developments happening. Nothing stands still in web technology or sailing. If you don’t bring ideas into reality quickly, then someone else will.”
Wot Rocket consists of one giant rigid sail attached by what looks like an aircraft wing to the pod, where the two-man crew sits. The craft appears fragile and nimble, like a giant dragonfly, and expensive, though Wood insists it isn’t: “There’s not a lot of carbon to it since it’s basically a skinny 40-foot boat with a wing mast. The trick is in the design and finding out where things break. That’s where it gets expensive,” he says with a grin, “when you break stuff regularly.”
And any craft built to be as light and as fast as possible is bound to break things, which Wot Rocket did spectacularly last August, when the boat pitch-poled during its first record attempt.
Wood is not the only one racing to claim this title. Nor is his project alone in pushing the envelope. British contender Vestas Sailrocket flipped during its record attempt last December; just a few days before Hydroptère, a huge French trimaran with foils, capsized at high speed near Marseilles.
A rebuilt Wot Rocket will make her second record attempt on Botany Bay later this year. The team has learned from their mistakes, and there’s a good chance she’ll go over 50 knots. To give a sense of how fast that is, Wood puts it this way: “Imagine you’re driving down the freeway at 90km/h. Now imagine a sailboat overtaking you. That’s pretty fast.”
But it’s a dangerous thing to do, even on water: “Just think about your car driving off a bridge at that speed and hitting the water,” continues Wood, “it’d be like hitting concrete.”
Wood is an avid sailor, and looks in robust health for a man of 61. Nevertheless, he says, at 190cm, he is too tall to be in the cockpit – “thank goodness,” he laughs. Flying this yacht is pilot Sean Langman’s job. “He’s the one who’s crazy enough to want to get into the pod and sail it.”
What drives him? A competitive spirit? Patriotism? Wood shakes his head; he’s aware of the French and British teams, but he’s not trying to beat them. After all, no matter who gets past 50 knots first, there will always be another record to break—51 knots, then 52, and so on.
So what, then? He pauses for a moment, and says, “It’s just nice to be at the leading edge of things.”
Alexander Gilly is deputy editor of Modern Boating magazine.