The mission is simple on paper – a raw test of speed and power.

Project Speedbird is Hannah White’s mission to become the fastest woman on water over one nautical mile.

And for a woman who has made three trans-Atlantic crossings, cycled the Alps and kayaked through England, a 90 second effort on Grafham Water in Cambridgeshire should be straightforward.

But the 32-year-old, who has years of adventuring experience, believes breaking Zara Davis’ current record is her toughest challenge yet.

“This isn’t a simple course completion project, there are so many variables and its not an easy record – it was set windsurfing,” the sailor explained.

“It’s travelling at 80km/hour for a minute and a half. It is so far removed from my skill set. I am an endurance athlete, I’m not a sprinter.

“I look back to a year ago this week and I was sailing a foiling boat for the first time. We had just started the project, and it was my first try-out and I couldn’t even keep it upright.

“It was unbelievably hard. It’s not the most epic, or the highest, or the longest challenge but it is by far the steepest learning curve for me.

“I’ve done a number of projects and adventures and challenges, and the one thing that struck me is that I love a challenge more than the competition.

“A race interests me, but I’d rather go unto unchartered territory.

“Sailing is where my heart is, it’s what runs through my veins. But this needed to be something that stepped outside the sailing world and interested a new audience.

“This is exciting and easy to follow, it ticks all the boxes. Everyone gets speed – men and women alike that is what has been really amazing about this project.”

While the record itself is a test of raw speed, there are many other variables that could easily derail the attempt.

The 38 kilogram boat has taken technical director Dave Chisholm over a year to design, and build.

Made form a carbon composite hull, which weighs just eight kilos has been designed to fly one metre above the water.

The advanced design and refinement processes put Speedbird in a league of her own.

But it is not just the boat design itself. The wind speed and direction, and the temperature of the water will have an impact.

“I suspect there will only be three to five days next year where the record would be possible, and we are aiming for anytime from March to May,” White said.

“Grafham Water was perfect for the attempt. I wanted to do it in the UK, I am British, it’s sponsored by British companies, there’s something very nice about doing it at home and making it accessible.

“The key is not to put a time limit on it. Invariably the weather won’t play the game.”

If the boat itself is designed for peak performance, White must also ensure she is in the best condition she possibly can be.

The boat is designed to carry her weighing 70kg so not only does she have to monitor her weight, White also has to ensure she has enough power.

She trains in the gym six times a week, focusing on high intensity cardio, crossfit and strength work, as well as yoga and pilates so she is as agile and flexible on the boat as possible.

White, who is also a TV presenter and commentator, also sails four times a week and must be as sharp as she possibly can be when hydrofoiling.

“It’s about being comfortable with being uncomfortable,” she said.

“I have to keep that intensity up for 90 seconds without anything fatiguing and potentially do that five or six times an hour.

“Injuries are a massive worry because they are such demanding boats. If I am having an off day, I won’t sail my training boat. It needs 110% concentration.”

But even world record holders need some downtime, if you can call planning a wedding relaxing.

White marries her fiancé James at the National Geographic Society next week and her eyes lit up when she spoke about him.

“Marrying James would probably be my biggest achievement. He is the most selfless person ever,” she said with a smile.

“He’s just amazing. What he loves about me is my drive and determination and my ambition, I thought when I met someone they would want to calm me down but there is no competition with him.

“He is the kindest human being I have ever met in my life. He is extraordinary.”

But James is not the only man in White’s life.

“My team – it’s just me and Dave (Chisholm) full time. Dave is my best friend and my worst enemy all in one go. He is the strangest best friend a 32-year-old woman could ever have,” she laughed.

“We have nothing and everything in common and there’s no way I’d be here without him.”

For more information about Project Speedbird, head to the website:


Laura Winter
Sports presenter
T: @lauracwinter