It looks like something from a 1950s Flash Gordon serial – a futuristic watercraft with soaring wings, voluptuous curves and needle-sharp edges. But Earthrace is a very real boat indeed – and it’s set to take on the world
At first glance, it resembles a schoolboy’s fantasy, a silver-grey dream machine with a shape that appears to defy all the rules. It’s as if someone issued the designer with a brief to “create something really curvy and sexy, and don’t worry too much about practicality”.
In reality, the revolutionary wave-piercing trimaran known as is fast, stable and extraordinarily practical. The 23,7 m boat was designed by New Zealand-based Craig Loomis Design Group, and built by Calibre Boats. It features a composite carbon fibre and kevlar hull, non-toxic anti-foul paint, and a highly efficient hull design that allows it to slice through the water rather than ride on top of it. Best of all, its two 400 kW Cummins MerCruiser diesel engines run on low-emission biodiesel, an “alternative” fuel extracted from canola and other renewable resources.
Wave-piercing technology was originally formulated for passenger ferry applications, and has more recently been applied to military craft. Wave-piercers have a very fine bow, with minimal reserve buoyancy in the forward portions of the hull to minimise vertical motions. When a wave is encountered, the hull pierces through the water rather than riding over the top, providing a significantly smoother ride than traditional deep-V designs and minimising stress on the vessel as well as the crew.
Later this year, will attempt to break the nine-year-old world record of 75 days for powered circumnavigation of the globe, set by the British boat Cable & Wireless in 1998. (Interestingly, the outright circumnavigation record is still held by a sailing boat: in 2005, Frenchman Bruno Peyron and his 13-strong crew sailed their 36,5 m catamaran Orange II around the world in a time of 50 days and 16 hours to reclaim the Jules Verne Trophy.) If all goes according to plan, will cover the 24 000 nautical-mile distance in 65 days, starting and finishing in Barbados.
Skippering the boat is Pete Bethune, a 41-year-old New Zealander who – together with his wife, Sharyn – invested his life savings (and three mortgages) in his dream. A former oil exploration engineer, he co-founded the hi-tech company CamSensor, which makes automated cameras for robot control and automated quality control.
Says Bethune: “The basic ideology of is to introduce people to the viability and versatility of the amazing fuel that we run on. Although biodiesel isn’t a new fuel, it simply hasn’t had the publicity it deserves. By using this fuel to race an awesome-looking boat around the world, we hope to raise public awareness of the need to take alternative fuels seriously.”
The boat and its crew are currently on a “world port tour” that will take in 60 locations around the globe. They’ve had their share of adventure during the past few months, with experiences ranging from the mildly provocative to the downright scary.
Bethune recalls stopping for a few hours to carry out routine maintenance about 150 nautical miles east of Nicaragua. They were fishing over a reef when a boat suddenly appeared with people on board claiming to be from the Colombian Navy. “But they were not wearing uniforms, nor did it look anything like a navy vessel, so we started to pull away.”
The next moment, shots rang out, prompting crew to take shelter behind the boat’s supposedly bulletproof carbon fibre spars. “We were terrified. The thought of all five guys opening fire on us was not that appealing, so we slowed… They boarded the boat, had a look for drugs and guns, and left. A scary experience indeed.”
So what’s all about?
“I’m passionate about the environment, and I believe strongly that renewable fuels must become a key part of our transport fuel mix. I’m also keen to promote positive measures that ordinary people can take to reduce their environmental impact – not just in transport fuels, but in all areas of their lives. My goal is to see and its crew become a positive force for change.”
Hull: wave-piercing trimaran
Length: 24 m
Beam: 7 m
Draft: 1,3 m
Range: 3 000 nautical miles (6 000 km)
Maximum speed: 45 knots (90 km/h), depending on fuel load
Fuel: B100 biodiesel (100%)
Fuel capacity: 10 000 litres
Construction: Carbon/kevlar composite
Engines: 2 x 400 kW Cummins Mercruiser
Gearboxes: ZF 305A (single-speed)
Boating on steroids
It comes with two diesel engines producing nearly 1 500 kW, has a top speed of 160 km/h, and costs a cool R14 million. But hey, if you’re rich and need to make a big splash, does money really matter?
Meet the XSR48,