Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fastest Yacht In The World?

A wind-powered hydrofoil?

Is it a boat? is it a plane? No - it's something in between, that also happens to be very, very fast. Ian Stafford goes flying on the quickest yacht in the world

"This is not a boat, nor a plane either. This is a magical flying carpet,2 says Alain Thébault, the man behind the Hydroptère, the world's fastest yacht.

This extraordinary trimaran is the result of 20 years of research, engineering and design, plus substantial backing from Swiss banker Thierry Lombard.

It's a yacht made from carbon fibre and titanium that rises up on to "wings".

Instead of ploughing through the waves, it glides over them.

Once up to speed, only one of two hydrofoils at the end of each outer keel actually touches the sea. The drag is almost negligible. This is why it has already set two world speed records, over a nautical mile and 500m, and why it'll continue to redefine yachting speeds as we know them this summer. Watch out for the reports.

Sailing conditions are good, with a blue sky, healthy winds and light waves. It takes winds of only 12 knots (14mph) to allow the boat to "take off".

A speedometer reveals that we are picking up speed, from 30 knots to 35 and finally 40. Thébault lets out a series of high-pitched screams of delight, as spray covers fellow crew members Jacques Vincent, an eight-times round-the-world yachtsman, and Adrien Lombard, son of the Swiss backer.

As mentioned, two world speed records belong to Hydroptère: 41.69 knots (48mph) on average over a nautical mile, and 44.81 knots (51.5mph) over 500m.

In a car around 50mph may not seem all that fast, but sitting on a distant extremity of a yacht you feel as if you're aboard a powerboat on full throttle.

The question for me is: How seaworthy is it? Is it something that can survive in heavy seas, or is it just a fair-weather sort of boat?

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