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This Bonkers New Sailboat Is a Rocketship for Water That Could Break a Speed Record

by multimill
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At the Monaco Yacht Show, surrounded by hundreds of huge new superyachts worth many billions of dollars, sits a slender, 33-foot-long trimaran. With sponsons on both sides that give it a beam of just over 19 feet and a small enclosed cockpit for a pilot and co-pilot, the boat has a futuristic look, almost like a spaceship.

But the SP80 is actually more like a kiteboard, or at least designed to operate like one, with an oversized kitesurfing sail that will, at least theoretically, propel the boat to a record of 80 knots, or 92 mph, powered only by the wind.

Despite its sponsorship by watchmaker Richard Mille, the SP80 initiative is a start-up started on a shoestring by three friends—Mayeul van den Broek, Xavier Lepercq, and Benoit Gaudiot—who, in 2016, decided they wanted to break the 80-knot mark. This Switzerland-based group, now up to a dozen people, will go after the water-speed record of 65.45 knots, or 75 mph, set by Australian Paul Larsen in 2012. But when is not exactly clear.

SP80 sailing raceboat.

The powerful kitesurfing sail joined to a 330-pound foiling boat could propel it to a new world-speed record.

SP80

The team is employing an unproven concept by combining the massive kitesurfing sails with an experimental boat that weighs only 330 pounds. They know they need to take it slowly because they have one boat and a lot could potentially go wrong.

The three cofounders spent more than two years and 40,000 hours designing the carbon-fiber trimaran, with many variations. It took another two year to build at Persico Marine in Italy. This week it’s at the Monaco Show, attracting many selfies. In the next two weeks, it will undertake sea trials in the French Mediterranean, after its initial launch in Lake Geneva that included a tow test behind a boat.

“We’re really at the beginning of the testing phase,” Lepercq, who designed the hull and sail plan, told Robb Report. Under a shortlist of rules for breaking the record, the SP80 is not allowed to use the same type of electronics or battery banks to adjust the sails and foils, as the modern America’s Cup or SailGP fleet do—even though the SP80 is facing far higher loads on the sails. The rules limit it to only using the wind.

SP80 racing sailboat.

After four years of development, the team launched the boat in Lake Geneva earlier this year.

Laura Menon

The foiling system under the hull works directly with the sails via a system of ropes and pulleys that coordinate the two systems. When winds are strong enough, the sails propel the boat to its planing speed of 12 knots and the hull lifts on its single foil. “The boat is designed to be self-stabilizing,” says Lepercq. “But it’s also very fast and once it gets going, the pilots need to react very quickly.”

The two pilots, in fact, are moving at what could be considered hyperdrive on a boat this small in conditions that could prove dangerous, possibly deadly. The cockpit edges are Kevlar, which won’t splinter like the carbon-fiber hull in case there’s a crash. The forward pilot steers the boat, while the rear pilot trims the sails, watching a small display to gauge the position of the sails.

SP80 Sailing Yacht

The first time the boat was on the water in Lake Geneva it passed initial tow tests.

SP80

Both are equally important for handling the boat. Unlike a conventional sailing rig, there is no mast, just the connection with large kitesurfing sail. “You want a really strong kitesurfer like Benoit handling the sails because he understands the dynamics at these speeds.”

Despite the small budget, the team has built a high-strength carbon-fiber vessel designed to take the shocks and stresses at high speeds. Lepercq says he’ll be relieved when the boat proves it can come on plane and, so far, the design has required tweaks rather than overhauls. He didn’t give a date for any speed run and only says that will happen when the boat is ready.

SP80 Record Breaking Boat

Cofounders Lepercq, van den Broek, and Gaudiot show off the boat at the Monaco Yacht Show.

Laura Manon

But there may be other deadlines. The team is facing a French competitor, Syroco, that will employ a kitesurfing sail that will actually lift the vessel above the water. But it will be held down by a long fin that serves as a sea anchor. The two teams share a connection. Gaudiot’s brother, Thomas, is an engineer on the Syroco team. Lepercq said a third competitor, Glenn Ashby, who earlier this year broke a land-speed record in an unpowered sailing vessel on wheels in Australia. He was aided by his colleagues on the America’s Cup franchise, Emirates Team New Zealand.

It’s not clear which team will be first to break the record. But in terms of getting many eyes on the boat, SP80 was a hands-down winner in Monaco.



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