Earthrace, the hi-tech trimaran of record-breaking circumnavigation


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UFO come to us from a distant galaxy or sea monster out of a Jules Verne book? These were the questions posed to Pete Bethume in 2008, when he was preparing
, hi-tech trimaran with which he was preparing to break the speed record in terms of going around the world on the equator course. A challenge that we know proved successful, with a record time of 60 days, 23 hours and 49 minutes. But let’s see what was thought about it on our pages in March 2008, when the departure was still to be prepared.

Earthrace UFO

The record, as of 2008, was held by the British boat Cable & Wireless Adventurer, which a full 10 years earlier clocked a time of 74 days, 23 hours and 53 minutes. It may seem like a lot to take nearly two and a half months to circumnavigate the globe in a motor boat, but you have to cross as many as three oceans in whatever weather conditions these present themselves and dose your reserves in order to make it to the next ‘pit stop’ for refueling. No small feat, just think that the previous record winner, set back in 1960, was held by an American nuclear submarine, the Triton, which did it in just over 83 days, without having to worry about surface sea conditions!

Earthrace at sea

The Rules of the Record

This competition is very fascinating because it has very few constraints and leaves teams, researchers and engineers, wide scope for intellect and plenty of room for imagination. The UIM World Power Authority has mandated that the route must pass through the Panama and Suez canals, and that refueling can only be done at equipped ports, and not while sailing. The only limitation regarding the boat is related to length, while the point of arrival and departure, such as the direction one chooses to follow to the equator, remain at the total discretion of the crew. In short, a huge race course to be managed as one sees fit.

Earthrace Route
Earthrace – The Record Route

Earthrace, here is the name of the challenger

This project, at the time, was the brainchild of New Zealand skipper Pete Bethume, who invested, together with his wife, everything in his possession in order to realize the challenge. The construction of the hull was one of the most accurate and complex in terms of size (contextualizing to 2005. ed.). At the Calibre Boats shipyard in Auckland, they worked for a full 14 months and a total of 18,000 hours before they were able to launch the boat, on February 24, 2006. The boat, including the two side hulls, measures 24 meters in length with a total width of more than 8, while the dry weight is around 13 tons; a real feather in the water for an 80-footer. It was not easy to achieve such lightness while maintaining structural rigidity capable of withstanding giant waves. For this, advanced composite materials such as carbon and Kevlar were used, which are particularly strong but extremely light.Sharp bow and biodiesel fuel.

Earthrace under construction
Earthrace under construction

Where, however, are the project’s winning weapons?

First in the innovative hull with sharp, tapered shapes. Although quite similar to the previous record boat (also a trimaran), Earthrace espouses the philosophy of “wave-piercing,” that is, it traverses waves by piercing them through, rather than past them at the surface. A technique that reduces stresses on the structure from wave impacts and has several advantages. In purely performance terms, decelerations due to wave breaking are minimized, with significantly reduced pitching compared to a conventional hull. This results in lower fuel consumption, a more consistent average speed, and greater comfort for the crew. Instead, the propulsion, entrusted to two 540-horsepower Cummins MerCruisers, presents us with a new (2008) cleaner way of going to sea, as it uses environmentally friendly fuels. What fills Earthrace’s tanks for the enterprise is in fact biodiesel, a fuel that replaces conventional diesel fuel and is made from renewable natural sources such as soybeans, rapeseed, sunflower and canola.

Earthrace - Study Images
Earthrace – Study Images

The Winning Strategy

There are two main ways to cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and they are based on the capabilities of one’s vehicle. For vessels with a range under 2,500 miles, the mandatory route is the northerly, easterly route, which allows favorable use of currents and winds. For Earthrace, which boasts a far greater range, it is possible to cross oceans by the most direct route possible, following the equator in a westerly direction. There are 12 scheduled pit stops, intended for refueling along the way. Given the duration of the challenge with environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel, which is not available in all stopover countries, the team arranged to send the specific fuel to each stopover point where it was needed. Planned stops, kept to a minimum, amount to 2 hours each, time needed for supplies, galley and maintenance, plus, of course, press and media.

Earthrace – Team

A Continuous Push

In the engine room, which is very narrow for an 80-footer, two standard Cummins MerCruiser QSC-540 engines are installed, coupled to as many ZF 350 inverters with angled output and 1.4:1 reduction ratio. These powertrains were chosen for different reasons, chief among them being low exhaust emissions. As a second criterion, the good efficiency of the thermal units was taken into consideration; they boast a fair amount of power without requiring excessive consumption; an argument of no small importance for a boat that requires a range of several miles. Last but certainly not least is the excellent power-to-weight ratio, perhaps one of the best in its class, subject to the great reliability qualities. In addition, the extensive Cummins MerCruiser service network ensures a valuable support point at all the planned stops during the circumnavigation.



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