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Article by
Dag Pike


RECORD BREAKING IN 1998

1998 has seen tremendous activity on the record breaking front with record attempts by both sail and power craft. On the power side there have been new attempts on both around the world and across the Atlantic records. The sailboats have been out in force, trying to break records but they have been much less successful. Just to prove that record breaking is not easy the first of the scheduled power attempts to be fastest around the world ended in near disaster, whilst the second was a political disaster, and the third has been delayed for nearly a year.

Steve Shidler of the round the world attempts to leave and left Miami two weeks late because he wasn't ready in time. This was not a fully professional attempt and to a certain degree the three man crew were under-funded and trying to make do with second best equipment. The effect of this was seen shortly after the boat left Miami when trouble with the fuel lift pump slowed them down and made them miss their scheduled passage through the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal was not a happy experience for Revolution 98. The boat got caught in the wash of a ship ahead in one of the locks and one of the outer hulls of this trimaran was damaged. Repaired at the other end of the Canal, Revolution 98 headed up the coast to Mexico to refuel before the Pacific crossing. They hit 40 knot winds and sheltered off the coast of Nicaragua only to hit what they called an "uncharted rock" when they resumed the voyage. The "uncharted rock" was probably one not shown on the ocean charts they were using. So ended the first attempt.

Cable and Wireless Adventure was another trimaran with efficient, long slender hulls. This British team set out from Gibraltar and apart from a few storms and problems with both the Cummins engines and the propeller shaft bearings they completed the voyage around the world by the Equator route, passing through both the Panama and the Suez Canals. Their time was a little over 75 days which was just inside the 80 day target they set for themselves.

They were trying to beat what they, and the Guinness Book of Records say is the existing record of 83 days held by the U.S. Navy submarine Triton. However, back in 1973 a container ship, the Nihon, owned by a Swedish company went around the world from Rotterdam to Rotterdam in a little over 50 days and there are currently Taiwanese container ships going round on regular services in 70 days.

Cable and Wireless Adventure based their claim for a new record on the basis they were competing under the new rules brought in by the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) which limits the size of vessel which can attempt the record to 50 metres in length. With their time of 75 days they did not even break the sail boat record around the world let alone the existing record so this attempt was something of a joke and more of a publicity stunt.

Sid Stapleton from the U.S. has put back his scheduled record attempt around the world until next March. This should produce much better weather than the July 4th departure originally planned, but it looks doubtful whether Sid will qualify because his Global Victor is not fully approved by a classification society which is a requirement of the new UIM rules.

Meanwhile two new records have been set across the Atlantic this year. A 91 metre wave piercing catamaran, Catalonia, which is owned by the Argentinean ferry company Buquebus, which was built in Australia and which will operate on the Mediterranean ferry route from Barcelona to Palma, has crossed from New York to Gibraltar at an average speed of 38.877 knots. This beats the record set by Hoverspeed Great Britain back in 1989 by over 2 knots. This 91 metre wave piercer is designed to carry 900 passengers and 225 cars and made the record crossing on the unusual route from New York to Tarifa in Spain over a distance of 3125 nautical miles. Apart from hitting some bad weather the record run is reported as being uneventful.

This new record qualifies for the Hales Trophy, the prestigious trophy previously held by several famous Atlantic liners. The out and out record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic is still held by the 67 metre Italian vessel Destriero which averaged an incredible 53 knots on her Atlantic crossing. Confused? Well you have to understand that the Catalonia qualified for the Hales Trophy which is awarded only to "commercial" vessels and Destriero was classed as a leisure craft.

A month later, in September this Atlantic record was broken again, this time by a similar wave piercing catamaran of the same size and built by the same Australian builders. Catlink IV is owned by a Danish company and will operate on routes in Scandinavia. She crossed the Atlantic on the traditional route from New York to the Bishop Rock Light House off south west Britain and averaged some 2 knots faster than Catalonia to qualify for the Hales Trophy.

If you are confused about all these records and who qualifies for them it is not surprising. It seems that rules are being written arbitrarily by different so-called authorities so that everyone can qualify for a record of some sort. For all the records both Atlantic and Round The World, the UIM has decided, quite arbitrarily, that they now only apply to vessels under 50 metres in length. That immediately rules out most of the commercial vessels which might attempt the record and certainly rules out all the past holders of these records. According to the UIM you must go through the Panama and Suez Canals if you want to qualify for a round the world record. You can't use the alternative Cape Horn or Cape of Good Hope routes.

For the Atlantic record, the UIM has specified that the record distance is from New York to the Lizard lighthouse off the south coast of England, not the Bishop Rock lighthouse which has been used for all the previous records. All these qualifications for these new "record" attempts virtually disqualify all the earlier records set by other vessels. It seems the UIM has all the power and none of the experience to be the so-called world governing body for record attempts.

Spirit of America is a 50 foot monohull built in the US and rigged with triple 800 hp Caterpillar diesels by top man John Connors specifically for record breaking. After lying quietly for two years she has come out of hiding and this year, set new records from Tampa to Miami and on the famous Miami-Nassau-Miami route. Spirit of America is based on a 46 foot Cougar deep vee hull and the three Caterpillar diesels are coupled to Arneson Drives via Twin Disc gearboxes. Top speed is close to 100 mph and the boat is owned by Harry Allen, the boss of Great Lakes Power Products.

On the 320 mile run from Tampa to Miami, round the Florida Keys, Spirit of America averaged over 80 mph to beat the current record by just 10 minutes to take the Suncoast to Goldcoast Cup. The Miami-Nassau-Miami run is 361 miles and again the speed recorded was around the 80 mph mark to break the previous record by 45 minutes. Both of these records were previously held by boats built by Italian Fabio Buzzi and I wonder how long it will be before we see the maestro out there with a new boat to reclaim his records.

A record of a different sort was set last month on the London to Monte Carlo route. This is a daunting trip covering everything from coastal runs, open ocean crossings and also the sometimes placid Mediterranean. Alan Priddy, fresh from his high latitude crossing of the Atlantic in a Yamaha diesel powered RIB, set out to attempt a new small boat record from London to Monte Carlo in the same 8 metre RIB. He covered the 2300 miles in just 100 hours, a few hours short of the out and out record we set back in 1992 in Ultimaratio, a 20 metre catamaran, but then he was in a much smaller boat.

For once the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Coast of Spain were almost calm but Alan hit the hard weather when he entered the Mediterranean. Now Alan is planning a trip round the world in his tiny RIB, all 26,000 miles of it and even though his boat is small, he reckons that he can complete the trip in 50 days, 25 days less than Cable and Wireless took on her so-called record run. The UIM the international body which has taken on the self imposed task of recognising international records is still pondering the Cable and Wireless claim, because, it appears, they did not met all the requirements of the UIM rules.

Alan Priddy decided not to claim a new record from London to Monte Carlo because the cost was too high. The high fees the UIM charges to recognise the record has to be added to the fees of authorised time keepers and their travelling expenses. As Alan says, "It might be alright for heavily sponsored boats to meet these high fees, but it rules out amateurs like us. Anyway, who cares about UIM recognition, we have the record for boats under 50 feet in length."

Powerboat records are relatively easy to beat because there are only a few attempts being made. On the sailboat front it is very different and this year there were 19 attempts on records which are recognised by the World Sailing Speed Record Council. Records are much more organised in the sailing world and whilst there are different records for monohulls and multihulls and for single- handed and fully manned yachts, there are few size limitations.

Only two of the 19 attempts resulted in new records. In August, Bruno Pyron set a new record across the Pacific Ocean from Yokohama to San Francisco in a time of 14 days, 17 hours and 23 minutes. Pyron was the previous holder of the round the world record for sailboats with a time of 79 days back in 1994. He used the same boat for both attempts, a large multihull called Commodore Explorer.

Most recently, a new monohull record across the Atlantic was set by Robert Millar in the 146 foot yacht Mare Cha III. This beautiful large sloop was built in New Zealand by Alloy Yachts and is an extremely lightweight design specifically aimed at record breaking but also capable of comfortable cruising. Her time for the Atlantic crossing was just 43 seconds less than 9 days.

With a series of very large multihulls being built for The Race which starts in 2000 we are likely to see many of the established sailboat records tumble. These large yachts will be capable of averaging over 20 knots on long passages so many of the established records will be within their grasp. On the powerboat front there is Sid Stapleton waiting to make his attempt on the round the world record but there are more exciting projects starting to move. One is for a 54 metre design which could attempt both the round the world and the Atlantic records. Then there are a couple of boats thinking about trying the London to Monte Carlo records. There are busy times ahead.