Real Cool Cat

Boat designer Adrian Thompson and skipper Pete Goss set out to revolutionize catamaran design with Team Philips. Will it survive its 25,000-mile shakedown cruise?

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What do you get when you put a blank sheet of paper in front of the world’s top multihull sailboat designers and tell them to let their imaginations run wild? One-hundred-foot-plus rocket ships that can sprint at speeds approaching 43 knots; boats in which the smallest steering error in big seas can mean capsizing or an overtaxed fitting can explode with the force of a grenade; and a new generation of catamarans that is likely to obliterate every significant sailing speed record there is. Three new designs—Steve Fossett’s PlayStation, Pete Goss’s Team Philips, and Cam Lewis’s Team Adventure (along with her near-identical sister ships, Club Med and Code 1)—will vie for victory and $1 million in The Race. All use the same ultralight, ultrastrong modern materials&151;such as carbon fiber for the hulls and masts—to make them, pound for pound, the most powerful sailing vessels ever built.

But for pure wackiness of concept no boat exceeds Goss’s Team Philips, a 120-foot fantasy from the quirky mind of Adrian Thompson, the 53-year-old Englishman and self-taught mastermind who designs for Paragon Mann, an English company known for its high-speed motorized British and U.S. Special Forces patrol craft. Goss, a fellow Englishman and tea-guzzling freethinker, welcomed Thompson’s radical design. “This is the first time you have an event which isn’t ring-fenced by a lot of daft design rules,” Goss says of The Race. “It lets you dare to dream.” Last March the Team Philips dream became a nightmare when, in moderate weather, a 45-foot section of the port bow broke off the newly launched, $4 million vessel. (An autopsy determined two critical layers of the carbon fiber hulls failed to bond properly during manufacture.) After a feverish rebuild, Team Philips is once again out to defy the skeptics and the wild winds and waves of the unforgiving Southern Ocean, where a broken boat means the race is over—or worse. Thompson, for one, is painfully aware of the stakes. As he once told his friend Goss, “I screw up, you die.”

The Divine Details

1. Twin free-standing carbon-fiber wing masts tower 136 feet over the water and are so aerodynamic that in heavy winds they can drive Team Philips at well over 20 knots—without any sail up.

2. Very slender “wave-piercing” bows are designed to submerge down to 14 feet underwater.

3. No front beam to pound into waves means Team Philips can be driven harder, but leaves bows unsupported and competing boat designers skeptical.

4. Enormous trampoline (the boat is larger than Wimbledon’s Centre Court) makes communication between scrambling crew members difficult; the men will wear specially designed waterproof headsets to relay crucial racing information.

5. Fifty-foot crew pod will accommodate the crew in spartan style; at one point designer Adrian Thompson considered making it detachable so it could serve as an escape capsule.

6. Steering station is 12 feet above the water; real-time telemetry transmitted live to will include boat speed, heading, wind speed, and wave height.

7. If Team Philips capsizes, crew will await rescue inside hulls on special shelves designed for upside-down living with easy access to freeze-dried food, water-makers, and heat blankets.

8. Masts can rotate 360 degrees, allowing sails to be quickly “weather-cocked” in a sudden storm or blast of wind, reducing the chance of a life-threatening capsize in the icy, remote reaches of the Southern Ocean.

9. Giant wishbone rigs make huge sails easier to handle, allowing Team Philips to sail with a crew of six or seven (instead of the 13 or so carried on PlayStation or Club Med), eliminating more than a ton of gear and people.

Tim Zimmermann wrote about 29er skiffs in the July issue.