Is it a Boat? Is it a Plane? No, it's the Hydroptère

hydroptere.jpgA 60-footer that goes by the name of Hydroptère is hoping to travel at over 50 knots (58mph) and become the world's fastest racing ship. Using "wings", the French-built craft glides over the waves, instead of ploughing through them like a traditional sailing vessel. Even the captain, Alain Thébault, who has crossed the English Channel in just over half an hour, reckons it's more like flying a glider than piloting a yacht.

A breeze of just 12 knots is needed to allow the Hydroptère to fly. Rising 15 feet out of the water, just the carbon fiber ailerons - as strong as the landing gear on an airplane - beneath the trimaran's keels remain in contact with the water, reducing drag to almost zero, and allowing the yacht to hover over the waves. One crewmember steers, while the others bounce around the boat, tightening and loosening sails. And should something go wrong, there is a panic button on the boat, which brings it to a swift halt.

"We're on the border of two worlds, sailing and aeronautics," says Thébault, who has contemplated an attempt on the west-east Transatlantic crossing record. That currently stands at four days and eight hours, and the French vessel would need optimum weather and constant winds over the 3,000 miles.

The Hydroptère currently holds the one-mile and 500-meter records, and has got French knickers in a right old twist. The nation, whose fast train, the 357-mph TGV, became the fastest thing on two rails earlier this year, is counting on the boat to capture the world speed record for sailing, currently held by an Irish windsurfer.

Already the trimaran has hit 47.2 knots in training, just 1.5 knots below the two-year-old record held by Finian Maynard, which Captain Thébault will be attempting to smash in Brittany this winter. "The 50-knot mark in sailing is a bit like the sound barrier in flying," he said. "After that, everything is possible." [Times Online via Luxist]

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