Earthrace - a vehicle for fuel change

Earthrace flies the NZL flag - Sagunto Spain - after breaking Round the World Record
Team Earthrace, led by New Zealand Skipper Pete Bethune, has smashed the world circumnavigation record for a speedboat by almost 14 days. Almost five years of preparation, planning and two record attempts have paid off leaving the bio-diesel powered Earthrace team to claim the round the world speedboat record.

It's a proud moment and one to savour. For many who have followed the race team's trials and tribulations it has been a nail biting roller coaster ride of anticipation. During the race the team were faced with many challenges. including a possible lost weekend waiting for a container of bio-diesel to be cleared through customs.

A few stops later Earthrace suffered a wrecked drive train in Palau, followed by near impossible repairs in Singapore. Still the excitement built as the crew faced the extreme conditions crossing the Indian Ocean. In each challenge the Earthrace team has just managed to stay on the winning side of success to ultimately claim the record.

Perhaps this is a good time to reflect on last year’s failed record attempt compared to this year’s successful record setting performance.

Let's consider . . . what tips the finely balanced scales of victory to defeat? What combination of experience and the uncontrollable factor of luck produced a record breaking performance?

The second record attempt succeeded, due in a large part to the lessons learned on the first race. Some of those lessons from the school of hard knocks are basic for any ocean going yacht. The list includes carrying more spares, relying on dependability over short-term gains, perfecting the shipping of the bio-diesel and fine-tuning the port entry logistics.

Earthrace at dawn
The carrying of spares is a basic philosophical change in team thinking. In the first record attempt the team tried to make Earthrace as light as possible. The idea was every kilo of weight was a kilo of fuel that was not carried. In retrospect the race was not lost on fuel capacity, but on time needed to acquire broken parts. This year Earthrace carried enough spare parts to repair just about every major system.

Dependability over short-term gains was another major factor in this year’s attempt.

On the first leg of the original record attempt the new fragile carbon fibre propellers tore themselves apart after just 18 hrs. The team then turned their hopes to the rugged HyTorq propellers. The reputation of the dependable bronze props paid off in steady, ideal performance during the record setting feat.

Another area where experience paid off was in the production and shipping of the bio-diesel. In the first race the team attempted to use locally produced bio-diesel. The idea was to have three or four deposits around the world to ship bio-diesel from, thus saving on shipping and spreading the sponsorship to a group of companies.

This caused a whole array of unpredictable results. The varying quality bio-diesel would arrive packed differently in every port. This meant arranging diverse pumping and fuel transfer systems costing time and effort.

This year the team focused on the use of one single fuel source. Spanish bio-fuell company SGC provided 165,000 litres as part of their sponsorship package. The SGC bio-diesel proved to be flawless in every port. Container after container of predictable, stable, clean, fuel saved Earthrace time in refuelling. More importantly, by having such high quality fuel supplied the team could turn their limited resources to more productive matters.

Some products were not available last year, such as the new secret weapon, that is the latest bottom paint by PPG. The patented PPG Ameron PSX700 High engineered Siloxane Coating was so slippery the team had to throw away the fuel consumption charts and start anew.

We learned on the first race that bottom resistance equals fuel wasted. With the new Ameron bottom paint Earthrace felt like she was skidding over ice and this gave her the edge to take even more time off the round the world speedboat record.

Earthrace crosses the finishing line - Sagunto Spain - after breaking Round the World Record
Even with the best of today's high tech input much of the race still came down to lady luck….the unpredictable roll of the dice. In the first race I heard over and over from leaders in the industry 'This is a first…' or my personal favourite '30 years and I've never seen this before…'

Luck determined the weather conditions Earthrace ultimately faced. In the first race the team drove through three major storms that eventually broke the boat. Last year the Mexican Baja was roaring, thus pounding the crew and boat. This year the seas were calm.

The short steep seas experienced in last years Mediterranean crossing was a gut pounding, hull cracking, race stopping event while this year the weather systems seemed to open and allow the sleek trimaran to pass unhindered. Luck is indeed a random passage of events that’s outside the control of the team. Even so, luck sometimes has to take a backseat to an even larger force - human determination.

Earthrace Haul 2
The determination and grit of the Earthrace team is ultimately what led to the taking of the round the world speedboat record.

Skipper Pete Bethune was unwilling to hear the words 'delay' or 'precaution'. Bethune's tenacity to take the record infected the crew with a scene of 'must do, can do, and will do.’

It is this determination that drove the ground team to sleep two out of every twenty-four hours and remain focused during the delays, and lack of resources. Determination is direction to a point. In this case the point was completing the world's longest race. But was that the 'point' of Earthrace? Simply taking a record. A name, typed in small print, on page 74 of a yearly publication.

I have to ask myself what is the point? My wife and I donated almost a year of our life to the last race attempt and have steadily consulted through this attempt. We are just two of the many team members. Why the commitment of time and energy by such a wide array of marine technicians from around the world? What is the point?

The point is change. The Earthrace boat grabs one's attention, and the crew are treated as B grade celebrities. Being a minor grade celebrity has the advantage that people around the world are willing to listen to what we have to say, if only for a minute.

Allow me to present a few examples.

Last year when Earthrace arrived in one Pacific island, we found a ship exporting 240 tons of coconut oil while a small tanker sat at the dock offloading fuel. In our couple of minutes of 'B grade' celebrity status the team was able to meet with the coconut exporter and ask 'Why not change that coconut oil into diesel fuel and sell it on the island?' This year when Earthrace returned that same island was using locally grown coconuts to power vehicles.

A small change, but one that would not have happened if the Earthrace team had not been given the right ear, if only for a minute.

On another island an official explained how they were considering a new electrical generation plant. In our two minutes of fame the team was able to quote the advantages of wind, solar and minimizing consumption. We heard later that a wind plant was in the consideration phase.

One Earthrace engineer was able to use his 'two minutes of fame' to make a presentation on a Caribbean island. That presentation has brought three businesses together who are preparing to collect forty thousand gallons a month of used deep fry oil to process into bio-diesel.

To me that was always the point of Earthrace - the ability to effect change.

The ability to take a small stand to prevent forty thousand gallons of month of toxic waste from entering a land fill in exchange for producing forty thousand gallons a month more income to an island nation.

Positive change is not often seen on to