world record attempt 2007
This account of the first world record attempt in 2007 is written by Scott Fratcher, Marine Engineer/Captain.
Scott Fratcher served as Chief Engineer for the 2007 record attempt and has authored six books including “Earthrace-First Time Around”.
"M/V Earthrace, the bio diesel-powered, wave-penetrating trimaran, was lost in the Southern Ocean on Jan. 5 after a collision with a Japanese whaling ship. Earthrace was designed by Craig Loomes, skippered by Pete Bethune and held the UIM round-the-world speedboat record. I served as Chief Engineer for Team Earthrace during her record attempt in 2007.
"Writing a eulogy about Earthrace feels like writing about the loss of a famous relative. I knew her well, but she touched many more lives than I’ll ever know.
"If the Japanese were seeking to reduce media exposure of whaling, they picked the wrong boat to eliminate. Earthrace, the world’s most high-profile powerboat, has been toured by more than 200,000 visitors in dozens of countries. Her loss has been viewed around the world, on every major news channel, by tens of millions of people.
"The sinking of Earthrace symbolizes the end of an era. The end of a piece of history that many were hoping would land on the walls of the National Maritime Museum rather than the floor of the Antarctic Ocean.
"Without a doubt, Earthrace suffered much drama during her short life. The news reports only told part of the tale. Take a look at some of the more memorable Earthrace moments with an insider's eye."
From its inception, Team Earthrace was desperately low on funds. Undaunted by the lack of a major cash sponsor, owner Pete Bethune capitalized on the idea of a thousand small-time funders. Opening up Earthrace for day tours at $5 a head, money trickled in and Earthrace formed a “hands on” public support group.
This simple concept of thousands of small day-to-day donations became the main funding source for Earthrace expenses and showed how a grassroots organization can effect change on a global scale.
Record attempt No. 1
In a crushing blow to the 2007 race effort, the main biodiesel sponsor pulled out (due to financial constraints) just a month before race start, leaving Earthrace with empty fuel tanks and 25,000 miles to go.
Bethune kept the boat on schedule while the ground team ran its own race seeking biodiesel donations tank by tank, often succeeding with just hours to spare. This saga climaxed in the remote island of Palau where Earthrace arrived with a broken engine, no biodiesel and no cash.
Carbon prop failures
On the unsuccessful 2007 record attempt, Earthrace tried to gain a tactical advantage with the use of carbon fiber props. Eighteen hours into the first leg, the high-tech propellers simply fell to bits, leaving Earthrace limping toward Panama and causing the team to seek an instant donation of new propellers.
Hytorq stepped forward and supplied Earthrace with props for the remainder of her race career. Fed Ex diverted a plane and delivered the new props at cost while Panamanian customs stayed open past midnight to ensure their safe arrival. The props were changed at the dock while team members stood guard, keeping crocodiles at bay. Amazingly Earthrace was only delayed two days
The saddest incident in Earthrace's history was the nighttime collision with a Guatemalan fishing boat. In the dark of night, Earthrace struck an open 22-foot, unlit, drifting fishing boat, causing the death of one Guatemalan crew member and injuries to another.
The five-day old props were destroyed and Earthrace was detained in the Puerto Quetzal military base for 10 days until a Guatemalan court found Bethune not guilty for the tragic accident.
Insurance helped to compensate the families for their loss and Hytorq kept technicians working round the clock building another set of propellers and the name of the lost fisherman was painted onto the sponsons for the 2008 world record journey in rememberance of 'Pajito' (little bird).
The boxes were air shipped to southern Mexico where team member Allison Thompson, escorted by a Guatemalan tourist office representative, crossed the border to a remote Mexican air strip past midnight, only to be told the airport was closed. Pleading their case they succeeded in collecting the props and drove through the night to return to the waiting Earthrace.
Team Earthrace was faced with more delays due to after-collision repairs at the dock in San Diego. Crew members pulled both props and one bent 3-inch shaft while Earthrace floated at the dock.
The shaft was delivered to a machine shop minutes before it closed for a three-day weekend. Taken with the Earthrace project, local technicians stayed open through the night to straighten the shaft.
A piston failed half-way between the Marshall Islands and Palau, one of the world’s most remote islands, causing a 10-day delay while the team waited for parts to find their way through the complicated air routes.
During this time, Earthrace ran completely out of cash. To buy enough fuel for departure the team started a radio campaign and sold seats aboard the infamous boat.
Yachts rarely visit India, due partly to the complex bureaucracy involved. Initially asked to wait on an offshore buoy for 48 hours while paperwork was processed, Earthrace was eventually allowed to dock directly at the main shipping pier in Cochin, South West India.
Inside the Earthrace engine room, repairs were desperately needed. In the rough crossing from Singapore, the flexible engine mount studs had sheared, leaving the port engine hanging by the shaft and nearly lying in the bilge.
Meanwhile the Earthrace crew had arrived without visas and were restricted to the hot, stuffy boat. They soon became ill with “Dehli-belly”. The biodiesel delivery was detained at the state border for four days till it finally arrived only to be found unusable after failing onboard quality tests.
Earthrace found some of her roughest weather just south of Italy. The steady pounding caused a forward transducer to implode, which opened a tear in the Earthrace bottom two meters long.
Earthrace arrived in Malaga, Spain, in sinking condition. In the belief an “in the water” repair might be possible, the bottom had some “quick fix” epoxy laid over the cracks and Earthrace departed only to return hours later leaking worse than ever.
Thus ended the 2007 recorded attempt.
Copywrite Scott Fratcher