A day out on Leopard

A day out on Leopard

Thursday February 11 2010 Author: Leopard Location: United Kingdom

“THERE IS NOTHING - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats”

......mused Ratty in the The Wind in the Willows. He was right, of course, but my God is there a lot of messing about, especially when it comes to yachts. The ratio of messing about (tides, lack of wind, and ropes - so many ropes) means that owning a yacht can be considerably less fun than actually sailing one.

The answer, then, is to find someone else who has a boat and befriend them, or better still, take a charter on one of the fastest yachts in the world, sit back and let other people do the hard work.

Which is exactly what I did when I joined the crew of ICAP Leopard, the 100 ft winner of the recent Rolex Fastnet & Middle Sea Races and, by day, a floating corporate hospitality heaven.

In August 2009, ICAP Leopard was first across the line for the second race in succession, though this time missing out on breaking the course record it set in 2007 of 44 hours 18 minutes - a staggering nine hour improvement on the previous record.

So if you’re planning on messing about on boats, I can personally recommend making sure it’s something indecently fast and expensive, and more importantly, belongs to someone else. As long as it is not yours there’s simply nothing half so much worth doing.

Little over a month before, in somewhat less glamorous and noteworthy circumstances, the boat and its crew had played host to me and a group of property developers, this time with the champagne uncorked in celebration of ‘why-the-hell-not’ rather than victory. You see, alongside its thoroughbred racing credentials, Leopard moonlights as a day charter boat, capable of entertaining up to 20 guests for a flat rate of £10,000. It’s an astonishing level of versatility-in performance terms it’s akin to Lewis Hamilton pitching up at the taxi rank- and one you’re acutely aware of no more than when effortlessly sailing at approaching 30 knots of boat speed while clutching a glass of bubbly and shovelling canapés into your mouth.

Owned by chief executive of property firm Helical Bar, Mike Slade, ICAP Leopard is a 30m supermaxi (essentially, a very large racing yacht), whose mast stands a barely believable 47m above the sea. The boat’s hull is a sleek and ultra lightweight carbon/nomex composite built to slice through the water with minimal effort and a canting keel- a pivoting ballast attached to the hull which can be tilted to counteract the forces acting on the sails - providing the equivalent of 200 people lined up on one side when fully extended. Inside, the boat is lavishly appointed with leather furnishings and more carbon fibre, this time for decorative rather than weight-saving purposes, though when racing these superfluous furnishings are be stripped out. Perhaps the most impressive part of Leopard’s interior is however its computer – a cavernous nerve centre of CPU’s and barely comprehensible (well to me, at least) digital gauges and electronic charts.

Not that I would recommend remaining below deck when the sails are up; with blazing sunshine and ample wind I can think of no better place to be than sitting onboard one of the world’s fastest and most advanced sailing boats. As corporate hospitality goes it works really well –the stewardesses keep a steady supply of food and drink available (before a lunchtime stop-off at a pub on the Isle of Wight) and the conservation flows as easily as it would at a race course or sports stadium. It can also be a hands-on experience as the opportunity to take the wheel of such an astonishing piece of engineering is offered to all – a rare ‘money can’t buy’ opportunity indeed.

By Jon Hawkins, and originally published in Square Mile Magazine, October 09


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