Photo: Guilain Grenier www.martin-raget.com
We look at the world's fastest boat and speak to its creator, Alain Thébault
Finally last week we achieved something we’ve been attempting to get around to for at least a decade... we went sailing on L’Hydroptere and met its amiable creator, Alain Thébault. On 4 September last year the French foiling trimaran achieved its objective of becoming the world’s fastest boat when it averaged 51.36 knots over a 500m course, beating the previous record of kiteboarder Alexandre Caizergues, who had managed 50.57. Incredibly this achievement came about after 35 years of long hard work, from getting Eric Tabarly involved (like Michel Desjoyeaux and Roland Jourdain, Thébault sailed with Tabarly on Cote d’Or, although not on the Whitbread) – back in 1975, to building a one third scale model in the late 1980s to the launch of the first iteration of the full sized L’Hydroptere in October 1994. Over the intervening 16 years, since her first launch, L’Hydroptere has endured a number of catastrophic breakages, but with impressive determination Thébault has always bounced back. “The first step was the effort, like 100 years ago in the transition from balloons and aircraft. They crashed all the time. Now we have an aircraft,” he says of L’Hydroptere. Unfortunately in the early days the learning was empirical and he gives the example of the foils, which when they started out they estimated would be seeing 10 tonnes/sqm whereas expensive trial and error has proved that in reality it is 20 tonnes/sqm. Throughout this period Thébault has relied heavily on the experience of several grandees of French aerospace engineering – ‘Les Papés’ as they are known, four from Airbus and four from Dassault. In terms of her overall concept, L’Hydroptere remains similar to how she was originally conceived – a trimaran foiler, sort of fitting into the ORMA 60 rule with an LOA of 18.28m (60ft) but with a