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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jan. 17, 200712:00 PM EST

Biodiesel boat tries for new record

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

What’s a successful businessman from New Zealand doing in Downtown Jacksonville with his $3 million, 78-foot carbon-fiber and Kevlar offshore racing boat powered by biodiesel fuel?

He’s on a publicity tour getting ready to attempt a new record for circling the globe in a powerboat.

Skipper and owner Pete Bethune brought the “Earthrace” across the Pacific Ocean from Auckland, New Zealand, and has toured the United States’ east coast since October.

“When we left home, it was the first time in my life I’ve ever been out of the sight of land,” he said.

Bethune and his crew are headed for Barbados to begin the attempt to break the record on March 6. The current record was set in 1998 by the British boat “Cable & Wireless.” Bethune’s attempt will be the first time a new powerboat record has been tried by a biodiesel-powered vessel. Biodiesel is an alternative fuel made from plant material.

“And I made all my money in the oil business. How ironic is that?” said Bethune.

A new record of 65 days or less can be achieved if the team averages 25 knots, about half the boat’s top speed at full power. When the tanks are fully topped off at 3,800 gallons, Bethune said his vessel has a range of 2,000 nautical miles between fill-ups.

“Earthrace” delivers quite a ride because it doesn’t travel over large waves it encounters at sea – it goes straight through them.

“It’s what’s called a wave-piercing design,” said Bethune. “It has a sharp, heavy bow that we can flood with 2,000 pounds of seawater for ballast. It lets us plow right through waves. When we go through a 40-foot wave, 15 feet of the wave is above the windshield.”

He said the race requires a high level of physical fitness to handle the constant pounding of driving through the waves, but that’s not the only requirement for the four-member crew.

“You have to be physically and mentally tough,” he said. “It’s really more of a psychological challenge when you have to endure days of rough weather.”

“Earthrace” will be open for tours at the Landing until 5 p.m. today before it heads for stops in Savannah, Ga. and Charleston, S.C., where it will be hauled out of the water for final race preparations.

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