Onboard the fastest sailboat

Controlling this high-speed craft requires an experienced crew. When I was on-board, it was being sailed by just a five-man crew. They need to be really agile because when tacking the boat they have to rush from wing cockpit to wing cockpit, dancing across the trampoline netting between the hulls. The crew sit in the minimal cockpits located on each wing float with the steering wheel angled like a powerboat wheel and one crew man on the main carriage ropes and one on the jib sheet, both of which are handled by winches. A coffee-grinder winch is used to adjust the main sheet by means of connecting hydraulics.

Hydro 4

To get L’Hydroptère under way, the boat is angled off the wind and as the sails start to fill you can feel the surge of power. As the sheets are hardened, L’Hydroptère takes off like a rocket. Amazingly, it stayed under full control. At around 20 knots, the hulls started to clear the water and the speed increased rapidly, with the boat riding just on the three foils. You watch as the weather foil comes almost clear of the water and you realise just what a clever balancing act this boat is, with the helmsman controlling the wind angle to get the boat moving at maximum speed. Running at 30 knots seems almost comfortable. But once the fine tuning is done and the speed rises, everything is in a very fine balance, with the safety margins becoming very small.

It is the most exhilarating, exciting and enjoyable experience and you want it to go on forever. This is sailing right on the limit and after this experience other boats are going to seem really boring. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to have had a trial in this remarkable and unique sailboat.

Hydro 5

The crew is confident that they can find more speed from this L’Hydroptère but they have plans for taking this foil concept to greater heights with a new model. Already under construction is a ten-metre catamaran version that is a one third scale model for a 30-metre foil catamaran. This model will be tested on Lake Geneva this summer and if it works, then Thébault and his team have plans to tackle a whole batch of long distance records, including going round the world in 40 days using what is being called L’Hydroptère Maxi. Now that is some ambition! But with L’Hydroptère, he has proved that he can succeed way beyond expectations and he has good sponsors already lined up for the project.


Technical Specifications – L’Hydroptère

Length overall – 18.6m

Beam – 24m

Floater length – 6.7m

Foil length – 5.7m

Load weight – 6.5t

Draught – 3.5m

Draught (in flight) – 2m

Mast height – 23m

Mainsail area – 135m2

Solent area – 90m2

Staysail area – 60m2