Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Green speedster aims for record

By SIMON COLLINS

Aucklander Pete Bethune has set himself a target that trumps science fiction writer Jules Verne - to go round the world in 65 days in a "green-fuelled" powerboat.

Mr Bethune, a 39-year-old father of two, will make the voyage in a 20m "wave-piercer" powered by biodiesel - made from vegetable oil or waste animal fat. He is out to beat the round-the-world powerboat record of 75 days, set by British boat Cable & Wireless in 1998.

His boat, the Earthrace - designed by Auckland naval architect Craig Loomes - will travel closer to the equator than Cable & Wireless, which had to take a longer route sticking closer to land where it could refuel.

The rules of the Monaco-based Union Internationale Motonautique allow challengers to choose any route as long as they pass through the Suez and Panama canals and refuel only in ports, not at sea.

"At the moment it's a pretty fat record. We need to average only 14 knots (26km/h) to get the record," Mr Bethune said. "We can certainly do it within 65 days. If we get a good run, 60 days is possible."

But that will mean speeding day and night through some of the world's biggest waves for 26,000 nautical miles (48,000km), stopping only for 12 four-hour refuelling stops.

Mr Bethune and three other crew-members will work round the clock, four hours on, four hours off, with two crew always on duty.

"The most likely causes of failure are hitting a container or a log," said Mr Bethune.

Crew-member Alan Priddy gave up a 2002 attempt on the record after crew-members suffered cracked ribs, a broken arm and finally a massive heart attack, forcing an emergency airlift. "Physically there's no question that it's a very demanding event. That's one of the reasons it's a great challenge," Mr Bethune said.

Mr Bethune studied science at Waikato University and engineering at Auckland, then got a taste for the ocean as an oil engineer in the North Sea and Libya.

In 1997, he founded Albany-based CamSensor, using a New Zealand-designed camera to control robots in complex tasks such as cutting up and grading meat carcasses. Two years ago, he moved to Sydney to establish the company there. When a friend questioned whether he should burn 300 tonnes of diesel to get a world record, he decided to do a research project on alternative fuels at Macquarie University, where he is enrolled in a master of business administration course.

He will now use 70,000 litres of biodiesel made from canola or soybean oil or waste animal fat, and is seeking $5 million in sponsorship from biodiesel companies and others.

The Earthrace

Herald Feature: Conservation and Environment

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