Earthrace stopped by prop problems

Round the world record attempt halted at once

The Earthrace boat set off on its round the world record attempt on Saturday (10 March) but yesterday was in port with serious propeller problems.

Here is the full press release from the organisers:

Earthrace Limping into First Race Port

Panama City, Panama- March 11, 2007—On 10th March, Earthrace started its attempt to set a new world record for a powerboat to circumnavigate the globe. Leaving Barbados at an unofficial time of 12:06:26am (UTC), Earthrace set a course for Panama, some 1250 nautical miles away, however just 16 hours later and the boat has been forced to almost abandon the attempt.

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Earthrace is running a new kind of carbon propellers that were originally developed for submarines, and they offer reduced vibration and better efficiency compared with conventional blades. The propellers however have struggled with the speeds and loads of Earthrace, and just 16 hours into the first leg have started to fail.

At 1am this morning, and over a period of about an hour, there was a steady and progressive increase in vibration. Using a dive light, the team inspected the props, and according to Earthrace Skipper Pete Bethune, “we were staggered by the damage”. All the blades have sections where the carbon is peeling away, and the entire leading edge of one blade is coming to bits.” The team believes it is primarily cavitation damage, where bubbles form along the edges and tips of the propellers, gradually eating into the fiber. Although why it has happened so quickly on Earthrace remains a mystery.

Boat speed has been dropped to 12 knots and the crew is nursing her on to Panama. Bethune says “right now, the priority is to just get safely in to port, and we are concerned these blades will come to bits before we make it. And of course we’re devastated.”

In terms of the record attempt, Earthrace is currently considering a number of options, and will decide in a day or two whether the record attempt will continue, and is so, with what propellers technology.


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