Zeitblick / Das Online-Magazin der HillAc - 1. April 2009 - Nr. 33

Earthrace
By John Allen, Earthrace Operations Manager, Feb '06 - Oct '07

Part 5

The European Promotional Tour

In Parts 1 to 4 of this series, I have covered the story behind the Earthrace Project; the launch of the boat; the subsequent promotional tours around New Zealand and North America; and our unsuccessful attempt to break the world record for a power boat to circumnavigate the Earth. In this final Part 5 of the series, I intend to summarise some of the adventures we had during our subsequent European promotional tour.

The Earthrace boat and crew endured a tough week or so in Malaga, in the south of Spain, after our brave world record attempt came to an end when the Earthrace boat started taking on water just prior to stopping in Malaga for a scheduled refuelling stop. The boat had suffered significant damage to the underside of her hull, and whilst this damage did not prevent the boat from travelling short distances, it certainly prevented the boat from continuing on with her record attempt.

We were aware at the time that just north east of Malaga, in Valencia, the America’s Cup yachting regatta was in full swing. The America’s Cup is the oldest sporting trophy in the world and is contested only every 4-5 years by super fast and expensive sail boats, in what is the yachting equivalent to the Formula 1 Car Racing series. New Zealand had a boat in the finals of the challenger’s series and so we decided to head to Valencia to lend our support to the New Zealanders.

We were lucky enough to arrive just in time for the final race of the Challenger’s series final, which was the best of 9 races between Team New Zealand and the Italian challenge Luna Rosa – with the winner going on to challenge the Swiss boat Alingi for the America’s Cup. New Zealand were leading the series 4-0 and so only required one more race to clinch the Challenger’s series. We took the boat out on the race course, and what an amazing day we had. Team New Zealand won the race and as the NZ boat was heading back into port, we managed to bring Earthrace right in behind her, and we followed her all the way back into port – with a huge flotilla of boats around us and TV helicopters buzzing around the sky like flies. The photo below is a shot taken from Earthrace – with the victorious Team New Zealand boat directly ahead of us.


© Earthrace Ltd

Unfortunately, Team New Zealand went on to lose the subsequent America’s Cup final races (also a best of 9) to the Swiss boat 5-2.

After the excitement of the America’s Cup died down, it came to the serious business of repairing the boat in order for us to begin our promotional tour around Europe. In keeping with our earlier promotional tours around New Zealand and North America, the purpose of the European promotional tour was to raise awareness of renewable fuels and also to allow the European public to view, and become involved with, a quite remarkable boat and project.

We were very fortunate in that we found a boat yard just north of Valencia which offered to sponsor the significant repairs required to the boat. The  boat yard was called Vulkan Shipyard (in a small place called Sagunto), and it was also was the only shipyard we could find that had a lift big enough to hoist Earthrace out of the water. The photo below shows Earthrace suspended between the straps of this enormous lift – which makes Earthrace look like a toy !!


© Earthrace Ltd

Around mid-June 2007, the repairs to the boat were finished, and we headed off from Valencia to the first stop on her European promotional tour – Cork in Ireland. The reason we chose Cork as our starting point was because one of our recent crew members was from there and so there was the promise of lots of local support. And so it turned out. We even had the Lord Mayor of Cork come down and give a speech on the back of the boat to a huge crowd which had gathered just for the occasion. The photo below shows the Lord Mayor giving his speech - but to be honest, he was so old and spoke so slowly during his speech that we were concerned he might fall asleep during the delivery of his own speech !!


© Earthrace Ltd

After Cork, our next port of call was Halmstad in Sweden, where Earthrace was to be the guest of honour at a boat festival. As part of the festivities, Earthrace took a group of local supporters and sponsors out for a ride on the boat. However, this did not go well, as Earthrace travelled too close to some rocks near the shore and ended up losing her starboard rudder as a result. Earthrace can steer on one rudder, however not as well as with two rudders, and so this was a bit of a blow – as well as being a bit embarrassing for the skipper. The photo below shows the starboard rudder – which was sheared completely off after the collision.


© Earthrace Ltd

After Halmstad, we visited several other Swedish ports, before heading to a Danish Island called Bornholm, which is half way between Sweden and Germany. On the way there we got overtaken by a fast ferry which is not hugely significant in itself except for the fact that these ferries are huge and travel up to 90 km/hr. It was an incredible sight seeing this huge boat roar past us like we were standing still (we were doing 30 knots which is a reasonably fast clip for any boat). The ferries use gas turbine engines which are regularly serviced by Air New Zealand. The ferries themselves are made in Australia - which probably explains why they need regular servicing.

The photo below shows Earthrace being overtaken by the ferry.


© Earthrace Ltd

Our next stop after Bornholm was Rostock in Germany, and this proved to be a very successful stop for us, both in terms of sponsorship and in terms of the amount of fun we had. We arrived very early in the morning and it was very misty and almost surreal when we pulled in. The next photo is similarly surreal, and shows Earthrace photographed just after she arrived in Rostock – with the photo being taken through the pot hole of an adjacent container ship.


© Earthrace Ltd

At Rostock, a couple of us slept on the yacht Illsbruck which won the Volvo Ocean Race a few years back, so that was very cool. We also saw a flying forklift in Rostock which I believe our German hosts had hired to lift a few pesky clouds out of the way - those Germans are so efficient they think of everything – see photo below:


© Earthrace Ltd

After Rostock, the boat visited Kiel, and after that Hamburg. We were lucky enough to have a significant sponsor in Hamburg, and this sponsor arranged all the media for us in Hamburg. Without a doubt, our best media coverage and the biggest crowds during the European tour occurred in Hamburg, and it was so pleasing given that we traditionally found it hard going to attract attention in the bigger cities. The German people were incredibly supportive and welcoming. The photo below shows the Earthrace boat leaving Hamburg after a most successful stay.


© Earthrace Ltd

After Germany, the boat visited Amsterdam and Antwerp, before arriving in London for an extended stay - the boat was moored at Chelsea harbour for a two week stay.   London was to be the final port of call for me as I was heading home to New Zealand after London – primarily because I was intending to surprise my Dad for his 80th birthday, but also because it was time for me to take a break from the project. I had been involved continuously with the project, 7 days a week for about 2 years, and the time was right for me bid my farewell and to move on and do something new.

London turned out to be one of our best stops, and the River Thames provided a remarkable means to see the city.

On one of our cruises up the River Thames, with some sponsors on board, the Tower Bridge opened right in front of us !! This was a very unexpected treat as we had been told the bridge didn’t open up hardly at all any more. Refer to the photo below.


© Earthrace Ltd

During the same trip, a friend took a photo of Earthrace as she passed in front of the impressive headquarters of MI5, and this remains one of my favourite photos taken of Earthrace during my entire involvement with the project – see photo below.


© Earthrace Ltd

On our second-to-last day in London we took Sir Richard Branson out on the boat as he had expressed an interest to come and see what we were all about. Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic airline was experimenting with using biofuels in their planes and so we had a common interest in renewable fuels. I had arranged for a local Maori cultural group, Ngati Ranana, to perform a haka (a maori war dance) and traditional welcome when Sir Richard Branson arrived on the boat at Chelsea Harbour, and it turned out to be an  extremely moving and heart warming experience. The cultural group did an awesome job and it was very moving watching them perform with such joy and passion – it made me feel proud to be a kiwi (New Zealander). I have attached a photo below of Sir Richard Branson watching the haka.


© Earthrace Ltd

But all good things must come to an end, and so it was the very next day that the Earthrace boat left London bound for France, whereas I remained behind to return home to New Zealand.

My involvement with the Earthrace project remains, to this day, the most incredible adventure I have ever been involved with. During my time with the project I stepped so far outside my comfort zone, it felt surreal at times. But at all times, it is fair to say that I felt, for the first time in my life, that I was living, really living – rather than simply existing.

It was the best of times and the worst of times, but overall I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The final photo below shows the author standing on the dock in Chelsea, after just having said his final goodbyes to the boat and crew after two incredible years with the project. The photo was taken in September 2007


© Earthrace Ltd


Footnote:

In June 2008 Earthrace finally broke the world record for a powerboat to circumnavigate the Earth. The previous record was 75 days. Earthrace did the journey in 61 days – a truly remarkable effort.

© John Allen, Auckland, New Zealand, 2009