While Steve Fossett was taking off in the Branson balloon in Marrakesh his Race contender was taking to the water in Auckland

1700 today New Zealand time. Blue skies, sunshine and champagne – and one AWESOME big catamaran. Not content with ballooning around the world, American adventurer and offshore sailor Steve Fossett, launched the first of the mega-multihulls for the ultimate yacht race – THE RACE – around the globe in whatever you want, starting on New Years Eve 2000. Fossett was not present at the launch of this amazing 32metre machine – he was somewhere over Marakesh with Richard Branson – but we were treated to a video link up recorded just before the balloon took off.

The amazing machine, nicknamed VLM (very large multihull) was launched amongst the America’s Cup syndicate bases in downtown Auckland, with the Auckland tower as the backdrop. PLAYSTATION, the Cookson built, and Southern Spars rigged catamaran was officially launched by the Mayoress of Auckland, a city truly Designer, was on hand to see his finest creation yet hit the water. As wide as a 60 foot raceboat is long, and covering the area of an ice hockey pitch, ‘Playstation’ will truly match their corporate strapline – Don’t underestimate the power of Playstation – what a great name for this speed machine, that will no doubt bring lots of fun to those who sail her. The loads will be phenominal, and whilst there is much learning to do, there has clearly been a lot of work on getting equipment right first time. The vectran strop for the hydraulic mainsheet is a massive 50mm or so in diameter, and the carbon headstay furler system must be close to 60mm in diameter. This is not surprising when you consider the sail area is about a 1000 square metres (5 average size houses). It seems that no expense has been spared on her construction – carbon pre-preg with aluminium honeycomb core – and every bit of carbon deck hardware that money can buy. The launch of this first boat aimed at THE RACE will no doubt help other syndicates to get their projects funded, as it is evidence that it really could happen. Furthermore, to have such a global corporation as Sony Playstation involved bodes well for yachting sponsorship. I spoke to the Sony CEO in New Zealand, and whilst he’d never sailed before (he’s in for a surprise), he was really excited and saw such great synergies between their brand and the multihull project. This can only be good news for all of us. By being so far ahead of the others, Fossett will also be significantly increasing his chance of victory in The Race, for he will have travelled a long way on the technical learning curve – quite steep for these new mega-multis, since there is no data available from any previous boats. Fossett plans to break many records before 2001, and will start with the 24 hour record in January, and then on to the Atlantic in March. Looking at this beast in harbour, one has no doubt that they will break the 24 hour record pretty soon – it will be hard not to.

For the full stories and pictures, see the February issue of YACHTING WORLD, published on 7 January.