Weighing in at around 5 tonnes, each of the Class 1 fleet is approximately 13-14m in length and 3.5m wide. The boats are built using composite materials. Over the years, safety has become a key concern and today's Class 1 boats are without doubt the safest they have ever been. The quest for speed has produced boats, engines and transmission systems which are inevitably more sophisticated and the use Epoxy Carbon Fibre combined with PVC to make it lighter have proved to be safer. It takes an average of about four months to build one boat with the longest time taken to make the mould.
Most boats run petrol engines with the Italian Lamborghini 8.2litre, V12 the preferred power plant of many of the teams. The Victory Team run their own Victory V12 (based on the Lamborghini V12 but with a few tweaks here and there). There is also the Mercury engines, a 9.2 litre, that are used by some teams with an original 1075 hp. These engines are approved by the watersports governing body WPPA.
In the cockpit, a satellite GPS system, trim indicators, engine data dashboards and instrument panels and warning lights keep the crew aware of the boat's progress during a race, while in some boats an escape hatch in the floor is an added safety feature in the event of an accident. The cockpit is also structured to withstand enormous impacts that may occur if a boat crashes at speeds in excess of 150mph.
In each boat is a two-man crew consisting of the driver who navigates and steers the boat and a throttleman who dictates the speed and attitude. It is a combination that requires total trust - imagine driving a car and the person beside you has control of the accelerator - and a close working relationship. People often believe that the crew simply jump into the cockpit and it's the guys who drive quickest that win. A simple enough theory but one that doesn't take into account, the skills and professionalism of pilots who regularly hurtle across the waves at over 160mph/250kmh.
Props define the performance
Both pilots work closely with their pit crews to determine the type of propeller required for the conditions, the amount of fuel needed and race tactics. Propeller choice is crucial and can win or lose not only a race but also a championship. Propeller design has seen the early three bladed bronze wheels superseded by stainless steel props of five and six blades for maximum efficiency and a top flight team might carry twelve pairs of props of differing pitches and diameters to accommodate differing sea conditions, fuel loads and handling characteristics. It is quite easy to change the props, less than 10 minutes are needed. The prop blades are very sharp and hence they are the first to be taken off as soon as the boat is off the waters. The two pilots and the Crew Chief decide on the type of prop to be used as per the water conditions.
The story of the prop
Class One racing has evolved through the years. From the first race held between Miami and Nassau in the Bahamas till modern day racing, the sport has come to be one of the most exciting. And one of the most sacred aspects determining the outcome of a race is the kind of propellers used by the boats. The prop is everything in a boat. If you don't have a good prop, it does not make sense and all your work during the winter testing means nothing.
Initially, boats were in favour of fast props, ones that could help them achieve maximum speed to outdo the other competitors. But no longer, teams now focus on the reliability of a prop, at the same time ensuring that the prop can deliver on negotiating corners, bends and turns and attaining high speed in the shortest possible time. Class One boats are allowed to use only five-blade forged props during the world championships. And the use of props very much depends on water conditions - if the course is flat then it is big props to as to get a top speed, while if the seas are choppy and uneven, then smaller props to ensure maximum acceleration and make sure the boat goes over the water instead of hitting the waves.