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October 3, 2023updated 06 Oct 2023 2:34pm

Monaco Yacht Show: Meet SP80, the boat set to break the world sailing speed record

SP80 is a project seven years in the making. It unveils its prototype for the first time at the 2023 Monaco Yacht Show

By Aisha Alli

If there’s one thing yacht owners seem to agree on, it’s that bigger is better. Yacht brokers would agree too, although that might be the 10 per cent commission talking.

However at this year’s Monaco Yacht Show, the highlight was something distinctly smaller and sleeker: SP80

When Spear’s pays a visit to its stand at the Monaco Yacht Show— in the prime spot by the VIP entrance — the boat appears innocuous enough with its spaceship-like build and non-descript black coating. But the crowd surrounding it indicates a different story altogether. 

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Because this ‘Formula 1 car on land’ will soon be attempting a daring feat: to break the world sailing speed record. 

The Monaco Yacht Show
The Monaco Yacht Show is the largest gathering of superyachts in the world and this year included 533 exhibits on-site / Image: Shutterstock

[See also: Buy, build or borrow: How to dive into the world of superyachts]

How will SP80 break the world sailing speed record?

SP80 harnesses the power of the wind through a kite attached to the boat. The kite essentially acts as a motor and is controlled by one of the two pilots in the boat’s cockpit — one is responsible for trimming the sails, while the other controls the steering. 

With the propulsion of the wind combined with the boat’s lightweight size, it will reach speeds of 80 knots, approximately equivalent to 148 km per hour — or ‘a Formula 1 car on land’.

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SP80 boat
SP80 is estimated to reach 80 knots smashing the previous world record / Image: SP80

The current record was set in 2012 by Australian sailor, Paul Larsen, who hit a sailing speed of 64.5 knots (121 km per hour). Larsen’s boat, the Vestas Sailrocket II, was a product of 11 years of research and testing. 

To compare, SP80’s official unveiling at the Monaco Yacht Show comes after just seven years since the idea was born, and two years after construction officially began.

What are the origins of SP80?

Breaking the world sailing speed record was a dream envisioned in 2016 by Xavier Lepercq who at the time was a student at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. He enlisted the help of his two friends, Mayeul van den Broek and Benoit Gaudiot. 

While each member of the group is trained as an engineer, they all play a distinct role in getting the boat to the finish line. Lepercq explains that he is ‘relentless’ with his approach to new ideas. Here, he credits Van den Broek (SP80’s CEO) for his ability to control the team’s more outlandish plans. ‘I’m not like that,’ he quips. 

The final member of the trio, Gaudiot, is fittingly an experienced sailor and kitesurfer, an invaluable asset when the boat takes to the water. 

The SP80's test run in Geneva
The SP80 team had its first test run in Geneva earlier this year / Image: Guillaume Fischer

Gaudiot and Van den Broek will pilot the boat together when they set out to break the record. Lepercq explains that his wife is expecting a baby and worries about his safety.

The mission isn’t unsafe, he clarifies, but it certainly has its risks given the speeds it is expected, and hoped, to reach. To minimise these risks, Kevlar (a strong heat-resistant synthetic fibre) lines the cockpit and in the case of a crash, it should ‘protect its occupants from possible carbon shards’.

The group is optimistic that the boat will break the sailing record — and do so safely — when it hits the water in 2024 but they have not, as of yet, set a hard date. ‘It might be March or April of next year,’ Van den Broek reveals to Spear’s. ‘It depends on the weather conditions.’

[See also: These are the best restaurants and fine dining experiences in Monaco]

SP80’s partnership with Richard Mille

The team has partnered with luxury watchmaking brand, Richard Mille, as their sponsor. 

The partnership began through an introduction by NTPT, a company that supplies durable carbon to both Richard Mille (for its handmade watches) and SP80 (for the structure of the boat). 

‘It was an organic partnership,’ Tim Malachard, marketing director at Richard Mille tells Spear’s in Monaco. ‘Fuelled by the desire to achieve their goal, SP80 are ready to shake up sailing conventions. This same daring spirit has been guiding our brand for the last 20 years.’ 

Richard Mille and SP80
With synergies between the two brands, SP80 and Richard Mille look to chart new waters / Image: SP80

But even with the assistance of Richard Mille, SP80 may face choppy waters as it goes in search of the record. It faces competition from French outfit, Syroco, led by professional kiteboarder Alex Caizergues. Like SP80, the boat is expected to be capable of reaching a speed of 80 knots.

It has yet to be seen who make it to the finish line first but time is ticking. At least the members of the SP80 team will be able to keep track of it by glancing at their own stylish wristwear – which is supplied by Richard Mille, of course.

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