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Tue 9 Oct 2007 04:00 AM

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Cat that got the cream

Sam Brunner finds the new ICAP Leopard boat to be a tiger.

Sailing aboard Mike Slade's ICAP Leopard is like hanging out with Eva Herzigova for the day. From a red-carpeted pontoon to champagne and canapés on her glistening cockpit, from the tip of her 4.5-metre bowsprit to the top of her towering 47-metre mast, the 30-metre carbon fibre super-maxi makes jaws drop, boats stop and cameras flash. As we charge through the 1,000-strong Skandia Cowes Week fleet at an effortless 15 knots, leaving even the biggest raceboats staggering dwarf-like in our wake, I feel like one of the A-list.

The latest 30-metre offshore maxi to hit the water, ICAP Leopard is property tycoon Slade's third monohull, following in the footsteps of Ocean Leopard (1988-1999) and Leopard of London (2000-2006), and the most ambitious design by far, taking shape over two years and costing Slade a wallet-bashing US$12 million. Built by McConaghy Boats in Sydney, Australia, she was shipped to the UK and launched in the Solent in mid-June, without a doubt the biggest beast in town.

The boat is based loosely on the lines of a Volvo 70, shown in her single rudder and long chines.

Designed by Farr and fashioned by Ken Freivokh, the brief was to produce a real multi-tasker of a yacht, suited to both the charter market and claiming offshore records. The superyacht's beamy 6.8-metre beam, curved cabin top, headroom and plush interior detailing - flushing loos, hotel lobby style flowers and even leopard-print coffee cups! - is primarily for the benefit of paying guests - the old Leopard reportedly netted Slade over US$6m through charter fees alone, and parties of 12 guests on the new boat will pay in the region of US$14,000 per day. Slade hopes to charter ICAP Leopard through his company Ocean Marine for over 50 days this summer; even for a millionaire, that's big business.
The primary focus of the boat, however, is on offshore speed - the carbon nomex saloon furniture is easily removed to make room for stacking sails, there is nothing forward of the mast, and simple bunks each side of the centralised navigation centre aft will provide a more basic comfort for ICAP Leopard's crew on their record-chasing quests. The boat is based loosely on the lines of a Volvo 70, shown in her single rudder, long chines extending most of the way along the hull, twin daggerboards and 40 degree canting keel. Four and a half tonnes of water ballast can be taken aboard to keep her bow up during heavy downwind sailing. She's a third again bigger than a VO70, with a tree-trunk sized boom, B&G mast-mounted displays bigger than my head, and terrifyingly long bowsprit from which to fly giant A-sails. She's so long that the crew wear microphones to communicate when racing. Up to now, the VO70 has been the benchmark for monohulls, but ICAP Leopard ups the stakes, with a huge emphasis on innovative technology and an eye wateringly complex control centre.

This is truly space-age sailing; less about feeling the wind on your face and the quiet splash of water round your bow, more about pressing a button and hearing the whirr of a winch, the hum of the engine or buzz of a keel. Unlike the VO70, there are no pedestals - "the loads are so big, we'd need the equivalent of 200 grinders to operate", electronics specialist Rosco Monson tells me. "It's not taking anything away from more down-to-earth sailing; it's doing something different. This is the next generation - we can sail harder, higher and faster with more load than any other boat."

You won't see any winch handles here, instead, nine Lewmar push-button hydraulic winches costing between US$22,000 and US$32,000 each adorn the cockpit, including two enormous primaries, a central mainsheet winch and two positioned aft for the runners.

At the top of each of the twin swan neck steering pedestals is a feast of multicoloured buttons that control the keel, daggerboard and mainsheet functions. The leeward daggerboard is used to give lateral stability when the keel is canted to windward, helping to propel the boat through the water. When the boat tacks, one daggerboard comes up, the other goes down - this is done by push-button technology rather than manpower for the first time on ICAP Leopard. A revolutionary operating system employs six hydraulic ‘pinch' rollers that press on the daggerboard to roll it up or down in around 7-10 seconds with up to 40 tonnes of load on the board. The only downside of the daggerboards is that they narrow the optimum angle of heel to under 21 degrees - "anything past that and they stop working", explains boat captain Chris Sherlock.
Hidden below the galley table is the heart of the boat, the Programme Logic Controller (PLC). Designed over nine months by electronics genius Mick Newman and costing US$300,000 to build, this writhing mass of cable runs every system on the boat, from lighting to winch control to canting the keel. The PLC comprises two systems, a synoptic system and a back-up one, with spare powerpack and separately backed-up computer programmes. "We've fried the synoptic once", Chris admits, "but we were up and running again in 20 minutes." Even the back-up system has a back-up system, which should make it almost infallible. "Coke use similar technology to bottle five million bottles a day. She'll always get us home."

The boat also has a permanent internet connection through one of three ways; broadband, GRPS and satellite communications. Powering all this is a hard-working 230hp Yanmar engine that never drops below a steady hum.

ICAP Leopard has yet to stretch her legs properly in the heavy reaching conditions that will suit her best, but she has still shown a clean pair of heels to most of her opposition. Her first race, just days after being launched, was the Round the Island Race, where her rock-star heavy crew beat almost 2,000 entrants to first place. Slade narrowly missed breaking his own record, set aboard Leopard of London in 2001, due to prevailing light winds.
Weather conditions for the Rolex Fastnet were very different, however, and sailing in brutal seas, with winds of up to 40 knots, ICAP Leopard powered past adversary Rambler to claim line honours and a new Rolex Fastnet Race monohull record. Completing the 608-mile course in just 44 hours, 18 minutes and 53 seconds, ICAP Leopard knocked almost nine hours off the previous time, proving the capabilities of her offshore handling.

Skippered by Mike Slade, ICAP Leopard's professional crew included Volvo Ocean Race veteran Jules Salter as tactician and navigator, with fellow VOR sailors Jason Carrington and Justin Slattery, as well as Alinghi bowman Jan Dekker and Team Shosholoza's Paul Standbridge co-ordinating the 24 strong crew. To spice things up in this year's race, Mike Slade and his Kiwi adversary Neville Crichton, owner of Alfa Romeo, placed a wager based on which of the two yachts will be the first to cross the finish line in Plymouth. As they retired from the race on the first evening, Alfa Romeo will be donating US$10,000 to the Ellen MacArthur Trust, which gives children suffering from serious illnesses the opportunity to go sailing.

Following her first record-breaking triumph, ICAP Leopard is now preparing for the Rolex Middle Sea Race before being shipped to Australia, hoping to get her claws into the Sydney-Hobart. Due to her beam, ICAP Leopard is significantly heavier than the Reichel-Pugh super-maxis Alfa Romeo and Wild Oats she'll be up against this season, weighing in at 36.5 tonnes to their 29, and she'll find it hard to beat them in light airs. She comes armed with an impressive sail wardrobe from North Sails though, with the sail programme benefiting from input from the likes of Volvo Ocean Race winner Mike Sanderson. Her main measures a massive 412 square metres and the biggest spinnaker is over 1000 square metres, equivalent to four tennis courts. The current sail count stands at 15, all carbon and Kevlar, costing over US$200,000 combined, and a 100 per cent carbon fibre mainsail has been ordered in for the Hobart.
If the boat goes as well as hoped, Slade, who admits he is seasick every time he goes offshore, has said that he may attempt to set a fully crewed monohull non-stop round the world record late in 2008, aiming to complete the circumnavigation in under 80 days. With vital statistics like hers, ICAP Leopard is a definite contender in the next generation of record setters; this wildcat is certainly one to watch.

www.leopard3.com

Specifications:

LOA:30 metres
Beam:6.8 metres
Draft:5.5 metres
Displacement:36.5 tons
Rig:47-metre Cathedral
Fixed bowsprit:4.5 metres
Upwind sail area:843 square metres
Downwind sail area:1,604 square metres
Speed Under Power:12 knots
Speed Under Sail:35 knots
Built:2007, McConaghy Yachts
Certification:MCA Compliant
Designer:Farr Yacht Design
Interior & Exterior Styling:Ken Freivokh Design
Project Management:Ocean Marine
Electronics:B&G
Main Engine:Yanmar
Fuel Capacity:1500 litres
Water capacity:1500 litres
Cordage:4km rope, 6km electrical cable
Cost of 15 sails:£1.1m (Approx US$2.2m)
Guide Price:£6m (Approx US$12m)

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