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November 17, 2009updated Feb 08, 2013

Audemars Piguet Announces New Sailing Partnership

By Pardhasaradhi Gonuguntla

Barely two months after crossing the magical 50-knot threshold, the equivalent of breaking the sound barrier in aviation, l’Hydroptère confirmed its status as the planet’s fastest flying trimaran, beating the world record at an average speed of 50.17 knots* over one nautical mile (92.91 km/h). Alain Thébault and his ten-man crew achieved this exceptional feat at their speed base in Hyères on Sunday, November 8th, in a 28-knot northwesterly wind. L’Hydroptère capped off a fantastic series of records posted in the Mediterranean and set a new benchmark in the world of sailing.

“For 30 years, passion and daring have carried me forward, but this victory really belongs to our indomitable, tight-knit team. The historic record of more than 50 knots over one nautical mile is powerful because it lies at the frontier between the twin capacities of this extraordinary flying trimaran that is both a high-speed craft and an ocean-going sailboat. Our team now holds the top two speed records in the world, 51.36 knots over 500 metres and 50.17 knots over one nautical mile*, and we can now concentrate on ocean sailing in 2010″, commented Alain Thébault.

This performance is a wonderful welcome gift for watchmaker Audemars Piguet, which had decided to associate itself with this incredible adventure a few weeks ago, along with private bankers Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Cie. The union of Audemars Piguet and Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Cie around this project is almost natural: as age-old family businesses, they share many values, such as tradition, excellence and expertise. As entrepreneurs, they have a history marked by a commitment to innovation, discovery and inspiring challenges. “Our two firms share the same foundations and the same passions. So it was logical for us to come together on this unique, unconventional and avant-garde project that embodies incredibly powerful human and technological values”, said Thierry Lombard, an avid sailor who is keen on challenges, sailing and technology. Before it became a project of the private bankers, whose founding year – 1796 – is written on the mainsail, l’Hydroptère was originally a personal project.

The 60-ft Hydroptère (from the Greek hydros, water, and ptera, wing), is a hydrofoil trimaran (the foils are actually underwater wings). It is a sleek and elegant craft with a central hull and a mast 28 metres high, stabilised by two side floats separated from the hull by huge 24-metre carbon crossbeams built at the Airbus plant in Nantes. The innovative design of the boat, which flies on submerged wings, cleverly constructed out of carbon and titanium, make it much faster, more durable and lightweight (only 6.5 tonnes). The flight envelope of the prototype is continuously defined and validated on a 3D flight simulator developed specifically for this carbon bird, which represents the new generation of extreme sailing.

Alain Thébault, designer and skipper of this Formula 1 of the seas, had always dreamt of making a boat fly. After 20 years of research and development, the flying boat is now a robust, powerful craft thanks to the help of eight retired engineers from Dassault Aviation and EADS-Airbus who volunteered their time. l’Hydroptère is the perfect combination of cutting edge technology, performance and human adventure. This unique project was created by a team of sailing buffs, engineers, technicians and aircraft manufacturers. In 2006, the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) joined the team and became “Official Scientific Adviser” to assist in advanced fields such as aero-hydrodynamics, composite materials, structural behaviour and video imaging.

The world of sailing is a field that Audemars Piguet knows well. As early as 1985, the watchmaking firm accompanied Peter Fehlmann, winner of the Whitbread. In 2000, it participated in its first America’s Cup, with “Be hAPpy”, and then went on to take part in the fantastic Swiss victories in the 31st and 32nd America’s Cup. In 2008 and 2009, the watchmaker was alongside Ladycat on the Decision 35 circuit on Lake Geneva. Today, it has become one of two main sponsors in the wonderful world of l’Hydroptère.

Audemars Piguet has authored the most beautiful pages in the history of watchmaking in its quest for technological innovation, daring and excellence, ceaselessly pushing back the limits of the possible, a philosophy shared by l’Hydroptère.

Like Audemars Piguet, which can boast a number of horological performances including a many world firsts such as the creation in 1972 of the legendary Royal Oak, the first luxury steel watch; or the 2006 launch of the new high-performance, lubricant-free Audemars Piguet escapement, l’Hydroptère also has a long list of achievements to its credit. On Friday September 4th 2009, in Hyères, France, Alain Thébault and his outstanding ten-man crew set two outright sailing speed world records: over 500 metres, at an average speed of 51.36 knots (95.118 km/h) and over one nautical mile (1,852 m) at an average of 48.74 knots (90.266 km/h). These records were ratified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council, the official keeper of all records pertaining to sailing. On November 8th, 2009, l’Hydroptère once again made history by setting a new record: an average speed of 50.17 knots, equivalent to 92.91 km/h, over one nautical mile* with a peak at 55.5 knots (102.78 km/h). Even if all records are made to be broken, this one will be very hard to match over that distance.

“Thanks to this historic double record, l’Hydroptère is confirmed as the fastest sailcraft on the planet. This exceptional performance is a tribute to the work of a determined and experienced team, which developed and implemented revolutionary and innovative solutions. We can fully relate to this extraordinary challenge, which is perfectly consistent with the pioneering and adventurous spirit of our brand,” said Philippe Merk, CEO of Audemars Piguet.

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But the human and sporting adventure does not stop there. Audemars Piguet and Lombard Odier are also sponsoring l’Hydroptè, which will take to the waters of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, in summer 2010. It will serve as a laboratory and a think tank for the ambitious Hydroptère Maxi project, the ultimate goal of which is to sail round the world in 40 days, thus pursuing the dream of Jules Verne.

“This great human and technological adventure is backed today by two prestigious firms that solidify our roots. The arrival of Audemars Piguet alongside private bankers Lombard Odier moves me deeply. This strong support is a great motivational force for me and the team. In an ongoing humble family spirit, our ambition is now to unfurl our wings on the open seas, collectively and around the world,” concludes Alain Thébault.

Audemars Piguet is featured in THE OFFICIAL WATCH BUYER’S GUIDE 2009/2010.

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