A Shift in Racing
The full-size prototype of the RaceBird was unveiled in Monaco in September 2021. With foiling wings and 150 kW of power, it should top 50 knots.
With its long nose, wings and enclosed cockpit, the 24-foot RaceBird is sleek and aerodynamic, like a fighter jet. Similar in shape to Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing and sporting foiling technology straight out of the America’s Cup, this vessel is different than any race boat ever conceived, especially in terms of propulsion.
The RaceBird will land in 10 locations around the world in 2023 as part of a new electric-powered racing series called the E1. Launched by the founders of Formula E (similar to Formula 1 but with electric-powered supercars) and Extreme E (an electric-powered off-road series that travels to events around the globe on the St. Helena, a converted 344-foot royal mail ship), E1 will debut the advancements in electromobility to a broad, global audience.
Designed by 29-year-old Sophi Horne, the RaceBird resembles something out of a science-fiction novel, yet the designer said she was inspired by the birds she watched off the coast of her family’s home in Grebbestad, Sweden. “I was overlooking the water all the time, seeing the seabirds gliding so peacefully over the water. It just made sense to take inspiration from nature,” she says. “Going full into the concept, I was trying to develop something futuristic and cool, but with the seabird in mind as well.”
Thus explains the name of Horne’s company, SeaBird Technologies, which is working in conjunction with Victory Marine to engineer and manufacture the race vessel. Built of composite materials and lightweight metals, the boat is expected to weigh between 800 and 900 kilos (1,763 to 1,984 pounds) fully loaded with a 35-kWh battery and a motor with a peak output of 150 kW, which equates to roughly 200 hp.
“Since we had been involved for almost 30 years in powerboat racing, this was a huge challenge because it is a broad change of mentality. We are trying to design, engineer and build a kind
of craft that does not exist,” says Brunello Acampora, founder of Victory Marine, an Italian builder that’s worked with Riva, Mochi Craft, Azimut and many others.
The RaceBird is expected to top 50 knots as racers compete through a series of time trials in a head-to-head knockout format. A single pilot will operate the RaceBird as it rides above the surface on a pair of foils to lessen drag and create a high level of efficiency.
“We’re combining three main fields: sailing, powerboating and motor racing,” says E1 CEO Rodi Basso, who co-founded the series with Alejandro Agag, a Spanish businessman and former politician who pioneered the concept of sustainable motorsports. “When you apply cross-fertilization, you can be disruptive and show new avenues in a new industry.”
To create the electric outboard and powertrain used to propel the RaceBird, E1 partnered with Mercury Racing. “We’re all about innovation and growing our technical knowledge,” said Mercury Racing General Manager Stuart Halley. “This is a total new space for us, a new palate to paint from.”
The electric motor under the cowling will be supplied by Integrated Powertrain while Mercury Racing will use its expertise and partnerships to take the outboard to the finish line so it is fully operational, with steering and a jackplate type mechanism that moves the engine up and down as the boat gets up on the foils. “The foiling is interesting,” Halley says. “When the boat gets up on the foils, the engine moves down so it stays in contact with water, propelling the vessel forward and supplying water to all the things that need to be cooled.” This tilt, trim and lift functionality will be manually controlled by the pilots.
While the RaceBird will be fast and efficient, the major question everyone asks when talking about electric marine propulsion is how long will the battery last? “Our mission is to have 40 minutes of racing performance, with high power, acceleration and change of direction,” Basso says. The races will be broken into sessions that “aren’t too long so the spectators don’t lose interest.”
And the RaceBird won’t be alone on the E1 circuit. A beta version of a seven-passenger daycruiser called the SeaBird is expected to launch alongside E1. Horne says she hopes to offer SeaBird with a “sharing model,” where would-be boaters can open up an app to gain access to use the boat for a few hours and then return it without having to worry about dockage and other costs. The sharing concept is similar to electric scooters available in large metro areas.
“We’re building a seamless experience with no maintenance,” she says. Customers will have the option to rent the boat with a captain or without, and sticking with the seabird theme, the charging stations will be called “nests.”
E1 hopes to coordinate five of the E1 races with Extreme E in locations such as Greenland, using the St. Helena to ferry the boats and support teams with a minimal carbon footprint. The other five events will take place in waterfront cities. Basso says they’re in talks with 70 different cities, including several in the United States, that are interested in hosting an E1 stop.
It’s a very electrifying concept for the marine space for sure, and I don’t think Horne is being hyperbolic when she says, “We’re making history.