Fixing the polymer matrix composites in the catamaran Team Philips may determine how well the twin-rig competes with other multihulls in next year's high-profile event called The Race. A 40-foot section of the port bow broke off March 29 during trials near the Isles of Scilly in the Atlantic Ocean. Resulting publicity has focused the public's attention on the advanced technology. Queen Elizabeth officially named the boat March 14.
"The breaking has been identified as a failure of the [unidirectional] carbon strakes [strips] that run the length of each side of each hull," designer Adrian Thompson of Isle of Man in the British Isles, said in an April 11 news release.
Following the breakage, the 120-foot-long vessel was stabilized at sea, towed for two days to port and moved to the build site, Goss Composites Ltd.'s Baltic Wharf boat yard in Totnes, England. "We can repair her," said skipper Pete Goss.
Each strake is part of the inside skin of the hull's sandwich structure. Core samples revealed that air expanding during oven curing interfered with the strakes bonding to the core, Thompson said. The strakes were "unable to accept the end load applied without buckling." Inner and outer layers of carbon fiber and a core of Nomex honeycomb form the structure.
Six people crew the vessel, which has unstayed 130-foot-high carbon-fiber masts. The team claims the catamaran is the world's biggest carbon-fiber structure. Electronics giant Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, is the principal sponsor.
Zoltek Cos. Inc.'s SP Technologies unit in Southampton, England, was the structural engineer for the hulls and worked on finding the theoretical reason for the failure. The advanced composites manufacturing center at the University of Plymouth in England attached sensors to mast replicas for tests at the Royal Marine's Chivenor air base.
Adventurer Steve Fossett and crew are preparing the catamaran PlayStation to qualify for The Race. Another dozen giant multihulls plan to compete with Goss and Fossett for 10 slots. The Race starts at midnight Dec. 31 from Barcelona, Spain.