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Speeding around the world is no ‘pie-in-the-sky dream’

Ask Chris Fertig what he dreams about, and you’ll get no hemming or hawing. He wants the record for the fastest powerboat circumnavigation. Fertig already has captured one of his dreams. In September, he and Tyson Garvin set the Bermuda Challenge record, a non-stop powerboat sprint of nearly 780 miles from New York to Bermuda.

Chris Fertig's favorite place is behind the wheel of a fast boat.

The next adventure makes this feat seem easy — 26,500 miles around the globe. Fertig and Garvin are busy building a demonstrator boat that will be used to prove the real boat can handle the circumnavigation. The 50-foot demonstrator — a power catamaran — should be completed in the spring or early summer. The duo plan to complete at least two warm-up races to promote their effort and raise the estimated $15 million needed to build their 86-foot raceboat, also a catamaran, Fertig says.

“I don’t like to say I’ll do something if I don’t know 100 percent that it will happen,” he says. “The key is raising the money, and I think we can do that by showing potential sponsors that this is no pie-in-the-sky dream.”

Fertig has packed a lot of adventure into his 35 years. He works for Maersk Line Ltd. as general manager of its maritime technical services business unit in Norfolk, Va. The job entails creating and implementing some of the most advanced commercial propulsion systems in the world, he says. He grew up in Pittsburgh, boating on its three rivers. He graduated from the Coast Guard Academy and served on a specialized unit that chased drug runners in the Caribbean.

As an expert boat operator, Fertig often contributes to Soundings articles, offering safety and piloting advice. He met Garvin, 38, at a boat show a few years ago. A resident of Joplin, Mo., Garvin owns Apex Manufacturing, an engineering and machine shop. Like Fertig, Garvin wants the big prize. “I want to do the biggest endurance race there is, and that’s around the world,” Garvin says. “When I do something, I want it to be the biggest. The Bermuda Challenge was great, but this is the biggest, longest endurance race there is.”

Fertig set the Bermuda Challenge record in a 39-foot diesel Skater that can run 84 mph.

The 86-foot raceboat will have a propulsion system called CODAG, which consists of diesel engines and gas turbines. The two diesels and four turbines will pack a combined 30,000 horses. “It will be a high-speed catamaran configuration, which we think can run almost full speed in about 7-foot seas,” Fertig says. “The challenge we have now is making sure we have the range we need for several of the longer legs of the race.”

Speed should be no problem, as the boat will top out close to 200 mph with light fuel. “If everything works out right with the boat and the weather, we’ll be running at an average speed of 100 mph,” says Garvin.

Earthrace, a biodiesel-powered 78-foot trimaran, set the around-the-world powerboat record of 60 days, 23 hours, 49 minutes in 2008. Twin 540-hp Cummins diesels powered Earthrace to a top speed of 40 knots.

Twin diesels from 550 to 600 hp will power the demo boat, says Fertig. It’s first test: a race up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Louis. Howard Arneson holds the powerboat record for this 1,039-mile race with a time of 12:40:50. He averaged 82 mph in his Skater 32 catamaran with turbine power. Fertig and Garvin’s demo boat, which is being built by Skater, won’t be as fast as Arneson’s, but they won’t have to stop to refuel, says Fertig. “That’s how we’ll capture the record — through efficiency,” he says.

The second test will be a run from Miami to New York, a record held by George Morales, who in 1985 ran an average 64.35 mph in a 46-foot Skater catamaran en route to the record of 19 hours, 33 minutes, 47 seconds.

With those two notches under their belts, Fertig and Garvin hope to finish building, powering and outfitting their raceboat. Tentative start for that effort will be February or March 2015. “We’re hoping to start nailing down the details, design and construction, and then carry out about a half year of testing,” says Fertig.

You can start the record-breaking circumnavigation attempt anywhere in the world, but you must finish in the same location, Fertig says. They plan to begin and end at the eastern entrance of the Panama Canal in Colón. “Once we get clearance to transit the canal, the clock starts ticking,” says Fertig, who anticipates facing the roughest conditions in the Mediterranean.

Fertig (center) chased drug runners as a Coast Guardsman.

Fertig and Garvin set the New York to Bermuda record in a 39-foot stepped monohull Skater powered with twin 480-hp Cummins diesels and surface drives. Skater is building both the demo boat and the raceboat, which will have identical hull shapes. The demo boat will help determine the power and gear ratios needed for the raceboat’s propulsion system. Garvin will build the transmissions, as he did with the Bermuda Challenge boat. The Skater construction crew will use a combination of fiberglass fabrics, Kevlar, carbon fiber and high-grade resin infusion technology.

The demo boat will make its first public appearance at the Multi-Agency Craft Conference in June. “I think this boat will blow people away, and the big boat will be even more impressive,” says Garvin. “We are two highly competitive guys, and we really want this.”

March 2014 issue