Thun­der­ing out to set a world record

Meet the dare­devil who wants to round Ire­land at high speed in his su­per­boat

Irish Daily Mail - - News - by John Daly

SOME men get their kicks from hit­ting the per­fect hole-in­one, cy­cling the Ring of Kerry in record time, or land­ing a spec­i­men sal­mon on the first day of the fishing sea­son. Frank Kowal­ski is not that kind of guy.

An in­di­vid­ual with a de­gree more ath­letic am­bi­tion than most, his idea of a wor­thy chal­lenge is grap­pling with the con­trols of Thun­der Child – a tur­bocharged, wave-pierc­ing In­ter­cep­tor speed­boat – as it crashes through moun­tain­ous seas pow­ered by twin su­per­charged Cater­pil­lar diesel en­gines pro­duc­ing a howl­ing 2,000 revs of horse­power.

And it’s not enough that this fu­tur­is­tic craft de­liv­ers an adren­a­line blast com­pa­ra­ble to Dis­ney­land’s Space Moun­tain on steroids – but add in the fact that much of the ex­pe­ri­ence hap­pens at speeds of 160kph in to­tal dark­ness and it’s clear this is a whole other level of thrill-seek­ing.

Some­time over the next two months, Frank will put Thun­der Child through its paces to set a new world record by cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing Ire­land – via Rock­all which lies 500 kilo­me­tres off the Ir­ish coast. It’s an ‘ex­treme’ route that has never been at­tempted be­fore. (The cur­rent cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion record, mi­nus the Rock­all de­tour, stands at just un­der 13 hours.)

‘Set­ting a new record for this cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion is a real chal­lenge for any ves­sel,’ he ex­plains. ‘The route in­volves a 1,000km openo­cean cross­ing into the North At­lantic, one of the rough­est and most no­to­ri­ous seas on the planet. The trip will in­volve sev­eral hours’ nav­i­ga­tion in the dark and will inevitably en­counter rough con­di­tions which will put in­credi­ble stress on both ves­sel and crew,’ he adds. ‘How­ever, Thun­der Child is well equipped for all such chal­lenges, with high-def­i­ni­tion radar, high-spec ther­mal night-vi­sion cam­eras, sur­face drive propul­sion and ad­vanced com­pos­ite con­struc­tion that is both strong and light to give the boat its unique prop­er­ties, an­other of which be­ing that it is prob­a­bly the most strik­ing and stylish boat of her type.’

AS the founder of Safe­haven Marine, Frank has been de­sign­ing and build­ing boats in Cobh since 1996, sup­ply­ing more than 120 ves­sels to 26 coun­tries world­wide. ‘Our ves­sels are in use in the US, the Mid­dle East, Africa, Europe and Asia. We con­tin­u­ously in­no­vate to build faster, stronger, more ef­fec­tive, multi-func­tional boats that are not only built for the in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult con­di­tions at sea, but also high-speed marine op­er­a­tions,’ he ex­plains.

Hav­ing es­tab­lished its rep­u­ta­tion sup­ply­ing ves­sels to port au­thor­i­ties and naval in­sti­tu­tions across the globe, Safe­haven re­cently branched out into the mil­i­tary and law-en­force­ment sec­tor, pro­vid­ing in­ter­cep­tor and pa­trol ves­sels aimed at the in­creas­ing de­mand for mar­itime bor­der con­trols.

‘As the world con­tin­ues to evolve, the tra­di­tional global threats to coun­tries’ ocean bor­ders has be­gun to change sig­nif­i­cantly,’ Frank says. ‘The twin threats of global ter­ror­ism and piracy in­creas­ingly present sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges to na­tions as well as to global com­merce.’

Thun­der Child is the lat­est cre­ation from the Safe­haven Marine sta­ble – a tech­no­log­i­cal mas­ter­piece rep­re­sent­ing two years of re­search and de­sign, and val­ued in ex­cess of €1mil­lion.

‘The idea for the record at­tempt first came up last sum­mer when Thun­der Child was in pro­duc­tion, and it oc­curred to me – what bet­ter way to show­case the ves­sel and prove her ca­pa­bil­i­ties to po­ten­tial cus­tomers than to set a new world record?’ ex­plains Frank.

The cho­sen jour­ney – the cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of Ire­land via Rock­all – is a brand new route sanc­tioned by the Union In­ter­na­tionale Mo­to­nau­tique, which gov­erns power­boat­ing records. ‘We chose this par­tic­u­lar route to play to the ves­sel’s strengths, namely her abil­ity to com­bine high speeds of 90kph-110kph, that can be utilised in the calmer sec­tions, with high lev­els of sea-keep­ing en­abling it to han­dle the in­evitable rough con­di­tions that will be en­coun­tered on this par­tic­u­lar route.’

One of the rules for a record such as this is that boats can only re­fuel on land, not at sea. The openo­cean cross­ing to Rock­all and back, how­ever, re­quires a large fuel range which Thun­der Child’s 5,000-litre fuel tank can han­dle com­fort­ably.

Sailors are no­to­ri­ously ca­sual in de­tail­ing the chal­lenges lurk­ing in any ex­pe­di­tion across the briny blue – a pre­tence con­ceal­ing an air­tight at­ten­tion to the thou­sand details that could mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween sur­vival and dis­as­ter.

‘A trip such as this,’ says Frank Kowal­ski, ‘will al­ways pro­duce chal­lenges. It will in­clude a lengthy open-ocean cross­ing across the North At­lantic, one of the most no­to­ri­ous seas on the planet, and the lo­ca­tion of the world’s largest wave – recorded by a buoy last year near Rock­all.’

Taller than a six-storey build­ing, the huge wave – mea­sur­ing al­most 20 me­tres – oc­curred last De­cem­ber af­ter an ex­treme cold front passed through the area. ‘A sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the trip will need to be car­ried out at night which has its own in­her­ent dan­gers,’ he adds. ‘Rough con­di­tions, com­bined with high speed, will im­pose high lev­els of stress on both the ves­sel and the crew.’

EVEN in June, weather con­di­tions around Rock­all can be no­to­ri­ous, chang­ing from calm to cy­clonic within an hour. ‘Weather is one of the chal­lenges,’ ac­cord­ing to Thun­der Child’s skip­per, ‘and our in­ten­tion is to pick the calmest weather win­dow pos­si­ble. How­ever, the range we have to cover – south, west, north and east coast of Ire­land in ad­di­tion to the 1,000km open-ocean cross­ing will make it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to have calm con­di­tions in all ar­eas for the du­ra­tion of the trip. This means that chal­leng­ing weather con­di­tions will be in­evitable dur­ing cer­tain parts of the jour­ney.’

Among its many tech­no­log­i­cal at­tributes, Thun­der Child is fully self-right­ing, ca­pa­ble of re­cov­er­ing af­ter a cap­size by a large break­ing wave, and fur­ther bol­stered by a num­ber of other cop­ing mech­a­nisms for sim­i­lar mar­itime chal­lenges. Frank and his crew of five are cur­rently con­tin­u­ing with prepa­ra­tions for the record at­tempt – in­clud­ing night rides at high speed. ‘Night-time travel at sea al­ways brings its own dan­gers, par­tic­u­larly when trav­el­ling at high speed. Thun­der Child is fit­ted with high-def­i­ni­tion radar and high-spec ther­mal nightvi­sion cam­eras to mit­i­gate the risk and to al­low max­i­mum speed to be main­tained,’ he ex­plains. ‘But, at the end of the day, in a sit­u­a­tion such as night-time travel which can pose a lot of risk, it will all come down to the crew and their abil­ity to deal with any sit­u­a­tion that may man­i­fest it­self.’

So, as the rest of us nor­mal mor­tals con­tent our­selves with con­tem­plat­ing an early sum­mer trek up Car­raun­toohill or along the Camino de San­ti­ago in Spain, Frank Kowal­ski and his Thun­der Child stand on the cusp of some­thing a good deal more re­mark­able – but also more dan­ger­ous.

Hav­ing poured two years’ worth of in­tel­li­gence, in­no­va­tion and many tens of thou­sands of euro into birthing this po­ten­tial mar­itime mas­ter, the man from Cobh con­tin­ues with his prepa­ra­tion check­list, sure in the knowl­edge that this baby will de­liver some­thing very spe­cial.

‘In de­vel­op­ing a new boat such as this, you can’t sim­ply de­sign it and ex­pect po­ten­tial cus­tomers to buy into just a de­sign,’ he says. ‘You have to in­vest in build­ing a pro­to­type which is what we have done with Thun­der Child. The abil­ity to prove this pro­to­type through set­ting this world record will be very ben­e­fi­cial to our fu­ture.’

Turbo drive: Thun­der Child pow­er­ing through the ocean Cobh base: Frank Kowal­ski

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