Cats in the Acts

French power catamaran builder Fountaine Pajot is an important part of the America's Cup infrastructure.

Although much is made of the gulf between sail and power boaters, most races would be impossible to run without the help of at least one powerboat and a competent operator. This is especially true at the America's Cup level, where the fleet of committee, judges', and mark boats is so numerous a Dock Express ship was hired to move it from venue to venue during the acts leading up to the Cup. While touring the Fountaine Pajot booth at the Paris Boat Show we noticed a stunning image of an ACC fleet start at Act IX, held last October off Trapani, Italy, and asked our host, marketing manager Helene de Fontainieu, about the photograph. As it turns out, Fountaine Pajot, builders of cruising sail and power catamarans, has a significant presence at the Cup, but an extremely subtle one. "America's Cup Management was looking for boats to set marks," Yves de Kerangat, head of commercial sales for FP told us. "They looked at some French and Spanish builders, and we happened to have an existing ferry design based on the hulls of our 37-foot Maryland power trawler design. It's built to carry 40 to 50 people, so it was large enough, and we were able to include a hydraulic platform in the stern to help with mark handling." Thanks to what de Kerangat calls a company-wide culture of flexibility, FP was able to design and build the mark boat quickly, and the boat took part in the Act held off Marseilles in 2004."ACM was quite happy with the mark boat," says de Kerangat. "So they asked us to supply race committee boats." As of the final act of 2005, ACM was using a total of 16 Fountaine Pajot-built trawler cats, including off-the-shelf models such as the 37-foot Marylands and the 44-foot Cumberlands. Although the ACM cats are, from a marketing standpoint, rather stealthy-no FP branding allowed, just ACM art and sponsor logos-the Cup teams couldn't help but notice how well the trawler cats handled the job and the conditions. "All the teams saw them, and they all need spectator boats for VIPs," says de Kerangat. "The first team to contact us was Alinghi, and we built them a two-level, 26-meter (85-foot) cat that carries 150 people." Thanks to its catamaran design, it leaves almost no footprint on the racecourse, no matter the speed. The VIP cat is powered by two 450-horesepower diesels which give it a top speed of 23 knots. Not to be outdone, one particularly competitive challenger has already made enquiries about a 30-meter VIP cat for the next round of acts.