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How This Hydrogen-Powered America’s Cup Chase Cat Could Change the Future of Boating

Dubbed Chase Zero, the foiling-power catamaran spans 10 meters in length and can carry up to 550 pounds.

Chase Zero race yacht on Auckland's Hauraki Gulf James Somerset

The America’s Cup, yachting’s most storied race, is not where you’d expect to find the next source of emissions-free propulsion for “stinkpots,” sailor-speak for motorboats. Yet Emirates Team New Zealand, which won the regatta in 2021 for the fourth time, launched a foiling-power catamaran named Chase Zero last year that could change the future of boating. 

As Cup defenders, the Kiwis were in charge of creating the new protocol for the 2024 event, for which they sought out areas desperate for new technology. “We realized our chase boats were years behind our foiling race boats,” says Nick Burridge, ETNZ’s operations and reliability manager. “To keep up, the tenders needed big horsepower, so were burning huge amounts of fossil fuel.” 

ETNZ decided to bypass battery-powered boats and move straight to the holy grail of zero emissions: hydrogen-fuel-cell stacks. “We knew we had the expertise, so it was quite feasible, but we had no experience,” says Burridge. “You see fuel cells in automotive and some in aerospace, but nothing in marine.” 

Despite its promise, the technology for the new Hydrogen Support Vessel (HSV) needed to be proven before other teams would commit to multi-year Cup campaigns costing tens of millions, which required each to have at least one hydrogen-powered chase boat. The HSV’s specifications—10 meters (33 feet) in length, seats six people, a top speed of 50 knots and a four-hour range at 30 knots, plus the ability to carry 550 pounds of gear beyond passenger weight—also ratcheted up the pressure on the designers. Perhaps the biggest challenge was configuring the hydrogen setup: “We had to package the new power train without knowing exactly what the boat would look like,” says Burridge. 

Emirates Team New Zealand’s AC40 race yacht (side view) Te Kakahi, Saling on Auckland's Hauraki Gulf
Emirates Team New Zealand’s AC40 race yacht, or Chase Zero, on Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. James Somerset

Consultants forecasted that mating untested propulsion with a sophisticated, software-controlled foiling system would take four years; Chase Zero hit the water after only nine months. “It exceeded expectations on day one,” says Burridge. “Now, the goal is to push this technology onto the world stage.” 

Bluegame Yachts also plans to mainstream fuel-cell technology following the development of its BGH tender for another America’s Cup team, American Magic. Like ETNZ, Bluegame assembled dozens of experts in areas ranging from alternative propulsion to advanced structural composites (think Formula 1). BGH’s launch date is in June, followed by a year’s worth of testing before delivery. It shares the dimensions and performance of Chase Zero, but its designers integrated Italian flair with a “sleeker profile,” according to Luca Santella, head of product strategy. “We also added an outside living area, to enjoy the view.” 

Bluegame plans to incorporate fuel cells on larger yachts going forward, with a world-first hybrid-electric drivetrain being developed with partner Volvo Penta that utilizes a hydrogen fuel cell. “We’ll be launching it on a 65-foot multihull in 2026,” says Santella. “Hydrogen’s going to open up a new era for all of us.” 

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