Like a CAT out of Hell Built Using F1 Technology, There's No Faster Sailboat Than a 50mph Extreme 40 Catamaran. Piers Hernu Leaves His Stomach Ashore; Piers Hernu (Centre) Keeps His Head Down as Bowman Justin Slattery Takes Control

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Byline: PIERS HERNU

With 16 seconds to go until the startinggunisfired, skipper Robert Greenhalgh yells, 'Now!' On the black nylon netting thatstretches the 29ft between the catamaran's two 40ft hulls, four of Britain'sfinest sailors - and one of its finest journalists - burst into action.

In a flurry of furious activity involving ropes,cranks,sailsandruddersthe craft is suddenly pointed into the wind, whereuponthevastmainsailcatches the breeze and we are at once rocketing throughthewavestowardsthestart line, reaching a speed of around 24 knots. The starter's gun fires afraction of a second before we cross the line and as it does so the ultra-slim,lightweight carbon-fibre hull I'm sitting on begins to lift up higher andhigher. It rises until the 6ft daggerboard under the hull lifts clean out ofthe water and keeps on rising inexorably until I'm left clinging on for grimlife with the boat virtuallyonitsside.Withsomething approaching panic I stare wide-eyed at the deep blue sea rushing pastsome 30ft beneath my dangling legs.

Fearing that we are about to capsize, Iyell,'That'lldoRobert!'Grinning, 30-year-oldGreenhalghletsoutthe mainsailandweallslowlydescend back to sea level. Two missions accomplished:anotherperfect racing start completed in training and one shaken-up journalist.

I am doing my best to stay on board an Extreme 40, an aptly named new 40ftcatamaranthatisnowwidely acknowledged as the Formula One class of racing boats. Using many of thesame constructiontechniquesanddesigns found in F1 cars, Extreme 40s are made of some of the lightest,strongest materials available. A boat like this weighs just 1.2 tons and canachieve an extraordinary top speed of 40 knots (50mph). Put simply, Extreme 40sare thefastest, most extreme and most exciting sailing boats in the world.

I've been invited down to the Solent near Southampton to spend a day trainingwith Greenhalgh's Team Basilica, as they prepare for the final stages of theiShares Cup Extreme 40s sailingseries.Thehardworkobviously pays off, as shortly after my visitBasilicago on to claim the overall series with a spectacular showing in Amsterdam.

Basilica team manager James Grant, 32,explainsthebuzzofthe sport. 'Racing Extreme 40s is highly competitive and can be dangerous. Lastyear we got hit and holed in the first race of the series.Followingthat,inPortsmouth, oneboatcapsizedsidewaysandthen ourclosestrivalTeamHilfigercartwheeledforwards.Peoplefellalong way and there were some nasty injuries.' Britain's Olympic sailing teamcoach Harvey Hillary,poweringalongside in the Basilica's RIB, callsusbackviawalkie-talkie to practise the all-important starting routine once again. 'Thestart is the most important part,' says Grant, 'especially with the races beingso short. The boat that leads at the start wins 80 per cent of the time. …