Go speed sailing on the Hugo Boss II

Flat-screen TVs, Bose sound systems, king-size beds and wet bars are lovely accoutrements for a yacht. But they don’t do a darn thing to make the boat go any faster.

OK, I’ll admit I was spoiled by learning how to sail aboard Merlin, the Bill Lee 69 that in 1977 shattered the Transpac record by 22 hours. As Lee, something of a nautical mad scientist, likes to say: “Fast is fun.”

My need for speed was fulfilled on a recent afternoon, sailing out of the Hawaii Yacht Club aboard the Hugo Boss boat that had just finished second in its class during the Transpac.

Stepping aboard the black beauty, I commented, “This is nothing but a big blade!”

To which one of the young crew replied, “You’ve got that right, sir.”

A Volvo 60 – designed by Bruce Farr, built in England by Jason Carrington, owned by Alex Thomson Racing – Hugo Boss II has just one purpose: To go as fast as possible in the most hostile sailing conditions on the globe. It made its debut in the 2001-2002 Volvo Ocean Race, the premier around-the-world race for speed sailors.

In the 2007 Transpac, the crew – all young ocean-loving Brits – was “daft” that the boat finished second in its class by just two and a half hours, despite light winds ill-suited for her. They coaxed everything out of her that they could.

The question was inevitable, and I gladly popped it: How fast can she go? On this day, with light trades blowing inconsistently and just the mainsail up, we hit 12 knots,which for a lot of yachts is practically flying. During the Transpac crossing from Los Angeles, said skipper Andy Tourell, “We hit 21-22 knots.”

Breathtaking.

He mentions that in big winds, “she’ll do 30 knots, no problem.” He pauses, and in that clipped Brit accent adds, “But you wouldn’t call it relaxing, exactly.” Another pause. “You’re basically just surfing.”

Oh my.

The Kevlar hull measures 64 feet, fore to aft, 57 at the waterline, and at its widest point is just 17 feet across. She drafts 13 feet and displaces 29,750 pounds. The carbon mast rises 95 feet above the deck and when fully rigged can carry 4,490 square feet of sail. The double-wheel cockpit area is relatively spacious, with an impressive array of electronics. Below decks, there is room for all those sails and a crew of 12, but with the barest minimum of privacy.

“Let’s just say,” says the skipper, “that we to get know each other much better than we’d sometimes like.”

This is not a boat for gin-and-tonic sailing, and soon we’re heeled over, guests dangling legs over the high side, then scrambling across the rapidly shifting deck as we tack, ducking the swinging boom, and dangling toes off the other side, seabreeze in our faces. Bill Lee is right: Fast is so fun.

Fast does not come cheap. Hugo Boss II is one of only about a dozen such Volvo 60s in the world. Rick Gaffney of Pacific Boats & Yachts in Kailua-Kona says he “found a 1996 model for sale at $350,000 in Sweden. It would cost well over twice that new, ready to sail.”

And ready to go really fast.