Mean Machines: Ships, Friday May 4

mean machines: ships (10/10)

This entertaining series concludes its mission to hunt down the most exciting mechanical beasts on the planet. The last edition of the series looks at the biggest, baddest and best seabeasts in the world, from gargantuan aircraft carriers to ships on legs, and from stealthy minehunters to nifty tugboats.

One of the most impressive mean machines on display tonight is the powerboat. Designed to compete in the Formula One Powerboat Grand Prix, one of the most dangerous extreme sports on Earth, the powerboat (or ‘pocket rocket’) can skim on the water at terrifying acceleration speeds of 0-100km in 3.5 seconds and is capable of turning hairpin bends at 90km/h. It is constructed out of Kevlar plastic –the same material bulletproof vests are made of. Guido Cappellini, one of the sport’s leading exponents, knows only too well the hazardous and often fatal nature of his profession: “In my career I have lost many friends,” he says.

Its danger lies in the precision steering the drivers must perform. The boat effectively hovers on the water due to an air cushion created between two hulls on the boat. If the driver makes a wrong move, the boat will spin over and ‘barrel roll’ along the surface of the water at a sickening speed. Guido and his team of engineers are constantly trying to improve his boat to make it faster and safer. It is, without doubt, a true mean machine.

Another awesome feat of engineering is the motor vessel Revolution, a ship than can turn itself into an immobile platform in order to construct wind farms out at sea. It looks like a normal working boat, but has six legs which are sunk into the ground. “It can jack at a metre a minute,” explains Chief Officer Ken Robey. The 17,000 tonne ship is soon functioning like an oil rig, and gets to work on erecting huge wind turbines. It has to do an astronomically difficult job, not helped by coastal weather conditions and huge waves. Mean machine? Few would argue not.

Also featured on the show this week is the Rotortug, a dextrous little boat which is nimble enough to carry massive oil tankers. And at the other end of the scale: the mighty USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.

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