Leaders / Yachting

Sophi Horne: From Seabird to Racebird

Founder and Chairman of Seabird Technologies, Sophi Horne is behind the design of the Racebird, the world’s first electric foiling raceboat, which is being used by all teams in the 2024 E1 World Championship.

Feb 08, 2024 | By John Higginson
Sophie Horne

How did you become involved with designing the Racebird for the E1 World Championship, the latest electric-vehicle racing series created by Alejandro Agag following Formula E and Extreme E?

I’ve been in the industry for over a decade. One of my early design jobs was with a superyacht charter and management company. At first, I was involved in the interiors of the yachts for refits. However, my boss saw some exterior sketches I did during my free time and said he saw a future for me in this direction, although I never believed I would design for myself one day. He introduced me to naval architects who invited me to tender for yacht designs, which was a good introduction.

I then continued my education and studied in Norway. Oslo is known as the capital of electric vehicles, so I saw the transition to electric cars and the move to electric in the marine industry. At the same time, Uber and the sharing platforms started. Blending all this together, I had the idea of trying to make boats more available and to produce an electric boat, so I started Seabird Technologies.

With a single Mercury Racing E1-X electric outboard, the 23ft Racebird has a 150kW peak output plus 35kWh battery capacity

I was a little slow to buy my own electric car because the designs were generally very ‘cute’ and bubble-like. For me, when you buy clothes or a car, you want them to represent your image, so I was looking for something more sleek and sexy.

I then saw Formula E’s Gen2 electric cars (introduced in the 2018-19 season) and loved them. They were kind of my design inspiration and I wanted to find someone else who had the same vision. The Gen2 designs were very cool and the events and how they were presented were very aligned to what I was looking for.

Formula E’s Gen2 cars inspired Horne’s Racebird design

To produce my boat, I started with a sharing platform and tried to find a partner who already built boats. I also researched the batteries, to look at adapting the technology from electric racing cars to the marine world and create a new product.

I went to a Formula E race and met Alejandro Agag, the king of electric motorsports. I presented my idea for a 7m electric leisure boat, not for racing. I had been developing it for a year and had a full business plan.

Horne with E1 co-founders Alejandro Agag (left) and Rodi Basso (right)

It was more for me to have a talk with him, so that maybe he could make introductions. A month later, he called me back and wanted me to do a more detailed presentation, then he became my first investor. I never believed he would become so involved.

How did your initial electric boat design evolve into the Racebird we see today?

I had moved to London and was fully focused on the private boats. However, I was sharing the same offices as Formula E, so I was surrounded by racing people. During Covid, Alejandro took a walk with Rodi Basso (CTO of Seabird Technologies from September 2020-August 2022, now CEO of E1).

Seabird model launch at Yacht Club de Monaco in 2021

Things had slowed down, so I think they were a little bored and they came up with this beautiful idea of the E1 World Championship, introducing electric racing to the water.

The idea overlapped with the start of Extreme E, offroad racing in electric SUVs, which started in 2021. I think they were in this creative bubble and seeing what they could do with electric racing. By then, they knew the technologies and had the supplier networks, having earlier set up the Formula E road racing series.

Horne toasts with Prince Albert of Monaco

After they conceived E1, they asked me to change focus for a year to design a raceboat. The brief was ‘make something cool’. That was it. Two months later, we were in Monaco with a 3D render. It all happened very fast, but it was done to showcase the vision.

We essentially sportified the leisure boat concept I was working on, with the foiling system and everything, and it seemed to work. The first project was ‘Frankenstein’, where we used an existing hull and fitted the foils to test them. Then we did a prototype.

A Racebird at the E1 test event in Rotterdam last September

The current boats are being built in Italy and the first four hulls were used for the E1 preview test event in Rotterdam in September 2023. I was quite nervous, but they all worked. It has all happened so fast. We’re not allowed to go over 50 knots, although they can be set up to go faster and we’ve reached 60.

Have the teams got room to adapt the boats, like with cars in Formula One, or is it strictly one-design?

For the first season, it comes in one package. Having seen F1 and the difference in budgets of the teams, we want a more even playing field to see who the best driver is.

Poster of pilots for 2024 E1 series

Extreme E started in 2021 with Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button among team owners, and Sebastian Loeb among the drivers. However, E1 has gone to the next level in terms of celebrity team owners with Tom Brady, Rafa Nadal, Virat Kohli, Didier Drogba, Sergio Perez, Steve Aoki, Marc Anthony and Marcelo Claure. Do you think the timing now is right to support e-mobility?

It’s a lot about timing but also the network that Alejandro has developed in Formula E and Extreme E. People are looking for greener solutions and projects. However, I’ve been blown away by the support and we were all a little bit shocked. I never dared to think stars like this would join E1.

Horne with Tom Brady

However, as an example, when you talk to Tom Brady, it’s interesting to hear that he’s very passionate and has a relationship with the water. It’s something very dear to him because he’s spent a lot of time on the water and has so many memories from taking his kids to sea, so it’s a heartfelt project. The owners have taken their time to consider E1 and they want to be a part of it.

The 2024 series opens in Jeddah. Are you excited about working in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, which has such a strong history in powerboat racing?

Absolutely and this is also connected to timing, with the Red Sea development and the Gulf region’s focus on developing sustainable technology for all its new projects and infrastructure. At Seabird, we also see a big market for our upcoming products in the many luxury resorts.

Racebirds being trialled in Jeddah

E1 starts in Jeddah, while Riyadh already hosts Formula 1’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix (March 7-9, 2024) and the region loves racing events. The Gulf has some of the best crowds and the region is already very engaged with this type of spectacle.

Is Seabird looking beyond the Racebird and E1 series with its own products?

The Racebird is our entry product. We’re also developing a Seabird of about 15m and three smaller models, closer to my original mission of making boats more available. We’ll be using foils on all our boats.

2024 E1 World Championship schedule

www.seabird.tech
www.e1series.com

This article was first published on yachtstyle.co.

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