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Riverbreeze, electric boat designed by Frank Stephenson


frank-stephenson-boatFloating on Henley-on-Thames, about 35 miles west of London, is an elegant wood-hulled riverboat designed by Frank Stephenson, design director of Britain’s McLaren Automotive best known for his revivals of the bobber-size Mini Cooper and Fiat 500.
The 31-footer, called Riverbreeze, takes her name from her extremely smooth and silent navigation thanks to the electric propulsion sistem. Stephenson, well used to the high-decibel rumbles of powerful cars he designs, wanted a much calmer atmosphere for his personal riverboat.
“When I get on the boat, all I want to hear is the birds and the water” here’s how he wishes his onboard experience to be, chilling in peace with nature, perhaps smoking a pipe or enjoying a drink.
The sleek-lined boat is a classy combination of rosewood and mahogany from Africa and Brazil, laid up with fifteen layers of laquer when it was built and another five every year (which makes a total of 35 coats of protection by now).
The choice of wood Stephenson shares with many other passionate designers, among which Frank Gehry with his Foggy sailboat, is a sort of a romantic one.
“Everyone’s got this white plastic shell, a big boat maybe, but there’s no romance,” he explains. “Wooden boats get better with age, they smell nice, they feel nice, everyone has its own character.”
A sort of rumble seat up front opens via flip-up portals, a bit like the dihedral doors on the Stephenson-designed McLaren 650S and 570S. Up front on the prow there’s a mermaid hood ornament from a 1932 Cadillac, a nod to the designer’s work on land that matches with the theme of times gone by.
Riverbreeze is powered by a “torpedo-shaped” 4.2-kilowatt electric pod motor juiced by eight Varta 12-volt marine batteries that take about eight hours to charge. That adds up to 14.7 kilowatt-hours of storage, enough to get Stephenson and company from his home at Henley-on-Thames to the Cotswolds about ten hours away, and back. Charging points all along the river mean he doesn’t need to sweat range, though. Plus, the benefit to traveling on a river is that at least one direction could be simply floating, if necessary.