Top-flight sailing, a mixture of learning and innovation
Whilst a number of their competitors will make their official return to the racetrack this Easter weekend during the traditional Spi Ouest France opener, the members of Gitana Team will have to wait a few more weeks before they can feel the adrenalin of competition coursing through their veins once more. Indeed their sailing season will kick off with the Tour de Belle-Ile on 9 May 2015. In the meantime, Sébastien Josse and his men certainly aren't dawdling amidst a mixture of training sessions on the GC32 and the refit of the Multi70 Edmond de Rothschild in Lorient. On the water and on land, there is a common goal: flight!
At flying school
Back in January, the racing stable founded by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild welcomed a newcomer to the Gitana fleet: the GC32 Edmond de Rothschild. This 32-foot catamaran, equipped with L-foils and lifting surfaces on the float rudders, epitomises the revolution taking place in the watersports world, that of flying boats.
On board, Sébastien Josse and his men have had the chance to familiarise themselves with a brand new way of sailing whilst gleaning some very precious information for future racing on the 70-foot trimaran: “The initial sea trials on the GC32 were rather unsettling. You start off thinking you have the relevant knowledge, the feeling, because it's essentially a sail boat with hulls, but in reality you have to forget all the reflexes that have become engrained over dozens of years and start from scratch. These boats are no longer Archimedean boat and in terms of the sensation at the helm it's a different ball game. You have to relearn the handling and the steering. Prior to this, the boats moved through the water with more linear movements, whilst these flying boats crabbed their way along. You have to take it as a given that this boat is a departure from all this as she now slips along on her appendages and you have to let her slip away enough to create her own speed. This boat is pretty impressive as despite our naivety in terms of handling her, we've easily been able to maintain average speeds of 30 knots on certain tacks, with peak speeds bordering on 35 knots. On a boat of this size, that's very decent. Finally, you have to add an element of aggressiveness so as to retain the lift and ensure the flight' is as stable as possible. It's a thrilling learning curve,” admits Sébastien Josse.
However, the skipper of Gitana Team isn't afraid of something new, quite the contrary in fact. The native of Nice has a great entourage and learns quickly as he's already shown by brilliantly adapting his game to sail an oceanic multihull. Last week, the five-arrow team was training in Quiberon at the ENVSN (National Sailing and Watersports School), where it was able to do battle with another GC32 for the first time.
We get a quick low-down on this high-flying battle: “We've just got back from four days of training with another GC32, under the leadership of Pierre-Alexis Ponsot, a former member of France's Olympic team and a coach at the ENVSN. The aim was to sail in contact with each other, putting each other under a bit of pressure, to time ourselves and above all learn how the boat handles on a very small course and hence with a little more involvement. We had been sailing in our part of the world in Lorient since the launch back in January, so it was important to go and do battle with another crew so as to see where we were at.
The results from this training session are very positive. Our progress was good but we still have a great deal to do. Together with Cyril Dardashti and Olivier Douillard, who were already part of the hard core of the Multi70 Edmond de Rothschild, the reflex actions very quickly came back and that's a real bonus in terms of crew cohesion. The arrival in the team of Gurvan Bontemps and Benjamin Amiot, who already have a very good understanding of the craft, as well as a wealth of experience of small catamarans and flying boats, brings a great deal to the team. The group works very well together and on this type of craft that plays a major part in the success! Personally, I think my experience on foiling Moths is helping me a great deal - I've been sailing on this type of boat since 2006 - even though the change of scale is a major challenge of course,” explains the skipper of Gitana Team.
By enabling the team to get down to work very early in the season, the GC32 Edmond de Rothschild has completely fulfilled its role during the winter refit of Gitana XV. Indeed, the fact that she behaves in a similar fashion to her big 70-foot sister' makes her an ideal training craft as Sébastien Josse reveals: “Early in the season, there is always a period of adaptation before you get your bearings, especially when you reach speeds in excess of 30 knots. These sea trials on a GC will enable us to be right on top of our game the moment Gitana XV is launched. This time-saving is a precious asset in our testing and tuning phases.”
Multi70 Edmond de Rothschild, refit nearing completion
Within its Lorient base, the Gitana Team is continuing with work that began over a year ago. In 2014, the racing stable fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild broke new ground and set out on a daring challenge: hitting the start line of the legendary Route du Rhum on a 70-foot trimaran equipped with lifting surfaces. The stunning 3rd place secured by Sébastien Josse in the famous transatlantic race against the larger maxi-trimarans was a first victory for the team, which has spent countless hours on the modifications.
More than that though, the lessons learned over the 3,500 miles of the race across the Atlantic will soon be put into practice in the new work on Gitana XV and thus it will pass to the second stage of the initial project, that of turning the boat into the first offshore racing trimaran to fly. With around a fortnight until her relaunch, scheduled for mid-April, Pierre Tissier, Technical Director of the Gitana Team, lifted the veil on the broad outlines of the winter refit: “Before we got going, we carried out a thorough check of the wear and tear on the boat after a pretty packed sailing season in 2014, that notably included two transatlantics. The platform was thoroughly inspected and all the systems were stripped down. They are classic tests but important ones. However, the main modifications are those made to accommodate the new appendages. In her 2015 version, Gitana XV will be equipped with new foils and the entire lifting surface system on the float rudders has been reviewed. Everyone has put a lot of work into it, from the design office in relation with Guillaume Verdier, to the team in the workshop bringing the architects' plans to life and setting up the systems. Naturally we're itching to see the results on the water.”
Since the last America's Cup, flying boats have been very much in their prime in the multiple inshore races with a number of craft now available to race (GC32, Flying Phantom ). Offshore though, flying is still somewhat of a pipe dream. With the work carried out over the past winter on the Multi70 Edmond de Rothschild, the Gitana Team has every intention of being part of the revolution that is about to hit offshore racing.