The generation game
On Sunday 25 October at 12:30 GMT, a fleet of some twenty Imoca monohulls will set sail from Le Havre to compete in the Transat Jacques Vabre. The 2015 edition of the famous double-handed transatlantic race, bound for Brazil, heralds the first official confrontation for the boats from the new and the old generation, in other words, those equipped with foils against those with classic daggerboards. And with a year to go until the Vendée Globe, suffice to say that this is an eagerly awaited moment. However, the questions that both sailors and naval architects hope to clear up in part after this race cannot simply come down to a question of appendages. Aboard the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild, Sébastien Josse and Charles Caudrelier shed some light on the technical aspects and review the opposing teams.
A transatlantic test bed
They are one of the major new features of this 5th generation of Imoca monohulls. Indeed, since their very first appearance, the foils have caused a lot of ink to flow and stirred up a great deal of passion Needless to say there are sympathisers and there are opponents of these new appendages, whose forms are highly reminiscent of the moustaches of a certain Spanish painter of renown. An unquestionable architectural development, the foils remain a daring challenge for those who have opted to equip their steed with them. In this Transat Jacques Vabre, there are five such boats and the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild is among them.
“Innovation is in the Gitana Team's DNA. As such, when the naval architects suggested these new appendages, it was impossible to envisage missing out on them even though there is still uncertainty as to their efficiency at this stage. These foils remain experimental, but we took this route in full knowledge of this fact.
We know that, on paper at least, there are fairly considerable gains to be made on certain points of sail, as well as some losses on others. Put simply, the boat performs less well when sailing close to the wind (headwind, upwind), but the minute the sheets are eased a little more (reaching, on the beam, downwind) and the foil goes into operation it's really effective and the differential can extend to as much as 2 knots. The foils make a difference in the medium to steady wind, but are more laboured in the light airs. As a result it's all about compromise and we aren't ruling out going back on this decision or developing the forms of the daggerboards according to our sea trials,”
explains Sébastien Josse. “Our expectations in this Jacques Vabre are about finally trialling the boat in the conditions she was designed for, namely offshore! The technical challenge is about whether or not to validate the foil concept in relation to the most high performance boats of the previous generation, which are kitted out with classic daggerboards.”
A new measurement to reshuffle the cards
At the end of the last Vendée Globe (2011-2012), Imoca developed the class measurement, which governs the class. In short, the proposed new framework leaves architectural freedom with regards to the platform, but calls for the new boats to have a standardised keel and mast, which means one-designs that are all identical. Breakage and safety were the points referred to in explaining this decision. However, these new rules put a new light on things as the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild explains: “I believe that within the Imoca class we're in a transition phase and that's what makes the Transat Jacques Vabre 2015 special. The twenty competing boats are clearly split into two fleets. In reality, there are five boats racing under the new measurement rules and fifteen others are racing under the old ones. The desire to have a one-design keel and mast was to limit breakage and hence improve safety in the class, however under the guise of this safety aspect, the measurement committee has also limited the power of the boats with the one-design spar. To put it plainly, this restricts the development of the new boats. During the various sea trials we've racked up since the launch of the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild, we've observed that this new measurement is a handicap in relation to the older generation boats, but the new foils with their lifting surfaces enable us to make up for that on certain points of sail. We're still lacking a few key elements to optimise the trimming so the Transat Jacques Vabre falls at exactly the right time. The lessons learned from this event will be very important and will enable us to determine the direction we take in preparation for the Vendée Globe.”
Forecasts at the ready
Though the appendages on these new boats make for a thrilling topic, which has been fuelling conversation in the monohull world for several months, it's certainly not the only key factor in the bid to succeed Vincent Riou on the event's winners' list. Firstly, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that sailing is a mechanical sport and that in order to do well you first have to complete the race. In the weather conditions forecast for the first few days of the race, managing the gear will be very important. Finally, the alchemy of the duo remains crucial to performance. “We're at very different stages in our preparation. Boats like PRB and SMA are polished boats that are quick on every point of sail and these are clearly the boats to beat. A sailor like Vincent Riou knows his boat inside out and will be able to drive it absolutely flat out whilst Sébastien and I are at 80% of our capability. However, after just two months of fine-tuning, that's par for the course! We mustn't forget that Gitana Team's objective is to be fighting fit on 6 November 2016 for the start of the Vendée Globe. That said, we're not just here to make up the numbers. We're keen to defend our chances and show just what the new Gitana is made of. The closeness and complementary nature of our pairing will be real assets. With regards the new boats, Banque Populaire seems to us to be the most prepared and the crew is as well-matched as it is honed. We'll certainly have to keep an eye on them,” concludes Charles Caudrelier.