“My secret weapon? The Gitana Team”. Sébastien Josse admitted this fact a few weeks ago in an interview. An experienced sailor, well-versed in major singlehanded meetings, Sébastien knows just how crucial the team providing him with daily support is in the sporting challenge he is preparing to take on. This is especially true on a latest generation flying maxi-trimaran, an icon of the technological shake-up, which offshore racing is experiencing right now and the cutting-edge, precision fine-tuning it requires.
“The team has done a massive amount of work! It has put a vast amount of effort into it and called itself into question a great deal as there were numerous stumbling blocks along the way. And we stumbled not because we are bad at what we do, but because we are entering new territory here! As such, it was necessary to make several repeated attempts to hone our hugely complex systems,” admitted Cyril Dardashti, the man who has headed Gitana Team on land for over ten years.
The team manager reviews the fifteen months that have elapsed since the launch of the latest Gitana in July 2017 and the complexity of the task undertaken by the team. “Aboard these Maxis, the loads are enormous due to the size of the boat and the speeds attained. The difficulty lies in the fact that each change, each modification is very long, as there are big parts involved. It takes months between the point we discover a problem and the point where we trigger and manufacture the part. For the new appendages (rudder), it took nearly a year. That’s why we can’t afford to make any mistakes. The options have to be considered in great depth before production is launched.
With the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, we’re at the start of the story, at the start of exploiting the boat to her full on a competitive circuit. Last year it was a race against the clock to make the start and the finish of the Transat Jacques Vabre as we really wanted to have the necessary data to fine-tune the Maxi. Guillaume Verdier and her team have designed us a very fine boat, but we have zero knowledge of offshore flying boats. We’re discovering and learning every day! Every trip out on the water enables us to collect hundreds of pieces of data and every outing enables us to take massive steps forward in our apprenticeship. These machines are incredible, but their demanding nature is just as incredible. The team was already renowned for its rigour, but with this boat we’ve taken things to a whole new level in the control and understanding we must have of a boat. Our decisions, our processes and the way we understand particular subjects have to be carried out with surgical precision. I am very proud of the team and I really want to congratulate every member because not one of them has dropped off the pace!” concluded Cyril.
“Right now, I know it’s down to me to step up to the plate! I am alone aboard, but they’re all behind me and their experience of the race will be full-on”, explains Sébastien Josse.
An in-house simulator: objective performance and understanding of the boat
For months, Gitana Team has been working on a simulator project with one of the top specialists in the matter, Jean-Claude Monnin, a member of Emirates Team New Zealand.
Romain Ingouf, design coordinator and head of R&D with Gitana’s design office, explains to us how the project has come about and the challenges of the project, whose code name is Gomboc.
How did this desire to develop a simulator come about?“In the past, the race teams used what we call ‘polars’. These polars are provided by the boat’s naval architects and produced with a VPP (Velocity Prediction Program), with the aim of providing an indication of the boat’s target speeds. It was a way of getting the very best out of the boat, because if these target speeds are not reached, it means that the boat is poorly trimmed. This method had its limitations, because we couldn’t vary the trim on the sails or the appendages to improve performance. As such the process for understanding the boat was very long as solely the time spent at sea testing the trimming gave us access to the true responses necessary for fine-tuning. In a bid to save time, the development of a simulator was a prerequisite for us.”
How does it work and what are the concrete applications? : “It enables us to vary the trimming of the sails and the appendages and to observe the boat’s performance (speed) in real time, together with her behaviour (balance, height of flight, flexibility, etc.) In this way, we’re entering a whole new era where we can now try to make adjustments and trial different configurations before we even have to slip on our foulies. With boats requiring serious maintenance and logistics, this enables big savings in terms of time and money.
To draw parallels with the Formula 1 racing circuit, the simulator is also a tool which enables us to carry out a virtual test of the new appendage or sail designs, without having to build them and physically test them. The resulting savings are evident. On a 32-metre boat, building a new foil takes 5 to 7 months. As such, to be in a position to test this foil, by judging the performance and handling of the boat on the simulator is a very powerful tool. Just like in F1, the simulator enables new elements on the boat to be tested, as well as familiarising the skipper with how the boat handles.”