Sails, High-tech wings for offshore birds.
An innovative architecture, high-tech materials, hardened deck hardware... That's it for the chassis ! As far as the engine is concerned, the sails of modern offshore racers are not left behind technologically-wise. They use state of the art fibres and assembly techniques in order to save weight, offer extra-strength, durability and performance... While several Route du Rhum competitors (Roland Jourdain aboard Sill, Marc Guillemot on La Trinitaine) are coping with sail problems, it's time to take a closer look at this crucial point, with Nicolas Berthoud, in charge of Gitana X's sails program.

When a sail is torn, the skipper has to make a technical stopover in the best of cases, and his hopes of victory vanish away in the worst. Deprived of his means of propulsion, the skipper of an ocean racer is just like a Formula 1 pilot on the side of the track, with a broken engine... Subject to tremendous efforts, the sails of Open 60 trimarans have to resist traction, and keep their original shape as long as possible, because boat speed is directly influenced by the quality of the sail's profile. But the worst damage is of course a tear, which occurs in difficult weather conditions, or after an uncertain manoeuvre. A sail flapping like a flag in the wind even for only a few minutes, can present a weakness point, where the tear can emerge then spread (this is precisely what happened to Marc Guillemot's foresail).

An obvious choice

"On Gitana, we have chosen Cuben Fibre (1) sails, which are made of an assembly of pressed Spectra, and then moulded. This technique allows to obtain a sail which offers an excellent resistance to tear propagation, thanks to the very high fibre density - it's a very important guarantee of reliability. In fact, Cuben Fibre is the perfect material for offshore races : it can save up to 35% of weight compared to Kevlar sails, and furthermore, Cuben Fibre is water repellent, which is important since a wet sail loses performance. In terms of durability, it's also really interesting, since a sail can last up to 50 000 miles, whereas after an Atlantic crossing and a half, a Kevlar sail gives up the fight ! Spectra fibres (which Cuben is made of) is rather resistant to Ultra-Violet rays. But after that choice of materials, there is still all the work on the profile and the general design to be carried out... That's where data processing and of course experience come in", adds Nicolas.

(1) The name "Cuben" was given to this fibre because it was first used on the yacht "America Cube", in the 1992 America's Cup.

Tout sur la Route du Rhum

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