The latest race news from the race

Taming the beasts: the demands on the skippers from the latest generation boats

Taming the beasts: the demands on the skippers from the latest generation boats

On Sunday at 13:15, the 59 duos (and not 60 since the withdrawal yesterday morning of the IMOCA Fortil) will leave Le Havre for the Atlantic on the flagship event of their season: The Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre. 4,350 miles are waiting for them - more after they looked for the best wind over the most direct route - and the road is not necessarily paved with mild intentions in November. In addition to the normal maritime demands, many will be sailing prototypes with a significantly higher potential, the parameters of which are still being explored and which pushes everyone to the limits. A pontoon flâneur soon confirms that the last checks and tweaks being made by the skippers are the of a long process. 

Class40: The demands of preparation

“To stay competitive on the Transat against the new generation Class40, there are sometimes changes to make, which we have done, and above all it is essential to achieve the highest level of preparation,"explains Louis Duc, skipper of Crosscall- Chamonix Mont-Blanc,a Lift 40 design launched in 2017, with which he hopes will be in the leading group. This year, 27 crews make up the class of the smallest boats in the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre, ten of which could claim victory: six boats of the latest generation and at least four of the penultimate generation, which their skippers know now like the tips of the fingers. “On a long race with generally strong conditions for the first three days, a new boat is not necessarily an advantage, especially if the preparation was late,”says Linkt’s German skipper Jorg Riechers, the Owen Clarke plan built this year in South Africa. 

The preparation of the boat and crew requires a certain level of commitment in this class, where sailors are increasingly professional and disciplined. The Class40 Banque du Léman, launched on September 26, could suffer from a lack of preparation and sailing time by the two skippers (they have only managed 1,200 miles in the boat – just over the 1,000 miles of qualification required for by the race organisation): “We do not want to put ourselves under pressure” Valentin Gautier explains. “There are crews that are so well prepared and who know their boat by heart. It's hard to arrive with a new boat that has been launched one month before the start of the race and to have a performance goal.” 

For those whose offshore racing is not their job, it is a question of safety and keeping calm. “Our goal is to get to the other side while going toe-to-toe with the other vintage boats,” says 27-year-old Florien Gueguen, who will be attempting his first Route du café. “Our good technical and physical preparation has given us confidence.”

Multi50: The demands of bonding a duo

There will be three crews in Multi50 this year trying to succeed the brilliant winners of the 2017 edition, Lalou Roucayrol and Alex Pella on Arkema, in 10 days 19h and 14 minutes. “We have the most recently launched boat, in 2017, but the other two are great duos, it’s going to be a tough fight,” says Thibaut Vauchel-Camus, skipper of Solidaires En Peloton-ARSEP, says with a smile. The experience and cooperation between the two skippers is even more fundamental to success than in IMOCA and Class40, because a capsize can never be ruled out on the Multi50. “I'm not an engineer, I'm self-taught, I'm passionate, but I do not have experience in multihulls, I had to be convinced to get onboard with my teammate,” Sébastien Rogues, the thoughtful skipper of Primonial, says. “In Multi50, there’s an extreme lack of privacy. Matthieu Souben ticks all the boxes: he is an ace on the multis, he is an engineer and we know each other well. Incredible, now flying and sometimes fickle racing boats, these 15m long trimarans demand attention at all times, hence the absolute need for mutual trust and unparalleled experience to drive them .

IMOCA: Triple requirement: gray matter, feeling and heavy helmet

The stubborn mist that enveloped the Paul Vatine basin yesterday morning made the futuristic silhouette of IMOCA still more unreal. What extraordinary machines they are. 18.28 m long with 29m masts above them, three tonnes of lead below them and foils that curl ever higher. “Archimedes is retiring!” Roland Jourdain (Maître CoQ IV) aka Bilou, says. “On a racing boat, the trade-offs are always complex but until now, we were on common ground. The foils have re-opened the box, and that means many more hours of design.”

The latest generation of foilers took 35,000 hours to give birth too, without always being able to distinguish between design and construction. One thing is certain, the teams' design offices have exploded. The boats are loaded with sensors, "but as everything is always working perfectly, the ability to feel what works has become more important again,” Bilou says. 

That is a paradox pushed to its peak with the arrival of new boats where sailors are isolated from the outside by fully covered cockpits (Hugo Boss, Apivia)

Today’s IMOCA sail at the speed of the ORMA 60ft trimarans in 2000. “That's why we decided to increase the size of their start line that they share with the Multi50,” explains Sylvie Viant, the race director. “We still need to see their real speed polars and refine our ETAs for Salvador de Bahia. The teams and their architects are keeping their secret well hidden.”

With 29 boats on the start designed between 1998 and 2018, their will be many different races within in the race. And while some will take care of their machines to finish at any cost, which qualification to the Vendée Globe requires, others will keep the their feet to the floor. And in trying to keep pace with the latest foilers life on board the older boats will be no less demanding.


They said:

Jorg Riechers, skipper of Linkt (Class40)

“Our Class40 is quite different from others. It is very versatile and works hard upwind. The others are rockets when reaching. I dream of having three days upwind on the first section of the race! Cédric (Château) and I will both be on the deck and we will take a nap only if it is really necessary. It will be a great battle, we have great trust in the boat from races we have participated in.”

Sébastien Rogues, skipper of Primonial (Multi50)

“The partnership with Matthieu works well. He trusts me with the boat, and that's important because they are little beasts that can be scary. You cannot get away with being late on these boats. The key word is: anticipation. You have to be one step ahead of events, whether it's sail changes or the speed of the race. We have to be prepared to go to 110% of the polars for 6 hours if our router (Julien Villon) tells us too. Anticipation is not a brake, but a lever for performance.”

Roland Jourdain, Maître CoQ IV (IMOCA)

“We are experiencing a disruption. Archimedes is retiring“On a racing boat, the trade-offs are always complex but until now, we were on common ground. The foils have re-opened the box, and that means many more hours of design, much more energy and R&D. The design teams and budgets of the big teams have exploded and it is not finished. We are at a crossroads where the need for engineering is coupled with a need for feeling. The boats are loaded with sensors but everything doesn’t work all the time. That's why a generational crossing like Charlie Dalin and Yann Eliès on Apivia could be formidable.”