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Paul Meilhat taking Gwénolé Gahinet aboard and testing a new foil system

For the Transat Jacques Vabre later this year, Paul Meilhat has chosen to take Gwénolé Gahinet with him. Together, they won the Transat AG2R three years ago. Before the start on 5th November, there is a busy schedule for the SMA team with two periods in the yard, a lot of trials, races, training and experiments with a new foil system.

On Wednesday 22nd March after a voyage that took more than two months from Tahiti (via the Pacific, Panama and Northern Europe), the SMA monohull is back at Mer Agitée. 4 weeks of work is planned to get the boat back in shape with the keel ram being changed, repairs to the keel housing and a good spring clean. But they will also be working on the starboard foil, which will be tested by Paul Meilhat and his team until mid-June, before she goes back in the yard to be prepared for the Transat Jacques Vabre.

A hybrid foil being tested

The experiment with the foil is not new. In the spring of 2015, the SMA team, via the Mer Forte company and Michel Desjoyeaux, carried out a series of studies to work on the foil. The solution should allow them to use a foil without modifying the structure of SMA. This hybrid appendage can be inserted into the current daggerboard housing thanks to a system of wedges.

For a month and a half, the boat will be tested in the asymmetrical version with a daggerboard on the port side and a foil to starboard. This should allow data to be obtained to compare the two configurations. “What we are testing,” explained Michel Desjoyeaux, “is the middle way. *This foil is not like those seen in the last Vendée Globe. The insertion of the element through the side of the monohull (the shaft) is relatively vertical. To put it simply, this system is a compromise between a daggerboard and foil: the anti-drift effect remains upwind and the curved tip lifts the boat up downwind.” This foil will be tested during the training sessions and in races before a final refit in the summer.

In late April, Paul Meilhat will be back at the helm of his lab boat. The skipper of SMA who knows his 60-foot boat well will be checking things over, but he will not be alone, as he has chosen Gwénolé Gahinet to accompany him in the Transat Jacques Vabre. Now a member of the SMA team, Gwéno will be in charge of analysing the performance and technical development of the boat.

Paul and Gwéno back together again

© B.Carlin / SMAIn 2014, Paul Meilhat and Gwénolé Gahinet won the Transat AG2R LA MONDIALE after 22 days and 6 hours of racing aboard a Figaro-Bénéteau 2. Since their win in St Barths, the two men have done particularly well – a Vendée Globe and five transatlantic races for Paul Meilhat and two Jules Verne Trophy races including an amazing record achieved in the winter for Gwénolé (40 days and 23 hrs) on IDEC SPORT. The two sailors get on well together and complement each other. Paul knows all about his 60-foot IMOCAs, while Gwénolé understands foils, multihulls and high speeds. Together for seven months they will be carrying out trials, crewed races, training and double-handed delivery trips. This programme with SMA will be in addition to competitions on other boats for the two sailors: Diam24 and a part of the Tour de France sailing race for Paul. Flying Phantom and The Bridge for Gwénolé.

Paul Meilhat: “I contacted Gwénolé during the Vendée Globe, between his two attempts at the Jules Verne Triophy before he got calls from other skippers. I have great memories of the Transat AG2R. We know each iother and get on well together and complement each other. We work well together and that is very important in terms of performance. I was looking for someone with a different background rather than an IMOCA specialist, someone, who would be available for six months before the race and who has the expertise to help SMA advance. Apart from the foil, we have a lot of work to do to fine tune the boat.”

*Fitting foils to an existing 60-foot IMOCA normally involves making major structural changes (foil housing, reinforcement of the mast and the bottom of the hull) to make up for the increased righting moment generated by the foils.

Source: SMA

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