20 December 2013 - 10:25 • 2349 views

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The new IMOCA class rules were approved at the general meting in Paris on Tuesday 17th December. Among the key elements, the future 2016 Vendée Globe boats will have standardised keels and masts, but the designers have been given greater freedom to deal with other important parameters, in particular those concerning the ballast tanks. The IMOCA class has therefore managed to find the balance allowing the current boats to remain competitive, while enabling new projects to move forward.

For the third time this year, the sailors and owners in the IMOCA class got together for a meeting in Paris with the aim of putting the finishing touches to the new class rules, the box rule, which will determine the design limitations for IMOCA monohulls.

As a reminder, the idea of standardised keels and masts (two possible models: wing mast or traditional mast with spreaders) had already been approved. That has not been questioned, as this should allow the class to achieve its goals of building more reliable boats, cutting the number of boats forced to retire with technical problems.

What changed on Tuesday in Paris concerned many other design choices, in particular those linked to stability and the power of the future monohulls. Without going into all the technical details, four major changes have been made in this area. Firstly the ratios and figures concerning the righting moment (from 22 to 25.5 tonnes/metre), the capsizing angle (110° instead of 112°), the weight of the keel bulb (3.1 tonnes) etc…

Side ballast tanks authorised

The important element is that these figures put together and the decision to withdraw another rule referred to as the 10 degree rule (loaded in the worst case scenario, the boat should not have an angle of heel in excess of ten degrees), is that designers have regained their freedom. In particular, they are once again allowed to come up with side ballast tanks (water tanks improving the boat’s stability) for future boats. This technical modification changes a lot of things concerning the potential performance capabilities of the monohulls, in comparison to those offered by central “inertia” ballast tanks. Ballast tanks along the sides are indeed much more efficient… and as a consequence, they should take up less room and will therefore not be as heavy as previous configurations.

All of that is of course very technical, but the goal of these major changes is to allay the fears of some designers that it would not be possible to come up with newer boats that would perform better than the those that exist today, if the previous set of rules from last spring had been applied. The design teams from Farr, Juan K, VPLP and Guillaume Verdier worked on this matter and their judgement was approved. So now all of the parameters concerning the new IMOCA class rules have been voted and those in charge of projects can start discussions with their designers and research teams in order to begin work on new boats.

A lot is at stake with these new rules, as for the IMOCA class it was necessary to find the perfect balance between ensuring that today’s boats remain competitive, while allowing new boats to move things forward. At the same time the goal was to ensure boats are more reliable and that budgets don’t take off. The new rules appear to satisfy all these criteria. On the one hand, the current fleet of IMOCA boats will be able to be serious contenders without requiring expensive changes, while those planning to build a new boat will still have the freedom to apply technological advances (apart from the keel and mast, which are now one-design elements). The IMOCA class deserves to be congratulated on finding this ideal compromise, where no one loses out.