30 January 2015 - 20:04 • 4367 views



The information is dribbling out. But the designers all declare that the six new VPLP-Verdier designed IMOCAs to be launched in 2015 will be fitted with foils, as will some of the older boats. Let’s look at the state of play, which on paper should offer encouraging results, but which still has to be proven out on the water.

When a team sets about doing something that may shave two days off the Vendée Globe, I can’t imagine others will let them do it alone. That would be unbelievable.” The designer Vincent Lauriot-Prévost is clear. All of the VPLP/Verdier designed boats to be launched in 2015 will be testing foils. The first to have presented these appendages was Armel Le Cléac’h, whose future Banque Populaire VIII is going through her final weeks in the yard before her launch scheduled for March. We should add that five other IMOCAs designed by VPLP and Guillaume Verdier will be launched this year. The first will be the new Safran for Morgan Lagravière, on 7th March in Lorient. After that and Banque Pop’, Sébastien Josse (Groupe Edmond de Rothschild), Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss), Jean-Pierre Dick (St Michel-Virbac) and Andrea Mura (Vento di Sardegna) will see their boats launched. These six skippers will carry out trials to check out the validity of the foils, which for the moment look very promising.

Two days shaved off Gabart’s record

In the last Vendée Globe, François Gabart took the race to another level finishing the race in 78 days. Based on the theoretical polars for Armel Le Cléac’h’s future 60-foot foiler, using Macif’s round the world voyage, the designers believe they can shave two days off the record and therefore complete the Vendée Globe in 76 days. “An Imoca raised up by foils won’t really be flying, won’t be more powerful, but will be higher in the air, reducing the drag and the wetted surface. There will be big gains in speed in some points of sail at least,” explained Vincent Lauriot-Prévost. Plan 3D du Banque Populaire VII d'Armel Le Cléac'h© JP EpronReaching will be the most favoured point of sail, but the foils will also show how efficient they are downwind. In general, the stronger the wind, the more thee appendages will support the boat and she will be lighter and faster. Upwind, the foils will however be a handicap, as they will increase the drag. “But upwind sailing only represents 10-15% of the conditions encountered around the world in the Vendée Globe,” added Lauriot-Prévost. The foils are more efficient downwind, so the skippers are likely to change their routing to take these conditions into account. As for the trimming, won’t they make the job that much more difficult physically and technically? In theory, no, according to Vincent Lauriot-Prévost. “Sailing won’t be any more complicated, just different. We are adding a function to an appendage that already exists: the daggerboards. The skippers will have to learn a new way of sailing of managing the balance of the boat.”

What about the older boats?

Following on from a request from the teams building a new boat, the VPLP team and Guillaume Verdier signed an exclusivity agreement stopping then from working on older boats to develop foils. The two sponsors feared that older boats fitted with foils would be more competitive than the newer 60-foot boats. Yann Eliès’s Groupe Quéguiner (Marc Guillemot’s ex Safran) narrow and light, seems perfectly suited to using foils. In January 2016 the designers will be free of this clause and will be able to work with the skippers of existing IMOCAs. Those sailors who are interested will be watching closely to see what happens and if the concept seems suitable, they will begin work on fitting the appendages in the winter of 2015/2016. The designers are clear: there are no reasons not to fit these features. They don’t wish to say anything about the cost of this work, but it is rumoured to come to several hundred thousand euros…

Plan B

The new IMOCAs will therefore be labs watched by many observers. To begin with it is likely that the geometry of the foils will be similar for Safran and Banque Populaire, which will be the first two 60-ft boat to get out there sailing. “To save time and money, the two teams have combined their efforts,” Lauriot-Prévost told us. “Their foils will be similar when they are launched. After the initial tests, there are likely to be changes. Each skipper will have their own requirements and the appendages will then start to vary.” As we get closer to the Vendée Globe, each sailor will be able to judge the risk and choose whether or not to have foils. The choices are likely to be made next winter after the Transat Jacques Vabre. Some may decide to return to straight daggerboards, like those on today’s 60-foot IMOCA boats. Therefore, not all of the skippers, who have tried foils will be lining up for the eighth Vendée Globe with these foils in place.

Olivier Bourbon / Mer & Media Agency