Nothing has emerged yet. The first design salvo, any early indication of what we might see as the newest innovations and ideas for Vendee Globe 2020, has yet to be seen. The naval architecture studios have been hard at work for more than a year now, for some, shorter periods for others. But no one really knows what to expect when the first Generation 2020 boats finally emerge from the sheds ready for launching. Previously there might have been an informed guess, a smart deduction, but as the number of designers increases again, even if they are all bound by the IMOCA rule, it will be fascinating to see the new generation of foilers.
« On the last generation of boats, we did not know if the foils were going to work. There is no point in having a Formula 1 under you but only exploiting it at 30% », says Quentin Lucet, IMOCA expert at VPLP, who are designers for Jérémie Beyou's new boat, Charal, which should be the first to be launched. The doubt about the skipper, the human's ability to use these « wings » on a single-handed round the world really was removed during the last Vendée Globe. « And from then that completely changes the situation. »
In the late 1980s, Eric Tabarly predicted: « One day, all the boats will fly. » Here we are.
« We have undertaken the most important scientific study to be made for this kind of monohull, » says Guillaume Verdier who started working on the study fourteen months ago for the Volvo Ocean Race. Now after recently returning to France from New Zealand, Verdier will work for Charlie Dalin for his new IMOCA. Verdier was with Emirates Team New Zealand in the development of the winning foiling AC72 which lifted the America's Cup.
Verdier says: « The first boat to fly upwind and downwind will change the whole outlook of sailing. »
On the new IMOCA, he says : « We use a simulator that allows us to test it virtually using Team New-Zealand's performance prediction tools. We have opened plenty of scientific avenues in this study, it will be up to Charlie to choose the routes and the timing he wants. »
The America's Cup is an arena where designers match up to each other in different challenges. In that area, there are some of the best designers, engineers and boatbuilders. Finot-Conq, for example, have a Cup specialist in Michel Kermarec who is charged with the modifications to be made to a previous IMOCA of Armel Le Cléac'h, the design which took second in the Vendée Globe 2008, now owned by Alan Roura, the youngest and twelfth of the last edition.
© Gilles Martin-Raget
« In recent years naval architecture firms have software (CFD, Computational Fluid Dynamics) that will model performance as well as any tank testing. So you can consider research in all directions and to retain the figures, not only qualitative but also quantitative », says Pascal Conq.
Blank sheet, high complexity
Designing a new generation IMOCA involves a complex equation with several unknown factors. « In the world of competitive sailing, it remains one of the most complicated problems to solve in terms of design choices. Even more than for the America’s Cup, where there are a lot of technical refinements, but even then, it is far removed from what you can come up with for an IMOCA. They remain the pinnacle of boat designing », stressed Juan Kouyoumdjian, who although absent from the last Vendée Globe, will be back again in 2020 alongside the young skipper, Sébastien Simon and his project manager, Vincent Riou, the winner of the 2004-2005 Vendée Globe. He added: « The rules have changed so much that it is rather like starting out from a blank sheet of paper. The foils, not in themselves, but given the new amount of freedom the class now allows, will have a big role to play. »
The 2020-2021 Vendée Globe will therefore stand out with boats that are very different from those that have previously been built. « We no longer have to rely on a hull shape to come up with a powerful boat. To build a fast boat, we no longer need a heavy bulb and a lot of ballast; you just need a foil, which produces the same effect », explained Quentin Lucet, who gave us an inkling of what lies ahead. « The boat is going to be lighter, easier to handle, requiring a smaller sail surface to achieve speeds equal to or above those of the previous generation. »
It is hard to find out any more, as we approach the arrival of a new IMOCA, which is likely to be Jérémie Beyou’s. « It’s a state secret! » laughed Quentin Lucet. The joys of suspense…
A new hand of cards
Van Peteghem-Lauriot-Prévost (VPLP for those that follow these things) in conjunction with Guillaume Verdier left their mark on the last decade of IMOCAs. The 2016-2017 Vendée Globe marked the pinnacle of their achievement, with the two architects being behind six new boats while the first five bore their signatures. As is common, a certain amount of friction could be felt between the two teams with their very different approach to work. Since their first joint project, Safran in 2005, VPLP-Verdier have designed around a dozen IMOCAs among them the best finishers in the Vendée Globe.
Now they have separated from each other and a fascinating new hand of cards is coming into play. « We design racing boats, because we like a good challenge and the architectural competition. But this is a mechanical sport and seeing ourselves end up with practically all of the new boats for the Vendée Globe was a bit odd… », Guillaume Verdier admits. The battle between designers is back on again. And no one is going to complain about that.