La Rochelle was the town chosen for the official launch of Apivia. The Charente port is close to Niort where the HQ of the insurance company is. headquarters of the mutual. Charlie Dalin was able to give us a few minutes of his time to evaluate the recent progress of his project and to confirm how close the boat is to what it is he wanted.
Vendée Globe: After a few weeks of sailing have you learned a few lessons?
Charlie Dalin: The first big thing to note is quite reassuring: Apivia gets up to speed quickly. There is a lot still to improve but the boat is getting up on her foils quickly. And it is strong and sensitive at 50 to 70 degrees to the wind which is a big step on from the 2016 generation of IMOCAs where they had a speed deficit. I think we have taken a big step here.
VG: Does flying alter the levels of comfort on board?
CD: Well for sure there and many sensations. When the boat is fully flying it is almost eerily quiet , all except the whistling of the foil. And the foil also acts as a shock absorber. But when we do meet a wave, the shock is brutal. Each time, the deck is totally submerged.
VG: Your training as a naval architect was useful during the design and build of the boat?
CD: Let's just say that working back and forth with Guillaume Verdier who designed the boat proved to be an incredibly rewarding experience. We spent a lot of time together and I learned a lot from him. It is true that knowing and speaking the same technical language improved communication with Guillaume but also with the CDK building facility. When we were taking prismatic coefficient or unidirectional fiber composite layup I was comfortable. And so by the time we put the boat in the water, I felt like I had got to know him well.
VG: You wanted to bring your own personal ideas and touches?
CD: I was lucky enough to be able to be involved in the design and build from A to Z. I proposed a few ideas that I really liked. The enclosed cockpit or the winch pod on the axis of the boat, these are two ideas that I wanted. For the cockpit itself we made the decision to build a model at full scale which allowed me to test different movements around the boat and how fluid these would be in manoeuvres. I spent a lot of hours around wooden winches looking to replicate the the actions I will have to do on board. Then, when the elements of the boat do actually come to life for real that is a special moment.
VG: Between Guillaume Verdier, the Mer Concept team and your partner Apivia, you were in pretty good hands?
CD: I couldn’t have dreamed of a better set up. It is a formidable team. For the Apivia design, we have benefited from the crossover between the development of the trimaran and the design of a new generation IMOCA. The idea of the closed cockpit comes partly from there and the analysis we could model racing a Vendée Globe. In practice solo racers spend most of their time inside the boat, especially in the Southern Ocean. To enclose the cockpit is to keep everything so much drier and preserve so many things. It is as much about comfort as it is safety and security. But follow the narrative of plans and cars. If you look at the pioneers of aviation or the automobile, the pilots or drivers were in the open. As speed increased they became more and more protected. Today, our monohulls easily reach 30 knots. At this speed every wave over the deck becomes a potential major hazard.
VG: There are other ergonomic choices that you made?
CD: Yes, but I do not want to talk about it now. We will unveil at another time. Let's just say we understand that the limiting factor of performance is the sailor. So much so that we really do try to try to have the sailor in the most favourable conditions possible.
VG: So next up is the Transat Jacques Vabre with Yann Eliès?
CD: Yes I am sailing with the titleholder and that is no small thing. Yann and I met on the Figaro circuit and we quickly became buddies. I helped him master the software packages while he taught me some tricks and hacks. We started to really collaborate. We actually sailed the 2015 Transat Jacques Vabre together and I was even his substitute skipper for the Vendée Globe 2016. We have been talking of a Transat Jacques Vabre since 2017.
VG: Exactly what will this program be after the Transat?
CD: If the boat has not suffered too much then the plan would be for me to sail her back solo. This would be the ideal configuration before work in the yard in the winter. Then in 2020, the program has us doing all of the Globe Series races.
VG: We are in La Rochelle right by the Mini-Transat fleet. It was this race that really set you on your way?
CD: The Mini-Transat is the best way to learn if you love offshore and solo sailing. I started ten years ago in 2009 largely to find out if I was really cut out for this. After two weeks of racing, I had my answer and here I am.