Skipper “well-being”, the new frontier in racing performance

Adding foils to offshore racing yachts has resulted in greater performance, but has also made conditions aboard just that much harder to bear. And to such a degree that the skipper’s ability to exploit these powerful designs has become a limiting factor. This issue, which the most recent Vendée Globe has shown to be particularly acute on IMOCAs, has forced mariners and architects to take a long hard look at the criterion of well-being at sea.

The 2016 edition of the Vendée Globe saw the arrival of the first foiling IMOCAs and with them, a new era where living conditions aboard became a real issue for the skippers having to contend with a particularly bumpy ride in tough seas. “Everyone remembers Sébastien Josse trampolining in his bunk, it was simply unbearable,” says Quentin Lucet, coordinator of VPLP’s Racing Division. The phenomenon became even more pronounced on the following generation which was specifically designed around foils.

It’s something that Boris Herrmann (5th place in the 2020 Vendée Globe on SeaExplorer -Yacht Club de Monaco, VPLP-Verdier design from 2015, foils fitted in 2020) knows only too well: “In the south, there were many stretches when the boat was digging, going from 30 knots to 10 knots. It was really uncomfortable because I was forever being thrown forward, and that generated a lot of stress, so much so that I had no other option but to reduce speed.” Armed with this experience and committed to building a new boat for the next Vendée Globe, the German skipper commissioned VPLP to design an IMOCA that “can cut through the sea more cleanly, to improve comfort and performance, because the two notions are inseparable”.

“For Malizia 3, we really focused on reducing this braking effect,” says Quentin Lucet. Most of the work concerned the hull: “We pushed the notion of rocker a bit further to give the boat a greater ability to rise than the previous generation, the latter having tauter keel lines. This brings down the maximum speed but increases the average speed. Next, we flattened her forefoot to improve her movement through the water. Last of all, we endeavoured to give her a more powerful hull so that, when the foil isn’t working so well, it can take over and get the boat moving again. That’s why the hull has a lower chine and more powerful waterlines forward.” Similar work was done of the foils, whose V-shape should reduce the lifting effort the further the boat rises out of the water. This allows her to plane earlier, but also to auto-regulate her trim “to improve stability”.

The cockpit becomes the living area

For their part, Boris Herrmann and his team concentrated their efforts on the cockpit. The skipper had some very specific ideas after his first Vendée Globe: “My goal was to do everything in the cockpit, in particular to be able to sleep in the midst of the action so I can lie down next to the winch column with glazing all round me so I can see the sails all the time. We designed an enclosed cockpit, a little like the one on Hugo Boss 7 but a little bit bigger because The Ocean Race is on the programme. We placed a bunk on each side which can also serve as a bench for the crew. As for the question of weight distribution, we chose to swap the location of the two areas, with a hut aft and the cockpit further forward.”

Protecting and facilitating life aboard by making the living area flush with the cockpit is also a necessity on the Ocean Fiftys. Their skippers are equally aware of the influence their “better-being” can have on performance, especially on exposed boats that are low in the water. Antoine Lauriot-Prévost, lead architect on Koesio (formerly Planet Warriors) says: “We started working on this issue on Ciela Village 2 (now Leyton), the first boat to have a canopy over the helm station, winch column and line controls. For Koesio, we suggested that we should aim for ‘living outdoors’, especially since the shape of the platform was suitable with a greater cockpit area. Today, Erwan [Le Roux] can do everything under the canopy – resting, eating, plotting – and he has added a wheel amidships. When you’re single-handed ocean sailing, it works really well.”

Will we be seeing completely enclosed cockpits on 50’ trimarans? “We’ve thought about it, but it’s quite complicated if you don’t want to add too much weight,” says Antoine Lauriot-Prévost. “And weight is an important criterion on these boats, so it didn’t seem relevant to us.” Comfort, yes, but not to the detriment of weight!

Crédit © 2022 VPLP design, all rights reserved.

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