INTERVIEW available in the last Bretagne Sailing Valley® News – Newsletter #5 – Spring 2021
The ninth edition of the Vendée Globe ended on March 5 with the finish of Ari Huusela, 25th and last classified and the first Scandinavian sailor to finish the race. According to the president of the Imoca class, Antoine Mermod, this record breaking edition has spun off considerable benefits the entire ocean racing ecosystem but especially in Brittany.
Will this Vendée Globe have benefited companies in Bretagne Sailing Valley?
Yes, clearly. There was a very strong fleet both in terms of quantity and quality backed by a lot of money invested by sponsors. We estimate some 120-130 million euros to be the total investment of 120 partners on the 33 boats. And of course a lot of this money was in turn invested by the teams in technology and therefore into companies of South Brittany. Of the 33 boats, 8 were built for this Vendée Globe, including 5 actually built in Bretagne Sailing Valley (Charal, Apivia, Arkéa Paprec, DMG Mori, Corum L’Épargne). The selection process put in place to decide between entrants if we exceeded the limit, also meant a number of teams started their campaigns early and to modify their boats along the way to improve them. We saw that with some more older generation boats such as Time for Oceans and Groupe Apicil were substantially refitted in Brittany. The new foilers have also also pushed some teams to upgrade their boat by adding new foils, some of which were built by companies in this sector, such as those of MACSF and Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco, at Multiplast. This foil market itself intensified with several teams having two or three built, like I think Charal, Apivia, Arkea Paprec, LinkedOut, Hugo Boss. And the low dropout rate [24%, the lowest in the history of the race Editor’s note] shows the quality of the work that has been achieved: the boats were really well prepared, including work done by teams with smaller budgets or older Imocas.
Has this Vendée Globe given rise to technological advances that have led to the creation of new areas of operation?
Between 2016 and 2020 there was a real milestone in several areas. I am thinking first of the amount of data collected on the boats. Until 2015 we saw really only data collection and measurement made on Safran (the current Maître CoQ IV) on the 2015 Transat Jacques Vabre. Today almost 100% of the teams collect data, whether that is load data – on the rigging and on the foils – the structure or attitude of the boat. In the space of six years we have gone from scattered data really just then little aids to navigation, to a set of information that allows you to set up better to perform and to track boats use and performance iterations throughout their lives, but also to improve designs. And there is also the requirement for performance analysis tools. This made it possible to create a new area of operation for Breton companies which have specialized or diversified in data collection and analysis, I am thinking for example of Madintec, Pixel sur Mer or AIM 45, which are pretty much pioneers in this field having mostly already worked in this area on the America’s Cup. Likewise a huge step forward has been taken in everything to do with on-board electronics, with autopilots. Until now we had a main model that followed basic forms of wind angles. Now four years on companies like Pixel and Madintec have developed major evolutions making it possible to manage the boats according to several different instructions – such as a heel angle, a speed not to be exceeded, reactions in the event of a problem – and to fully utilise the sensors that are on board the boats. With these solutions, we are now getting closer to a real comprehensive system. And a real business has developed for foil building with innovative modes of production such as Avel Robotics. And there is much more to come as at the moment we already have five new pairs of foils under construction.
The new rule for the next Vendée Globe will definitely be adopted in April, can you tell us more about its main principles?
The main objective is to preserve the existing fleet so that it reaches 2024 with a reasonable level of development, because the goal is to convince the sponsors to stay with us, so as to avoid the requirement for big investments. The most obvious point is the limitation of the size of the foils, which, over the past two years, have become bigger and bigger. We think now is the right time to set a limit which will be 8 cubic meters, which roughly corresponds to the size of the foils we had on this Vendée Globe on Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco, Charal or Hugo Boss. On the other hand, we have still banned load-bearing planes on the rudders, still to limit the escalation of budgets and keep the fleet homogeneous fleet. That does not preclude that they may be authorized in the future.
As a new four-year cycle begins in the complicated situation of health and the economy what can we expect for Breton companies in this sector?
This ninth edition of the Vendée Globe has the biggest return in the history of French sailing (with an equivalent advertising media coverage announced of 269 million euros in France, 63 million internationally). The current dynamic is very strong and encourages many partners to continue their commitment: we can see that the things are moving forward nicely with for example commitments already continuing like the sale of L’Occitane to Bureau Vallée, and others who are moving in that direction. Another three or four new boat projects will be launched fairly quickly. Compared to the previous cycle that is already exceptional is that we would like to count from six to eight new boats, a renewal of around 25% of the fleet is a good figure. Another positive sign, the expected level for the Transat Jacques Vabre: we expect about twenty boats compared with thirteen at this stage four years ago. So I think companies can be quite reassured that the French market is solid. The goal now is to attract foreign projects, to allow them to benefit from our technology and our know-how. This is the choice we made by linking with The Ocean Race, I think it’s good for Breton companies to support us on this path. And from May the The Ocean Race Europe coming to Lorient will be a very good opportunity for them to interface with all the different groups.
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Picture © Bernard Le Bars / Alea