How are the Ultims preparing for the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest7 min de lecture

  • Competitive sailing

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There is a busy programme for the Ultims. A month after the summer break, they will be in Lorient from 29th September to 1st October for the 24H Ultim. The trimarans in the 32/23 class will then set sail on 29th October at the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie-Le Havre, before lining up on 7th January 2024 for the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest. Initially scheduled for 2019, this first solo race around the world comes just at the right time for the multihulls, the reliability of which has advanced considerably over the past few years. We look at their preparation with the skippers, Armel Le Cléac’h (Maxi Banque Populaire XI), Thomas Coville (Sodebo Ultim 3) and Anthony Marchand (Actual Ultim 3) as well as the Head of Studies at MerConcept, which is home to the SVR Lazartigue project, Antoine Gautier, and Cyril Dardashti, Managing Director of Gitana Team.

A round-the-world race aboard the Ultim 32/23 

“When you are talking about sailing around the world, it’s less about performance than reliability.” That is how Antoine Gautier summed up the situation. A sentiment shared by all those who will be taking part in the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest, the first ever solo race around the world aboard Ultim boats, which is due to keep everyone enthralled for 40 or 50 days next Winter. An expert in sailing around the world, alone or with a crew, Thomas Coville is in perfect harmony with this concept, as from the outset, he imagined his Sodebo Ultim 3 specifically for this race: “The development of  Sodebo Ultim 3 is linked to the round the world race initially scheduled for 2019. So it was a very wise boat in its design.”

The race was postponed several times and the trimaran continued to be fine-tuned, always with this goal as the priority for the skipper. “After modifying the appendages over the past few years [new foils and new rudders, Editor’s note], we added an extra 2m to the mast this year taking it to the maximum allowed by class rules,” he explained. This modification was carried out by Lorima at the Sodebo premises in Lorient, allowing the trimaran to have a larger sail area, meaning she can take off more quickly with less drag once in the air.

More thrust, less drag… that is the idea too behind the new pair of foils fitted this year to Actual Ultim 3 to enhance the performance of the VPLP designed boat, which is the oldest of the six trimarans that will set sail from Brest on 7th January (launched in August 2015). Designed by VPLP, with calculations carried out by GSea design and made by Avel Robotics in Lorient, these foils are ”a logical development in the life cycle of the boat, although not necessarily linked to the round the world race,” according to her skipper Anthony Marchand – who this year has replaced Yves Le Blevec – who says that they “firstly focused on reliability with a lot of work being done on energy.” 

Energy management and comfort 

Energy is a theme that the Banque Populaire team has been working on too. As well as adding many solar panels to Banque Populaire XI, they have been working with Watt and Sea on a wind turbine, which will be fitted for the Transat Jacques Vabre, the final double-handed event before the big one. What is special about it? The blades have a variable pitch depending on the apparent wind going from 5 to 50 knots according on wind direction (downwind VMG or reaching). Requiring a lot of energy (up to 500 amps a day), the Ultims have all applied alternative sources in this area in order to be able to use the engine as little as possible, with for some, special features like the hydrogenerator which takes in water through the daggerboard on Sodebo Ultim 3.

Few new sensors have been fitted to the Ultims, which already have a lot of instruments. “We know the boat well and now she is mature enough to set off around the world”, Cyril Dardashti told us concerning the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, which will be skippered by Charles Caudrelier. “We don’t need any more information, but we need to select the right pieces of information !”

An important work has however been done to improve comfort aboard the boats. On SVR Lazartigue, the new watch seats have been adapted to the morphology of the youngest competitor in the race, Tom Laperche, who is bigger than François Gabart, who has now handed over the helm of the trimaran. A special mattress has been set up on Actual Ultim 3, with different angles for the seats on Sodebo Ultim 3…  On the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, the hood will be completely closed at the rear, but as far as comfort, the Banque Populaire team has gone the furthest: ”We have completely shut off the cockpit by extending the hood backwards,” explained Armel Le Cléac’h, who added that they had, “set up the same heater system as they had in the Vendée Globe.” The other Ultim boats do not have that kind of system, except for Sodebo, which has planned “a small model aimed at drying clothes,” according to Thomas Coville.

A stopover is possible, a strategic choice

As for the safety gear, the skippers are clearly not taking much more on board than in previous races, with a stopover permitted by Race Instructions. Even if, for Cyril Dardashti, “the winner will be the boat that stops the least and for the shortest time,” this possibility is reassuring, in particular if there is a collision with a UFO, which is the Achilles heel for these Ultims. If for Antoine Gautier, the UFO Sea.AI (ex Oscar) detection system “is especially adapted to spot small boats that are without AIS” and not necessarily UFOs, they are all nevertheless equipped with this type of camera and pingers (sending out signals that scare away marine mammals). In this area, OC Sport Pen Duick, the organiser of the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest, has in fact signed a partnership with Share The Ocean, in order to identify – and therefore avoid – areas where mammals are concentrated on the round the world race course.

In spite of the size of the boats, the skippers’ main concern remains capsizing. To try to avoid that, all of the teams have fitted their trimarans with an automatic system to ease the mainsail sheet or traveller, with the development of electronics enabling them to go further down this road. “In collaboration with Pixel sur Mer we have developed an intelligent system that sends messages to the autopilot depending on the trim of the boat,” explains Armel Le Cléac’h. Beyond a certain angle of heel for example, the autopilot will luff if we are upwind and bear away if downwind. It really works well and that is extremely reassuring.”

In mid-September, all of the Ultims were relaunched after a certain amount of work was done on them and the clock is now ticking. Between double-handed training, an initial encounter in Lorient, the 24H Ultim, from 29th September to 1st October and the Transat Jacques Vabre and the delivery trip back home with a crew, everyone admits that there is hardly any time for solo sailing before the start. The dice have been cast…

A sixth Ultim with the sponsor Adagio

A sixth boat registered for the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest ! After trying to find a partner since the start of the year, Eric Péron will now also be lining up at the start of the Arkea Ultim Challenge-Brest on 7th January 2024. Adagio, the European leader in apartment hotels, has joined up with the skipper for the solo race around the world. “Meeting Eric and his team convinced us that taking part in this maiden solo offshore race, which is so unusual and exceptional, would allow us to publicise our brand in the best way possible and enable us to experience an outstanding individual and collective solo endeavour,” explained Virginie Barboux, senior vice president of the hotel group.


Credit Photo : © Léonard Legrand / Sodebo Voile


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