How the Vendée Globe encourages innovation in sail racing7 min de lecture

INVESTIGATING : available in the Bretagne Sailing Valley® News – Newsletter #3 – autumn


At 1302hrs CET on 8th November 2020, 33 solo sailors will set off at the start of the ninth Vendée Globe. Eight of them will be aboard brand new boats launched between August 2018 (Charal) and May 2020 (Corum L’Épargne), which are packed with technological innovations, many of which originate from the ‘Bretagne Sailing Valley®’ cluster. From design to construction, the whole of the sail racing sector is boosted every four years by the Vendée Globe and takes a technological leap forward. We look at some of the major innovations.

In Guillaume Verdier’s boat design team, which came up with Apivia (Charlie Dalin) and LinkedOut (Thomas Ruyant), the key matter they worked on concerned the foils, a concept which showed what it could do back in the 2016 Vendée Globe. “With foils offering more thrust, there was the problem of stability when flying. For us, the goal from the outset was not to fly too high, as that badly affects performance and I didn’t want to do anything too extreme, especially for solo racers,” explained Guillaume Verdier. In the design of the hulls, decks and foils, he was aided by a major technical innovation, a simulator that he was able to offer his clients that was developed from the one he used with Team New Zealand, the defender of the America’s Cup.

For builders, foils have also revolutionised the way of doing things and encouraged innovation. Launched back in late 2017, the Avel Robotics company was specially set up to meet the demand. “We clearly saw that high performance composites were handcrafted in the boating sector, whereas in the aircraft industry, everything was done by using a robot, meaning it was possible to manufacture higher quality parts,” explained the Managing Director, Luc Talbourdet. Avel Robotics therefore invested around a million euros in a robot which made the first foils for the ETF26s, the small flying catamarans. The result won over three Vendée Globe teams – Apivia, L’Occitane and in collaboration with Lorima, Arkéa Paprec – who called upon the services of the Lorient-based firm to make their foils. “I am convinced that this manufacturing method will become the norm. When that is the case, we will jump a few years ahead,” explained Luc Talbourdet.

As for CDK Technologies, which built either partially or wholly four new boats for the 2020 Vendée Globe – Charal, Apivia, Arkéa-Paprec and Corum L’Épargne – we clearly saw them opening up to this new market. The yard based in Lorient and Port-la-Forêt had already positioned itself, as they built the foils for PRB and are currently working on those for the two new Ultime boats, “M101,” initially ordered for François Gabart, and Armel Le Cléac’h’s Banque Populaire XI. That led CDK Technologies to invest around 2 million euros in a computer-assisted design programme, an oven measuring 25 metres in length and four in diameter and a cutting machine. And they also decided to hire people: “The foil is a step above in terms of precision and understanding the materials, so we have been forced to hire the best, both in the design office and the workshop,” explained Yann Dollo, Managing Director of CDK Technologies.

The 2020 Vendée Globe has also given rise to a giant leap forward in terms of electronics. This is the area of expertise of the Madintec company based in Lorient and La Rochelle, which for several years now has specialised in autopilots. Its co-founder, Matthieu Robert explains: “The prospect of the 2020 Vendée Globe was an opportunity which led us just after the last edition to raise funds to develop our own autopilot. There was room for major innovations in this area to the extent that today, we can clearly talk about a new generation.”
The outcome has been that after equipping just one Imoca, Initiatives Cœur, in the last Route du Rhum, Madintec (which also works with Ultime and Multi50 teams), has eight other clients in the Vendée Globe – Apivia, PRB, MACSF, Arkéa Paprec, LinkedOut, Maître CoQ, Prysmian Group and DMG Mori – and has increased its turnover fourfold in just four years. All these new clients will enable the firm to recoup their investment and in the coming months they will offer their innovative autopilot to other classes (IRC and Class40 in particular) at much more affordable prices…

Staying with autopilots, another new player has entered the market since the last Vendée Globe: BSB Marine. The company based in Port-la-Forêt develops and sells the Oscar system for detecting unidentified floating objects using artificial intelligence. The system was invented by a Franco-German engineer, Raphaël Biancale, with requirements laid down by Jean Le Cam, Vincent Riou, François Gabart and Armel Le Cléac’h. The Vendée Globe, because it is a solo event, is a key moment for BSB Marine, which has equipped 60% of the round the world fleet. “It was clearly among our major goals when we draw up our strategy to develop Oscar,” confirmed Gaëtan Gouerou, president of BSB Marine (and former Imoca general delegate). And it is probably far from over, as the system tested a year ago in the Transat Jacques Vabre, has to not only detect UFOs, but also help to avoid them as it is connected to the autopilot. Ocean racing is the first sector to benefit from this technology, but BSB Marine intends to make it available to boating enthusiasts very soon. “It offers both extra safety and comfort,” added Gaëtan Gouerou.

The upcoming Vendée Globe will also see a number of innovations in the area of sail design and construction with more and more sailmakers collaborating even more closely with boat designers and teams right from the early phases of designs onwards. Gautier Sergent, the general manager of the sailmakers North Sails France which has two lofts on the Breton coast, in Vannes and Lorient – 17 of the 33 boats in the fleet of the Vendée Globe running a full North inventory – explains: “With the foils, the boats have less drag in and so the aerodynamic aspect is more and more important. So we are working a lot more on the interaction between the sail and the deck, we can no longer ignore the interaction of the two. Today, for architects, the aero design is the n ° 2 subject after the foils.”
The sails themselves have been the subject of a real step change in technology. Load sharing is a major innovation since the last Vendée Globe,” confirms Sergent. “That means that a large part of the tack and halyard loads is now to the sail itself rather than the cable. This allows the sails to project more area forwards, generating more power forwards and better performance. This technology is now common in most big racing boats and has led to sailmakers reworking the structural load sharing and shape of the sails. It is particularly good for the foiling IMOCA as it avoids overloading the one-design rig.We did a lot of development. We got there incrementally, step by step. We had to work like that to bring this new innovation on stream to the racers who always want to embrace the new technologies but are reluctant to take big risks. And not today this technology is commonplace through the fleet.”concludes Gautier Sergent.


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