Corum L’Épargne: autopsy of a failed Imoca project

Since being launched in May 2020, the Imoca Corum L’Épargne has suffered a whole series of different damages. A dismasting last week during the Azimut Challenge has now proven the final nail in the coffin, a mechanical failure which pressed Corum L’Épargne to announce the end of the project on Tuesday. Tip & Shaft looks back at the reasons that led to this decision.

So in less than a week, the Corum L’Épargne sailing team has suffered two major blows. The first happened during the night between Thursday September 21 and Friday September 22, a little more than 12 hours after the start of the 48-hour Défi Azimut Lorient Agglomération race. The Imoca being sailed by the duo Nicolas Troussel and Benjamin Schwartz was dismasted “in manageable conditions, a wind of 25 knots and big seas”, according to the race press release.

The boat which was designed by the Franco-Argentinian architect Juan Kouyoumdjian and built in 2019/2020 under the project management of Mer Agitée, Michel Desjoyeaux’s company, was put back in the water at the end of July after a seven-month project, one which was intended to make it more reliable and more efficient.

There was a change of bow and new foils (see our interview with Frédéric Puzin, boss of Corum L’Épargne, back in April). “We were obviously all very disappointed by the dismasting, but the team immediately were mobilized to find solutions so as to be at the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre,” Nicolas Troussel tells Tip & Shaft.

But the second knockout blow came on Tuesday morning when Frédéric Puzin, the founder of Corum L’Épargne came to Lorient to tell the skipper then the team that the project was at an end.

We didn’t expect this.”  continues Troussel, “There is obviously a lot of disappointment, sadness and frustration among a team of fifteen people who put a lot of energy into this project. I also feel bad for my co-skipper Benjamin Schwartz. But I understand that Corum don’t want to go on with a project that does not work, because unfortunately this is, of course, not the first failure.”

“Don’t persist with failure”

Since its launch in June 2020, the Juan Kouyoumdjian design has undergone several returns to the  yard. There was a first dismasting in the Vendée Globe 2020 after eight days of racing, then keel damage in April 2022 on the Guyader Bermudes 1000 Race. Even so the announcement was a real shock to the team, especially since, according to team manager Evrard, “We are really convinced that this transformed boat has today a real potential. It is not the king of the racecourse, we don’t pretend that, but we know that we have taken a big step forwards.”

Evrard continues, “Although the news was a sudden shock it did not surprise me. I understand the logic. Corum is one of the most resilient partners and they have proven that.”

There is a sad reaction too from architect Juan Kouyoumdjian who, contacted by Tip & Shaft, believes that “the project was fully evolving to be up among the best teams. It leaves me with a feeling of injustice, but I can only respect the decision of Corum.”

Corum founder Frédéric Puzin made the decision “with a deadly feeling in my soul” after a few days of reflection. After the dismasting the first instinct was to look for a mast and a boom“, he tells Tip & Shaft. But after an exchange with his teams, he finally pressed the stop button, fearing that continuing the project would appear too much as sheer stubbornness. “Since the beginning, this project has been supposed to reflect our values of performance, commitment and resilience, but it has been a succession of abandonments, damages and results which just do not match up to our ambitions and our commitment. In the interest of the company, we could no longer take the risk of further damage or poor performance and becoming the project that fails every time and persists in failures.”

“I don’t regret any choices we made”

In calling time on this four-year partnership, does Puzin – who sails internationally under IRC on his Ker 46 Daguet 3–  have any regrets, particularly in certain technical choices?

It’s a project that has failed, that’s clear, but I don’t regret any of the choices we made, whether that’s the choice of architect, the team or the skipper. IMOCAs are extremely complex machines that we push through challenges and tests that are way beyond the realm of normal offshore sailing. We should invest more money in the R&D side, manage more things internally, such as the build, so as to control everything and leave nothing to chance. But this would bring with it a budget which does not exist in Imoca.”

Taking stock, the architect Kouyoumdjian, who previously designed Imocas for Brian Thompson and Bernard Stamm, and also Arkéa Paprec (sistership of Corum L’Épargne), sailed on the last Vendée Globe by Sébastien Simon (ABD), asserts: “There were moments of very good performances, with satisfactory results, but overall, I can only see a negative assessment. I also have a feeling of bad luck, between the breakage of Arkéa Paprec’s foils at the start of the project, which completely shaped its evolution while the other winning projects progressed. The boat Corum was in full consolidation, with positive feelings and a very quick solo configuration, before the mast came down again.”

The architect and the Lorient team continue to study the causes of this second dismasting, as Evrard explains: We have already eliminated quite a few causes: the way it was being sailed, the sailplan used, the loads applied to the rigging as well as the breakages of rigging accessories such as swivels, as was the case for Holcim PRB on The Ocean Race. The spectrum is therefore reduced and only points to the tube itself or the standing rigging. We continue our investigations to find the cause because this is not the first in the Imoca class.”

Nicolas Troussel “very motivated to come back quickly”

Besides Holcim-PRB, the latest masts were 11th Hour Racing 1 (now Guyot Environnement) on the Transat Jacques Vabre 2021 and Bureau Vallée on the same Jacques Vabre and then on the Route du Rhum 2022, raising the question if the one-design masts which are well adapted to the power of the latest generation Imoca. “They were designed at a time [the class imposed one-design masts from 2013, Editor’s note] when the boats were not equipped with foils and therefore not as fast, nor with other dynamics and other loads. This does not mean that all the masts will fail, but we are racing in an arena which is not the one initially planned, concedes Greg Evrard.

Meantime Troussel says he is very motivated to bounce back quickly and start another story. Qualification for the Vendée Globe is not over and the objective today is to find a partner”, the  Corum L’Épargne team are investigating the causes of the dismasting and are working to sort the boat with a view to putting it up for sale.

Then we will liquidate the project, but the plan has not yet been finalized, because we want to do things very correctly,” insists Frédéric Puzin. Asked about the total cost of this project, the founder of Corum L’Épargne replies: “Since 2018, it is around 16 million euros. And if we had gone as far as the Vendée Globe, we would have had to add 4 million euros.” But he specifies: “The media coverage was significant, this project allowed us to double our profile.”


Photo: Eloi Stichelbaut – polaRYSE / Corum L’Épargne

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