Jason Carrington: “I’m a big fan of Imoca boats”

World renowned boat builder Jason Carrington has had something of a dream order book since setting up Carrington Boats in November 2017 with the Carkeek designed Fast40 Rán. The new Imoca Hugo Boss for Alex Thomson Racing, INEOS’ UK’s Britannia as well as their nearing completion AC75 boat 2 are complemented by a part completed Ocean Race Imoca 60 which is currently on hold but which may become available. But with over 60 on the payroll at its recent peak, a big challenge is ahead of Carrington… Tip & Shaft spoke with Jason.

Jason, how are things right now given the current situation?
Slower than normal but its’s better than nothing. We stopped for a couple of weeks after that first briefing from Boris. It just felt like the right thing to do so we shut the place down for a couple of weeks and everyone went home and then we came back, feeling that we all knew we were okay. We got some new security guard on our door that takes deliveries, we check everyone’s temperature and we have put in two shifts so that we have less people. We have a shift that starts at half-six to half past three and then half-three through until two o’clock.

How many guys have you got working just now?
If we put everyone together including office staff, we have about fifty at the moment, but we have only really got two or three in the office, we have a couple working away who can. It certainly feels better. It feels like we can do this social distancing as we should, the only danger is people wanting to talk to each other to be honest. The actual factory feels quite spread out, with twenty people in it, to be honest.

How has it affected your deadlines?
It’s always a challenge, the schedules are always really tight on these boats. Fortunately, we were in pretty good shape before all this kicked off so. We have run a night shift from the start of the project so we have managed to get a big chunk ahead of where we thought we would be. We have obviously eaten into that a bit, but we are still okay. The danger for us is if we were forced to stop. If we did stop for a certain amount of time, quite quickly it becomes just not feasible to even get the boat done in time, so we are pretty aware of that. At the moment we’re on track.

The INEOS boat is the only one you are working on right now?
Yes, it is. We have got an Imoca boat here which is sort of half built but we’re not really working on that at the moment. We’re chatting to those guys today actually but at the moment we are full steam ahead.

What’s the status of that Ocean Race boat?
The hull is complete, about a third of the structure is in it, and all of the structure is built. We haven’t started the deck yet. The deck mould is here.

But this Ocean Race IMOCA is on hold is it?
Yes, it’s on hold I guess is the best way to describe it.

As it stands it is not available to any other team or owner supposing they wanted it?
No, not yet but that is sort of where we are trying to get to really. We’ve got a very strong contract and so far, although the client has got different plans now, he has been fair to us. It’s personal stuff but everything is paid up to date so far and it’s more the fact that we are now missing a chunk of work that we thought we had. It’s just trying to come to an agreement with him about that, that we are both happy with. So, obviously ending up with a boat and being able to sell it on could be a good option for him and us.

What do you feel is the market there?
Well the market right now……

….would have been okay six weeks ago?
A month ago The Ocean Race  was very tempting. And this boat would still be very tempting, for someone to do The Ocean Race , cause it’s a long way into its build. So, if you wanted a new Imoca boat for The Ocean Race it’s probably your only chance I would say. You could probably scramble a boat together out of an existing mould, but time is ticking.

Tell us  about the new AC75 Cup boats in general. What is the complexity that challenges you as a builder, compared with the 50s for example?
They’re just a lot more technical to build. This time teams are basically on their own to do whatever they want, and it’s ended up with some very racy, intricate and very light laminates and structural solutions so they’re very complicated boats to build. Very refined laminates, lots of patching, lots of core chain, a myriad of different cores in the hulls decks and even bulkheads so they’re very difficult to build.

Are they the most difficult thing you have built?
I would say so, yes, I think they are. Definitely, and of course with a Cup boat it’s very much hand to mouth. They’re very much designed as you go. We get drawings every day, we have new drawings today. We probably got some last night and we will be doing that stuff tomorrow. You don’t get a lot of time to digest it. We are very much a part of the team in terms of how you build stuff, we have regular chats with those guys in terms of how to make stuff and what materials we could use. That works well but it is still challenging because we’re up against it and things change quite rapidly.

Talk to us a little about the Hugo Boss repair, what did you learn from that in terms of future reliability for the Vendée?
It was interesting. I think the Imoca boats are very light boats when you compare them to a Volvo  65. Probably a good Imoca boat, the structural weight of the composite box is around two tonnes, that’s sort of where you are aiming to be. If you looked at a Volvo 65, I don’t know but probably I would suspect that it’s well over three and a half tonnes. It’s a big difference. The rules around them, you can be a lot racier. Particularly around the keel structure, it’s not as defined as the Volvo used to be. Again it’s open to interpretation, different engineers and designers can push that as hard as they want to push it really. So, they are quite fragile in that area but looking at Hugo Boss when she came back, it was pretty sad to see how she looked. It was also pretty unusual to look at a boat like that. Its not often you get to see a boat like that, that has had a lot of impact. You could understand how it had broken, why it had broken. It was good to see it had responded to the impact like it should have. Certainly with the rebuild they have gone quite a bit stronger than it was before. That’s a choice by the team. I would guess that certainly in the keel structure area now it would be a lot stronger than any other Imoca boat.

What are the step changes in the Imoca construction from your perspective as a builder?
Well I think that Finot boat that we built for Alex at the time and this one have always been quite a cutting edge boats. It’s what is so cool about the Imoca boats, they were always quite cutting edge have become more and more cutting edge. Certainly now, I just said that the Cup boat is challenging to build and it is. The Imoca boat is not as refined in terms of really light laminates but it is still very tricky in terms of around the foil area the structure is huge. It’s not particularly complicated but of course there are lots of processes, there are huge loads going through those foils. Big slamming loads on the boats, you still have the water ballast tank loads to deal with. They’re very fiddly boats to build and probably the biggest challenge is that foil area. You start working on that when you start fitting primary structure and I think we were working on it right up until two weeks before the boats went out. It just goes on and on and on. There is a lot of structure in the hull and structure in the deck, structure in between, the box, all the bearing attachments. It’s a monty really. Very interesting and very cool but certainly a challenge. Probably that Finot boat we built in nine months including tooling, nine or ten months. These boats now we were given a year from hull lines and it was more like thirteen and a half months. I think that’s the same with all the other builders too, the French and Persico are finding the same thing. They’re just very complicated. I think if anyone said they could build one in a year I would say ‘I’m not sure you can’. At least not to be sailing it reliably.

What about The Ocean Race Imoca 60’s as a concept, presumably you are very keen on the Imoca in the race?
I am. In my days of sailing it was very much development classes involved in the Volvo and I was pretty sad to see it go to the one design thing. I’m a big fan of the Imoca boats so I hope they manage to get it together. It doesn’t need a whole heap of boats but some boats, four or five at least I would think would be good. There are plenty of good Imoca boats out there, some even from the last generation that I am sure could be competitive in The Ocean Race. Especially now with these boats foiling, I’m not an expert on that, but I think there’s a lot more to now (in terms of performance) do with your foils. I think you could have a boat that is a year old but with the right foils and be very competitive. I don’t think you have to build a new boat to be competitive in The Ocean Race. Equally it would be nice to see more than one or two new boats but that’s going to be tough with the current time frame I would say.

From what you have seen, what it the difference between the latest generation Vendée boats and what you would call a specialist Ocean Race boat?
If you look from behind, looking at the hull shape they are pretty similar, I don’t think there’s much difference. Where you see the difference is deck arrangement, systems for managing the sails. Obviously, you have more crew so you can push the boat harder, work the boat harder, that’s quite a big difference but its not something you can’t deal with. You could take Alex’s boat, which would be quite extreme in terms of it being tailored to single handed sailing but even that wouldn’t be a huge job, you could do it. That is certainly possible, I’m sure Alex’s boat, his hull shape on the VPLP boat, I’m sure that would be competitive in The Ocean Race. I don’t think it’s like it used to be where those boats where very specific to each race.

Have you discussed it at any stage, what you would have to do to adapt it to be full crewed?
I don’t think Alex has any plans to do that.

Was it discussed with the design office or anybody, at any stage?
We haven’t, I don’t know whether Alex has. I’m sure it can be done. You could be sailing your boat which has a Vendee style deck and cockpit on it and at the same time be building something that is more akin to The Ocean Race. It’s a bit more complicated than that but it is certainly doable.

Having built seven round the world race boats does it get any easier, any less stressful when you follow them in the races, you getting a little older and having built more boats?
No, I worry like crazy. It’s always hard to build a boat and sail on it but at least you’re sailing on it and you understand what is going on and you’re right there to be part of it and understanding that. Whereas, when you just build a boat and then pass it on you just have to wonder what is going on.

The boat is still your ‘baby’?
Yes, it is. Also though, you worry about the guys sailing it. I worry about Alex because the boat because as fast as it goes, it’s not an exact science these boats, in the design and build you don’t really know what is going to happen to that boat when its pushed to extremes.

To what level, do you watch every schedule and email?
I pretty much do.

Moving on again to the general Grand Prix Boat race market, it has obviously changed in the last month but how do you see that?
I think it is always evolving. I suspect there will probably be another round of TP52s, it’s always quite a strong class. The Fast 40s in the UK I hoped that would take off more than it did, its still a fantastic little boat, if people would commit to new boats that would be good.

Do you see that as a possibility or a probability?
I think it could be, Niklas’s last boat, he did quite a job of it, he designed the boat, it was racy and of course he sails it very well. He could have gone more extreme but certainly among the other boats it was a big step up. You could wind that back a little bit and design three boats that would be competitive, I’m sure. It would be nice to see that, I’m quite a big fan of that class so it would be nice to see more of them. The other class that seems to be talked about is something around 80 foot with a bit of interior but not much and there are a few different people looking at that. I think Wally are looking at that, Swan are looking at it, and designers are looking at it. That would take over from the Maxi 72s, which really are sort of coming to an end, those boats. I think that’s got legs but when it is going to kick off I don’t know. We do worry about the future, we have had a very golden period from getting started three years ago with Niklas’ boat, then we had the Americas Cup, the Vendee, The Ocean Race, before this dreaded bloody bug we were already looking a bit harder at where our next boat comes from.

When you look at France, what do we need to do in the UK to support the industry you are in more and is there a propensity for a hub like Lorient in the UK and would you like to see that?
I would love to see it. They manage to get so much sponsorship from relatively small companies, local companies that follow their boats. You’ve been to the start of the Vendee it’s incredible, that energy and that does generate business. They have managed to always be building boats of some description those guys. It is a little harder here.

In terms trying to generate a nucleus of Grand Prix companies in one place, you kind of have that round where you are but not to the same level….
There’s not a lot of support for us. We feel like we were pretty brave to get going and we were fortunate that we have had some great clients who have supported us and so on. We looked at trying to get funding from the government, a grant, it’s just not possible. You can’t even get a reduction on your rates, it’s so tough. Whereas in France I do think they support those industries a lot more. Here it’s tough and it’s a shame because it is such cool stuff we are doing. I would definitely like to see more support for us and I worry that we are so niche and if we can’t find a boat to continue, we fall off of the cliff so quickly. You can imagine the overheads are huge, just the static overhead to be able to build boats like these, the power you need, the insurance, never mind paying all the guys. You can’t really weather a storm for too long you need to be following these projects up. That is always our worry. It’s not a new worry but I think the bigger you are the harder. I think that is why Green Marine really suffered. They became so big that they needed big projects all the time. Even to do a Cup boat and an Imoca boat at the same time you have to be pretty big outfit with a big overhead and we are definitely aware of that!

Talk to me about the international market. You have one or two big companies like Persico Are you competitive against them generally?
I talk to those guys a lot, particularly Persico because I’ve got a strong relationship with them, I’m good friends with Marcelo and Mark. Certainly, Mark and I talk every other week, and Marcelo I am in touch with. I have built a lot of boats with them in the past. So, we check in on our hourly rates, we have similar processes that we have developed together. Of course they’re our competitor but they are also our friends and we often share work. We have had some quiet periods where they have helped us by giving us some work, we have given them some work in the past and I think that is definitely a healthy thing. That’s also true of the French. We haven’t really done much work with the French, but we certainly have been in discussions with them to do so, we have sent material their way and they have sent material to us. It’s a very friendly environment. There are not many of these yards but I feel like we all work together and try to help each other. I think we all want each other to succeed. I would be very sad to hear any of those yards falling by the wayside and I think it’s the same for them.

Photo: Alex Thomson Racing

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