Britain’s Phil Sharp announced this week that he will have the third Sam Manuard designed IMOCA to be built by Black Pepper Yachts. One of the most successful Class40 skippers of recent years, is also a highly talented mechanical engineer. With his OceansLab he plans to highlight the hydrogen fuel cell technology system which he co-invented and is presently commercialising for the leisure and commercial marine sectors. His plans are to launch his boat in late July for trials and training in August and September before taking part in the Defi Azimut, the Transat Jacques Vabre and the solo Retour a la base race back to France and thereafter the full Imoca Globe Series. Tip & Shaft spoke to the La Rochelle based skipper.
► Flesh out some details of your funding package, how are you financing your programme and what is your budget?
The way we have structured the boat (cost 5 million euros) is to look for one third capital to fund the boat against two thirds of debt. We started off the investment round with a seed investor who previously supported our Class40 project who put up a lump sum to kick off the project and that really helped us sell the project to other investors. Gradually we managed to meet our capital requirement, the boatyard Black Pepper are an investor in the project – and will own a share of the boat – because they really believe in in the project and the technology. They are interested in embracing the hydrogen technology as well for other production vessels and prototypes they will be producing. It is a strong collaboration with Black Pepper. The other two thirds is financed by a bank which is a classic way of doing things. And we also had to demonstrate we had a base support from sponsors. We will be announcing some partners over the next few weeks. Nealry all those partners almost have some connection with the project either in the hydro space or technology transfer. We are really looking at sharing our vision of decarbonising the marine sector.
► So what will your global budget be?
We have a minimum target budget of €2.5m per annum. We are looking to develop that throughout the Imoca Globe Series programme in order that we can compete in The Ocean Race in 2027 when we will be looking to be at €3.5m per year. OceansLab is a four year project culminating in The Ocean Race in 2027 with this boat. We need to keep the boat up to date, especially foils.
► What would a headline sponsor cost be?
We are looking to €2m for naming rights, main hull and sail branding.
► What actually allowed you to press the ‘go’ button in early December?
That was when we had secured the last investor and had the go ahead from the bank. And then enabled us to sign the build contract. It was the signing of that which meant we really have a project. Until you have a boat, in this Imoca domain, it is all hot air!
“I like Sam’s pragmatic approach”
► Why this boat?
The boat was available, I like the Manuard concept, I’ve sailed on Manuard boats a lot. My Class 40 was a Manuard design, I sailed on Manuard Minis a lot and I like Sam’s pragmatic approach. I know him from Minis in 2005. I think the boats are a great concept for the Vendee Globe it is a stable platform which is easier to sail than other designs, it has great form stability, and it is a very versatile package that you need to do well on the Vendee Globe.
► What will your foils be like?
Essentially identical to the ones you look at on Malizia and Initiatives Coeur and an evolution of the L’Occitaine foils. We don’t have time to really to engineer and optimise foils. Time is our biggest enemy. So we will work with a package Sam has worked hard to put together.
► So what are the differences between the Black Pepper Manuard designs, Bureau Vallee, Initiatives Coeur and your boat, OceansLab?
Compared to L’Occitane, Initiatives Coeur has more mast rake, the keel is further back and the foils have a lower entry rather than high entry and are a new shape. V3 OceansLab will have a smoother entry to reduce drag in waves and increase lift. There is a new concept of ballast arrangement, also reducing measurement weight. There is a different rudder system concept and of course our hydrogen fuel cell energy system.
► How does the hydrogen fuel cell technology compare in terms of weight versus diesel engine and generator ?
The fuel cell technology is lighter than a diesel generator about 1/2 the weight… and with nearly twice the efficiency. However H2 fuel storage is heaver per kW hour than diesel – around 2.5-3 times heavier – because the tanks that have hold hydrogen under high pressure (350 bar) So we end up with an overall system that is maybe 50% heavier than classic diesel system.
“We have similar philosophies with Yannick”
► You will do all the Imoca Globe Series Races?
It is a pretty full on programme, very intense. Effectively there are four Transatlantics in the space of nine months. That, though, has always been part of my philosophy doing as much hard racing as you can. It makes you become as natural as possible in the racing mentality in racing configuration on the all important races, the big events.
► You are based in La Rochelle, will you base your boat there and train with the Pole there?
Yes, it is developing so well there, the Centre Excellence Voile. There are strong Figaro and Mini fleets there and there is a pontoon now and good facilities. There was good training for the Class40s before the Route du Rhum and I think we will have a handful of Imocas there, two or three older ones and Yannick Bestaven and us. We will invite others to come and join us for training sessions.
► Do you know Yannick well?
I do. We bump into each other in La Rochelle. And it is interesting because we have similar philosophies. We had had similar parallel stories with technology and on the water, racing. We started looking at fuel cells, he commercialised his technology (hydrogenerators) and has been successful with sales whereas we are really at the beginning of the commercialisation. But he has a developed a clean solution and has scored some impressive racing results over the year.
► So you are a La Rochelle project?
We are an international project. We are not really tied to any specific port. La Rochelle will be our home training base. But we also have strong ties with Jersey and the Pays de la Loire who have helped us get the business off the ground and of course we have international partners, so OceansLab is an international project.
Photo: Phil Sharp – OceansLab