Imoca Hublot

Imoca: winter refit update

After three months of refit work, the Imoca boats are now ready to tackle a busy season, starting on 28 April with the start of The Transat CIC, followed by theNew York-Vendée and the Vendée Globe. Tip & Shaft takes a look at the technical issues that have kept the teams busy this winter.

Reinforcing masts, improving ergonomics, making systems more reliable, lightening the boat, optimising ballast tanks, new pairs of foils… The teams have just completed their last major optimisation project with a view to the Vendée Globe.

While Antoine Mermod, the president of the Imoca class, points out that “most of the work on structural reinforcements – and in particular the hull bottoms – was carried out last year following the observations made in The Ocean Race”, two Imoca boats which suffered damage in the Transat Jacques Vabre nevertheless had to carry out more extensive work. For Éric Bellion on Stand As One, it was two jobs in one. The repair work on our collision – a 14 m2 hull graft – which required human reinforcements, and the work to improve the boat based on the job list that Jean Le Cam, who sails a sistership, drew up following the two transatlantic races he completed last year”

Maître Coq has also undergone some structural reinforcement following her damage, with the addition of three bulkheads to the bow. As a precaution, For The Planet, another Verdier design, has also added a few reinforcements, as her skipper Sam Goodchild explains: “We were also having a few minor problems, so Guillaume Verdier suggested we do something more solid and add more bulkheads to the bow.”


Reinforced masts


Furthermore, faced with the number of dismastings – seven since 2020 – linked to different causes (peripheral or collision), the class decided to reinforce the masts of the Imoca boats launched from 2016 onwards, Antoine Mermod explaining that “as the boats get faster and faster, the more things go and the more the masts are used to the limit of their design assumptions.” Even if no dismastings are linked to the chainplates, it was decided to reinforce “all the masts at the attachment points for the standing rigging, J2, J3 and the cap shrouds, with a patch of around nine kilos of carbon to give ourselves an extra margin of safety for the Vendée Globe season.”

All in all, this winter’s refit was an opportunity for the teams to work like mad to dismantle and examine everything, as David Sineau, team manager at Initiatives Coeur, explains. “As the boats are putting a lot more strain on the ropes than before, the rate of wear and tear is much greater, which has meant tracking down all the points of damage to the various systems, foil maneuvers, sheet tracks, tacking…”. At Charal, Nicolas Andrieu, head of BeYou Racing’s design office, also points out that “a good part of the winter was spent completely dismantling the boat to make sure there was no early wear and tear in the systems and ropes.”


Spare foils


When they were launched, several Imoca boats sported a second pair of foils, like MacifCharalMaliziaTeamworkMaître Coq and Initiatives Coeur, for which David Sineau explains that the main motivation was to secure the project, because if you break a foil two months before the Vendée Globe, you can’t reproduce one in the same time frameThe slot to produce them at Avel Robotics had therefore been reserved even before the boat was launched at the end of 2022, with the aim of testing them over the two spring transatlantic races”. And although already very satisfied with their first pair, the team has developed them “in order to achieve a certain versatility and tolerance to changes in the boat’s trimThey are powerful, but 4X4 enough to have a very good average speed”, describes David Sineau.

At Charal, the idea was also “to keep the old pair of foils as spares”, explains Nicolas Andrieu, ” but also to orientate the boat a little more towards Vendée Globe conditions with a new pair which adapts a little better to downwind sailing in a breeze and which is easy to use single-handed”.

Nicolas Andrieu, who is also working on the Teamwork project, adds that the new foils now equipping Justine Mettraux’s Imoca have evolved greatly: “Unlike the previous ones, which dated back to the launch of the boat (ex-Charal) in 2018, and which had evolved just a little, these will push much harder, enable us to be more stable when heeling and increase speed with big performance gains, especially upwind and reaching, but also a little downwind.”

At Hublot Sailing Team, there are no new foils, but a new bow, as skipper Alan Roura explains:“We decided to optimise our boat around our foils because we couldn’t make a second pair, due to a lack of budget. A major project was therefore devoted to transforming the bow, which until then had been very bulky at waterline level. “We cut between 3m50 and 3m80 off the bow to create a new one – the America’s Cup type – which is thinner in the water entrances to allow the boat to emerge more easily when planted and to bounce off the waves, while keeping the length at the waterline because she has always had a deficit upwind,” explains the Swiss skipper. A deficit caused by the boat’s skirt, which was “stuck in the water all the time. By adding almost 300 litres of unsinkable foam in this area, we were able to raise the skirt, to help the boat’s stability and gain in light airs and upwind sailing.”


Saving weight


Saving weight and balancing the weights was also on the agenda for several of the projects. Alan Roura explains that “the central ballast tanks have been moved off-centre on the freeboards, the idea being to halve their volume while retaining the same power”. At Guyot environnement, Benjamin Dutreux also explains that “a lot of work has been done to lighten the boat , which had been weighed down quite a bit over the years. So we decided to start from scratch by cutting and grinding everything that was unnecessary, removing the layers of paint that were superimposed as well as the central ballast tanks, and optimising the weight of the keel bulb.” Guyot environnement also has a new roof, “much lighter,” explains Benjamin Dutreux, “with more portholes for greater visibility of my sails, but also more enclosed and therefore more livable.”

On the subject of ergonomics, the other big issue that occupied the teams this winter, Benjamin Dutreux adds that a “new bucket seat has been installed” so that he can access his headphones as well as his computer. “Previously, I had to move around for everything. Now I’m going to be more reactive when it comes to settings.”

Initiatives Coeur has also sought to keep movement to a minimum “by organising the living area as a very compact zone, very close to the outside,” describes David Sineau. A cushioned seat, moulded to Sam Davies’ shape, was installed with its back to the road, just a stone’s throw from his spine.”

The same goes for Teamwork , where anew watch station will enable Justine Mettraux to rest and watch over the boat in greater comfort and peace of mind, with a bucket seat that reclines and rotates according to the heel of the boat and faces the cockpit. Nicolas Andrieu explains that the cockpit has also been fitted out for comfort and protection: “Between the launch and now, as the boat has accelerated, there have been several stages in the closing of the hatchAnd now we’ve reached the final stage, where the hatch almost completely closes off the cockpit.

There are now two transatlantic races left to test and try out all these modifications and optimisations, before a final dry run this summer. A final check before setting off on 10 November for the Vendée Globe.

Photo: Vincent Curutchet

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