Collaborators with Guillaume Verdier who designed the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, winner in the Ultim of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, and the first two in the Imoca class, LinkedOut (Thomas Ruyant) and Apivia (Charlie Dalin), architect Romaric Neyhousser and engineer Hervé Penfornis are back for Tip & Shaft on this 12th edition of the Route du Rhum
► Let’s start this overview with the Ultims: was the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild really still above the lot this edition?
Hervé Penfornis: Let’s say it’s the most successful boat, because the guys have been working on it for seven years. The fact it was damaged and ABD four years ago allowed us to take a good step back, reliability has really become a real focus, we spent six months reworking the structure of the boat and reinforcing everywhere where we had doubts. The arrival of Charles (Caudrelier) and Franck (Cammas) also played a role, especially Franck who really brought in a lot in terms of performance analysis and improvements to the boat. So yes it overall proved that it has stayed a level above the rest, but we saw that Banque Populaire was never very far behind at the start, François (Gabart) too, the competition is getting strong. I think that next year we may see SVR Lazartigue getting closer and closer, or even pass, because the boat is lighter and they have worked a lot on the aero.
► The Gitana Team has announced work on a future boat, how do you make a better Ultim?
Romaric Neyhousser: The evolution is obviously on the level of the appendages, we are far from having explored that whole topic. There is also a factor independent of the technology, it is all that relates to servo-ing and piloted trimming, this is obviously an area which can give a huge boost to the boat. Otherwise, the aero package is fundamentally a key point: even if Gitana has set the bar high, we can see that François Gabart’s boat is a little better in this area, we obviously have to go in this direction. And there is still the rigging area where I think there is a lot to do, we will probably see innovative things in the future.
“Thomas was really pedal to the metal”
► Let’s move on to the Imoca: you have designed five of the first six boats in the ranking, is it a surprise to see them so well ranked?
H. P.: We’ve done a lot of work in recent months on the new boats, we launched four of them this year and they’re almost all in this group [Holcim-PRB 4th, V and B-Monbana-Mayenne 5th, Biotherm 6th, only Maitre CoQ, 19th, is not up there Editor’s note], so we are of course very happy. I am thinking in particular of Biotherm, launched very late with very little preparation, Paul (Meilhat) managed to get a great result. All the teams have done an amazing job, because succeeding in building the boat in nine months and making sure it is at the start of the Route du Rhum then seeing it finish without too many problems, that is a great performance all round.
► LinkedOut wins ahead of Apivia which is most often described as a versatile boat, in the end, isn’t it Thomas Ruyant’s most versatile boat?
R. N.: Its great strength, precisely, is that it is not too specified to one area; and it’s obvious in certain conditions, especially downwind, it has a small advantage because of its rig and its foils. I also want to underline the fact that you have to be a hell of a good to put in the commitment shown by Thomas, he really put his foot down and obviously had enough confidence in his machine to push it to this point. He is clearly one of the skippers capable of going above and beyond at times, and if it doesn’t break, it works!
► When you see the dominance of these two boats, you wonder why build new ones, right?
R. N.: There are certain developments which are difficult to implement on existing boats, in particular the foils which require re-evaluating the entire structural area, the configuration of the foil wells… The hulls are also part of the development, it is always more efficient to redo a hull that concentrates all the optimizations you have in mind than to modify one. And on this Route du Rhum, certainly the new Imocas do not end up in the lead, but the margin for development is enormous between a boat at the start of its life and what it becomes, made reliable, optimised, tuned and refined, when it has a number of Transatlantics. Charlie and Thomas’ boats, barring heavy modifications, are today at the top of their performance, they are ultra-reliable, with sailors who know them by heart, and they are well above what they were three years ago. So if the new boats, which are already close, they experience the same evolution, they will be much more efficient in two or three years.
► What will Apivia 2 look like?
H. P.: It will, of course, be an evolution of the current boat. Charlie has a good base, the idea is not to throw everything in the bin and start from scratch, so the objective was rather to take the good elements and improve those which were maybe a little weaker.
R. N.: The most visible difference will mainly be around the ‘living’ area and the management of that space, the idea is that the skipper is less and less the weak link.
“Erwan’s experience made the difference”
► Romaric, you designed Arkema 4 on your own account, second in Ocean Fifty with Quentin Vlamynck behind Koesio, did his performance live up to your expectations?
R.N.: There is inevitably a little frustration to finish second having led almost 95% of the course, but it is still an excellent result. The huge positive point is the protection of the skipper, where we had placed particular emphasis, which changes everything. Otherwise, we knew that the boat would be comfortable upwind, which it was, because it is very stiff, very aero, that was one of the key points of the project. He was a little behind Erwan (Le Roux) in the trade winds, we knew that Koesio would be comfortable because it is very light, it is the only one which is down to the minimum weight by the rules and so it has good acceleration and speed capabilities downwind VMG. In the end, I think it was Erwan’s experience that made the difference. Over the last 48 hours, he put enormous pressure on Quentin because he knew his boat was potentially a little more comfortable downwind, and in these conditions this little extra played a pretty strong psychological role. And we must not forget it was Quentin’s first solo transatlantic race on such a boat, he is still learning. I think that in the end, he wanted to be sure, he told me that he sailed super safe, which explains why he probably didn’t always have the right sail configurations. At the end, Erwan was pushing the big gennak and a reef in the mainsail, Quentin was on the opposite configuration, full main, small gennak. And they all reported strong trade winds, hard sea conditions, which are really not the conditions for the a boat’s pure speed, and that is when experience counts and in that area Erwan had a small advantage.
Photo : Alexis Courcoux / RDR