Charles Caudrelier: “I would love people from outside of France to join the Ultim class”

In late April Volvo Ocean Race winning skipper Charles Caudrelier was announced as co-skipper, along with Franck Cammas on the Gitana Team Ultime Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. After six months of intensive training and a short refit to the Verdier design, Caudrelier and Cammas took the start last Tuesday of the Brest Atlantiques race, being the leaders after 3 days. The 30 day 14,000 nautical miles triangle course into the south Atlantic, to marks off Rio and Cape Town, is a test of reliability and endurance as well as speed for the four Ultimes entered, Gitana, Sodebo Ultim 3, MACIF and Actual Leader. Tip & Shaft spoke to Caudrelier in Brest……

Charles, this is the dream job then……?
Yes, that is true. This boat is magic. The class is magic. Sailing on these boats is always a pleasure and for me it is relatively new, it is a new adventure. I am really enjoying every day. I realise how lucky I am to be one of the skippers of these boats. There are only five or six in the world and these are better than any other boat in the world.

The boats are all different, where do you fit in with yours and what will the shape of the race be?
The class box rule is basically 32m long and 23m wide and in this box you can do whatever you want. Of course Gitana was the first boat to fly offshore. This boat was designed to fly offshore and nobody expected the boat could fly offshore. MACIF is foiling now also and Sodebo will fly next year I think. In performance terms we gain probably five knots upwind. Upwind in just over 15 knots of wind today our target speed is around 40knots. It is crazy. What surprised me is that everybody said ‘in a sea state you won’t be able to go as fast, you will break the boat.’ We know why the boat broke before and I hope it won’t break again. Now the goal is to go at high speeds in bigger waves, for example in four to five metre waves we were doing between 25 and 27 knots upwind, that was very soft, quite easy. On other boats you would be feeling like everything is about to break, on this boat it is very comfortable. That is not to say nothing will break. What is interesting for me right now is learning so much every day, flying earlier and faster.

It’s been a steep learning curve for you, what has been your most recent learnings in order to be ready to take on this race?
In the last few weeks, specifically, we have learned more in the stronger, stormy winds. In May when we started the winds were only light. So recently we have been stronger winds and bigger waves and so we have found new settings to go faster in these conditions and to keep flying longer. Every day I learn so much. Right now we are designing new foils and the interesting thing for me is learning from Franck because he has been designing and building so many boats in the America’s Cup and big multihulls. So that is where I learn so much right now about techniques and design and so on, and to understand more about how these boats work. Right now that is what I am loving most about this job.

Franck is the boss, right……?
I have known Franck since I was 23. I was on his first crew. And after that he started his career really and I mine, I did my races but I have always done things just after Franck except the America’s Cup. He started with the Figaro and won that and then moved to multihulls, I did the Figaro and did my races, then we did the Groupama and he joined me as navigator for one leg on the Volvo. So we have a very strong relationship. We have been living in the same house for many years. There is no boss between us. We are two skippers but Franck has much more experience of this kind of boat and the idea is that I will do the single handed race in 2022-2023, until then he will do one and the rest of them are all crewed races. But it is not a problem for me to be his right arm. Naturally I have always been his crew this is the way it is. It is perfect and it is a pleasure. Officially we are both skippers but in reality I follow his decisions, he has the last call.

And how do the roles and responsibilities work on board and on land?
Double handed is like single handed at times on the deck, we have our watch and are on our own then when we have to do a manoeuvre we are on together, Franck is driving the boat and I am grinding and doing the manoeuvre, but most of the time we do the manoeuvre on autopilot and share the jobs. We share each department on land, Franck is more in charge of the design of the boat and the new foils for next year, I am in charge of the performance analysis and the navigation.

Have you done much to optimise the boat specifically for this first big race?
There are many things. We improved the steering system which was really bad, we are designing new foils for next year. But we have worked a lot on the windage. On the aft beam we have put a wing which is the first time there has been a wing on the back of a boat like this and that is the most obvious thing we did, but there are changes to the sails and the appendages. The wing on the back makes a huge difference, at 35 knots we gain 1 knot. Where we need to improve is windage and before it was dragging a lot back there. It is crazy to think you put something heavier like that near the back of the boat but you do. Windage is where we can gain a lot.

So you are the favourites in many people’s books?
I don’t think so. The favourites are MACIF they have won their races, he has the biggest experience as does Thomas Coville, he has more experience but a new boat. Our boat is two years old and so now it is very good. We did not have a lot of training because we only started in May, but between us we have done enough miles on different kinds of boats. We are favourites maybe but the big favourites are MACIF who are the team to beat. I am confident in our boat now it is down to us.

The general strategy..try not to break the boats but the Route du Rhum proved how fragile they can be?
This a very long race and the first time we really do have two flying boats. Look at the recent history though and none of these flying boats have done more than two or three days without breaking anything, remember the Route du Rhum MACIF finished with only one foil and one rudder, our boat broke the hull, Banque Populaire capsized, so the first goal of each team is to finish the race. This is such a long, new challenge and the big challenge is to finish with the boat still in good shape and not break anything. The differences in speed can be huge from time to time, five or six knots of difference and that is a challenge. Of course there will be a fight between the three newer boats, but Actual is disadvantaged in terms of performance but maybe they can stay the course.

So how do you actually sail conservatively and not break anything, is there a process? 
It is very difficult because you never push as hard in training as you do in a race and you never go and train offshore for very long, this is such a long race. But we have data sensors everywhere, we are monitoring the structure of the boat all the time. We have checked the whole structure carefully. We have sailed the boat in training in big winds and big sea states. But of course we don’t know. This is an Open foiling class, everything is new and it is not easy for the designers to get it perfectly right, it is hard to model the dynamic effects of the speed and waves together, that is the big difficulty but that has been the challenge since the very first big multihulls. Franck tried for three years to race around the world in big multihulls to start with and they broke a lot of things and the designer did not know exactly what was going to happen. Sometimes it is during the races that we learned most.

30 days…’s a marathon not a sprint….
It will be like doing 70 or 80 per cent of a round the world. Think that the record is 41 days and 30 days will be a very long race.

As the immediate past winner of The Ocean Race what’s your view of IMOCA and The Ocean Race, good for each other?
The Ocean Race with two classes looks good. I love the idea of the IMOCA class being in The Ocean Race because I was complaining a lot about the old boats not being very fast and modern. So it si good news. I think there will be fantastic boats and enough good boats, there will still also be the 65 which is good for the young sailors and girls. It is interesting. I think they are working to have a maximum number of boats. I think in the end it will be the same price as doing a winning campaign on a 65. But there is no limit to what you can spend. The more money you have the more foils you can do, you can have two boats. And the one design is good in that the team can turn up three months before the race and be ready for the start. But, yes, there is the risk it will be more expensive but there are only five sailors on board which has to be good. There is also the reality that no sponsor is going to give you more than other teams which are getting €20-25m. I don’t know. I hope there will be more boats. If there are 30 boats on the start line for the Vendée Globe there should be more boats on the start line of The Ocean Race. But then that has always been the problem for this race, five boats two editions ago, seven boats on the last edition. I think the new team is working as hard as they can to have as many boats as possible and IMOCA is a solution you can join the race after the Vendée Globe and still have a good result.

What about the prospect of racing the foiling, flying Ultime solo at over 40kts….scary or what? 
My first race was a singlehanded and this has been my dream since I was a kid to race singlehanded in a big multihull. So, yes it will be a big challenge. I feel more comfortable on this big boat than on the MOD70 where there was the chance to capsize. I know it will be a big challenge. Now after three Volvos this is a new challenge, one I really need. I am completely focused and have the time to 2022 to prepare properly, to do the best preparation.

And from a personal viewpoint how does the future for the Ultimes look to you?
There are two new boats building right now and so that is good for the class. I am afraid there will never be many boats. These are big boats with big budgets. But I would love people from outside of France to come and join the class. I don’t understand why they don’t, yet. They probably think it is too French. But I say to other sailors all over the world they are welcome to come and try this. I guarantee that after one day they will want to have a boat like this. My dream is to do a Volvo Ocean Race in an Ultime like this. It would be great to see Alex Thomson once he has won the Vendée Globe and people from Australia and New Zealand and the USA. Sometimes I don’t understand people putting thousands of euros is a boat like Comanche to go ten or fifteen knots slower than us with 30 guys in board. Comanche costs twice the price of an Ultime and goes half the speed and you have 30 people and we can have five. I can see it is hard to get sponsors from outside of France but why not owners. Maybe the MOD70 owners just now are on the first step to having boats like this. Come and try our boat and they will enjoy it and it will cost less money. Probably sailors will not be happy with me saying this because we have only five guys on board.

Photo : Yann Riou/PolaRyse/Gitana SA

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