Last Tuesday François Gabart arrived in Marseille at the helm of his trimaran SVR Lazartigue, which is making a tour of the Mediterranean to meet staff of the Kresk group. It seemed like a good opportunity for Tip & Shaft to talk with him about the performance of the trimaran and of course also the dispute between his team and the Ultim 32/23 class which is now bound for the courts.
Before we discuss this dispute between you and the Ultim class, tell us a bit about this Mediterranean tour, who is with you?
We left Concarneau at the beginning of May heading to Lisbon, Barcelona, Marseille this week, then Genoa and Tunis, before returning back to Brittany. The objective is to visit certain subsidiaries of the Kresk group, with the technical team on board, so that they can understand the boat in a performance sailing situation. Tom Laperche came with us to Barcelona, Pascal Bidégorry will do the return trip from Tunis which will be a more solo-oriented trip for me to get my bearings.
SVR Lazartigue was launched ten months ago, today is it up with what you expected?
We feel that this boat has crazy potential. We worked a lot on aerodynamics we had all the figures on computers and simulators telling us stuff, but I was still surprised to feel the performance so strongly. It is obviously more important when you have relatively bigger apparent winds, at tight angles – so upwind, and so it is there, we feel that when the boat can really go very fast. On the other hand, if it is not well trimmed and badly balanced, if you have too much heel or trim, it slows immediately. I didn’t think it would be so noticeable in terms of these different sensations on the sea.
Speaking of numbers, can you give us some of the speeds of the boat? What is its speed record as of today?
Compared to the previous one (ex Macif today Actual), it lifts off and flies earlier, it manages to take off with just 11-12 knots of wind, against 13-14 previously, mainly because of the size of the foils and the fact that, on all the appendages, there is more surface projected in the horizontal plane. When we took off at 26-28 knots of speed on the Macif trimaran now we manage to be between 22 and 24 and that allows us to reach 30 knots upwind quite quickly. The figure that I find quite remarkable is that we manage to go at more than 40 knots between 65-70 and 90 degrees from the true wind. That is pretty standard now; I don’t remember that we got close to that with the previous boat, or otherwise very sporadically. Beyond that if you really, really want to know our top speed, there is a big debate in the team: some say 49.92 knots, but Fred Bérat, who is out boat captain, is convinced he saw 50 knots on the speedos. What is certain is that this boat is capable of sailing at more than 50 knots. But we are not necessarily looking for that, the goal for us is more to maintain high averages over time, fast, very regularly at more than 40 knots. Last year we managed to do a full hour at an average speed of more than 42 knots in not very easy sea conditions. These are the kind of figures we are looking for and challenge us.
Have you had time to really test it in a big sea and if so, how does it behave?
Foils have different properties and so in addition to getting the boat to fly quite quickly, foils have a real role of shock absorbers which allow the boat to be very stabilized. In heavy seas, we are not necessarily going to purely fly. There are also kind of hybrid modes; on the other hand, it is immediately striking to feel how the boat remains quite “comfortable”. And so I am also convinced that it is precisely in these sea conditions, whether upwind or downwind, that we have a lot of room for improvement.
“We have no other option than to go to court”
Now let’s talk about the conflict with the Ultim 32/23 class: you said last week that you had taken legal action (see below), does this mean that since the case was publicized at the end of March, you have really failed to take any steps towards each other?
There have been exchanges, discussions but which unfortunately have come to nothing. We think we have done all that we can to try to find a solution. The other parties will necessarily have a different view and things to say, otherwise there would be no dispute. What is certain is that today there is no agreement so even if we never wanted this and it really is terrible to come to this, we have no other choice. The Route du Rhum is coming up and we find it deeply unfair that the trimaran SVR Lazartigue cannot participate in it when the experts and the rules consider that this boat is compliant.
What do you say to Ronan Lucas, director of Team Banque Populaire, who in L’Equipe says that the class “had the door slammed in its face” when the class made requests for modifications to the boat?
This is wrong: we have already made changes to the boat that are moving in the direction of safety and which were not necessarily essential from a rules point of view. We made choices that affected the performance of the boat, proposed ideas and unfortunately, today, we are stuck.
How do you view the situation?
Today, I am training for the Route du Rhum. It’s obviously not easy to prepare in these conditions because there are a lot of uncertainties, but I’m trying to focus on all the work we have to do to continue discovering things on this boat. And I hope that we will have a quick decision to get out of this situation as soon as possible.
“It would be good to sail fast together”
Have you chatted with the other skippers in the class?
In the past few weeks no, there have been no more exchanges. But that’s also because we all have our boats out on the water. We also ran across Sodebo on leaving Concarneau to go to Lisbon, then Banque Populaire we saw off the coast of Portugal, we tried to get them on the VHF, but since we weren’t going to the same place, it wasn’t simple. What would be nice, however, is if we could jusy get on and sail fast together. There is training planned for the Pole Finistère offshore racing center in a little over a month, it would be nice to have these exchanges out on the water.
You will not compete in Finistère Atlantique in July?
Unfortunately no, we are not a member of the class, so we are not able to participate in this race. Instead we will try to sail as much as possible after we get back on June 10 and the return of the boat to the yard, the second half of July, by alternating sailing with a crew and solo exercises.
Do you have a plan B in terms of program if you don’t win your case, maybe the Jules Verne Trophy or other records?
There are obviously plenty of things to do with this boat, but today our one and only objective is to race and win the Route du Rhum, we are putting all our energy into that.
Given the urgency of the situation – Kresk wishes to ensure the presence of the trimaran at the start of the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe -, rather than focusing on its compliance with the rules, which would have had an impact on the duration of the procedure, the action aims to enforce the agreement signed on February 16 between the Ultim 32/23 class and the Kresk group that provided for recourse to World Sailing, provided that the international federation renders an opinion before a fixed date (March 4). After this date, the class was due to authorize SVR Lazartigue to race the Route du Rhum. However, Kresk considers that the opinion was issued after that date. Which will therefore be the subject of the legal discussion.