François Gabart opened up on the dispute between his team and the Ultim 32/23 class – in effect made up of Sodebo, Banque Populaire, Actual, and more recently Gitana Team – regarding the rules compliance of the trimaran SVR Lazartigue. This issue still prevents Gabart from getting the measurement certificate. And so it calls into question his participation in the Route du Rhum. Then the class responded. Since then the parties have stuck to their guns. Tip & Shaft runs back over the chain of events which now finds a deadlock situation.
In February 2018, Macif and François Gabart announced the renewal of their partnership for the period 2020-2024. And as the bonus there was to be a new Ultim trimaran. At the time VPLP the designers were working with Alex Thomson on an Imoca with a fully enclosed cockpit. That concept appealed to François Gabart and his MerConcept team who adapted it to their trimaran which has a a lowered and fully protected cockpit.
During the build of what was to become SVR Lazartigue, the Ultim 32/23 class oversight committee visited the site twice. According to article B.1.1 of the 2022 class rules their visits were “to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Ultim class rules.” The committee is composed of the measurer René Boulaire and a representative of the French Sailing Federation, Marc Bouvet – neither of whom have subsequently responded to Tip & Shaft’s requests.
And so at the time the committee did not raise any concerns about the trimaran which was being built to VPLP plans with article 3.11 of the OSR (Offshore Special Regs) – the international rules enacted by World Sailing, the international federation – which says “sheet winches mounted in such a way that an operator is not required to be substantially below deck”. “The visit reports refer to a number of OSR points, including some close to rule 3.11 with remarks, says François Gabart to Tip & Shaft. But none on that of 3.11″.
The SVR Lazartigue trimaran was launched on July 22, 2021 in Concarneau, in the presence of the other Ultim teams. A fortnight earlier, Thomas Coville and the Sodebo team manager, Jean-Christophe Moussard, had even been invited to see the boat. “Until now, we had no more information than the photos released by MerConcept over the previous months. But seeing the boat, Thomas then had serious doubts about the compliance of the cockpit and deck part“, explains Jean-Christophe Moussard to Tip & Shaft.
An expert report
Summer passed and the subject came up again at the end of September during a class meeting. There it was largely agreed that all the participants would not to spread the subject into the public domain before the Transat Jacques Vabre. And a request for an exemption made to the French Sailing Federation to allow SVR Lazartigue to race without a measurement certificate – François Gabart and Tom Laperche finished second.
On the return from Martinique, the discussion resumed but became tense, with disagreements on the interpretation of rule 3.11, and in particular on the definition of the deck. Faced with this stalemate the class called on a group of experts provided for in article B.1.2 of its class rules. Composed of Luc Gellusseau, Philippe Pallu de la Barrière and Bernard Nivelt, who are bound by a confidentiality agreement and so did not wish to speak.
They received the plans and visited the boat on January 11. They submitted a report to the oversight committee a week later – also covered by a confidentiality agreement – which deemed that the boat complied with rule 3.11. The oversight committee then issued a favourable – advisory – opinion on the issue of the measurement certificate. “The report was unequivocal it should have been the end of the matter,” said a source familiar with the matter.
However, the class refused to follow the advice of the experts mandated according to the own rules of the Ultim 32/23 class. Correspondingly they informed MerConcept at the end of January of their intention to seek the opinion of World Sailing. “The expert report is an advisory opinion, we have no obligation to follow it,” asserts Ronan Lucas. “For us, it does not make an interpretation, but a revolution, in the sense that it eliminates the notion of the deck as it has been understood so far. This suddenly raises a whole host of questions. We then say to ourselves: “Why not? But let’s have this report validated by World Sailing. We did not want to go against it, our goal was to validate that his vision was the right one or not, nothing else. We therefore asked MerConcept if we could send this report to World Sailing, and there we had a categorical refusal.”
The French Federation attempts mediation
In a letter dated February 3, the SVR Lazartigue team effectively refuses, considering that the report of the experts and the oversight committee are the end of the matter. “The committee was there to decide, it had all the elements to give their answer, why are the boat owners of the class not listening to the competent body that they themselves have set up? By then we are at the beginning of February, we have a Route du Rhum to prepare for. We don’t agree to keep going further in the process“, confirms François Gabart.
Faced with the road block situation, the French Sailing Federation – whose president, Jean-Luc Dénéchau did not wish to comment – offered mediation and organized a meeting on February 16 with all the boat owners – including Didier Tabary, the president of Kresk and the main partner of François Gabart – to discuss a number of issues, including the introduction of World Sailing. At the end of the discussion, all the parties sign a protocol agreeing to seek the opinion of sailing’s governing body.
It is then that SVR Lazartigue team discover that, despite their February 3rd refusal, the process had already been undertaken in the meantime by the Ultim class, which sought the opinion of World Sailing by sending them questions and a diagram. These questions, François Gabart and MerConcept consider to be “biased” and, above all, refer to a drawing that was not produced by the team or by the architects VPLP.
“The product diagram is not SVR Lazartigue at all, it’s not even a boat”, comments an expert in naval architecture. “There is a succession of boxes that you don’t know where you get in and out, you don’t know if the water is circulating. And so inevitably, when your question is whether this diagram respects OSR 3.11, you can only answer no.”
Who produced this document and why? “Members of the class,” replies Ronan Lucas. ”I would have liked to send the diagram of SVR Lazartigue, but that created the risk of being prosecuted for disclosing confidential information, so we sent a drawing trying to be the faithful as possible to the spirit of François Gabart’s boat and by asking World Sailing, the authority that makes the rule, to define what a bridge is, I don’t see how this request is tendentious. then a return that literally sweeps away the opinion of the experts.”
World Sailing clarifies its position
The interpretation published on February 23 by the American Sally Honey, president of the special regulations sub-committee of World Sailing, from the diagram provided, indeed considers that the boat does not comply with rule 3.11. What the Ultim class claims in its press release last Monday: “On February 23, World Sailing issued a negative opinion arguing that SVR-Lazartigue did not meet the compliance criteria required to assert obtaining its measurement certificate by Class.”
After being told that the design was not precisely that of François Gabart’s Ultim, World Sailing replied to us with an email from Jaime Navarro, director of the Technical and Offshore Committee: “The interpretation of OSR 3.11 and 3.08, does not relate specifically to the trimaran SVR-LAZARTIGUE, and is not intended to state the conformity of this particular boat in regards to the rules. The interpretation is a clarification of the rule, and has the validity of a rule. Determining compliance of rules remains the responsibility of the relevant authority at each event.”
To date, and while SVR Lazartigue has registered this week for the Route du Rhum (*) – the list will be made official next Wednesday by OC Sport Pen Duick, who did not wish to comment on this dispute -, the positions of the two parties seem very far apart, both on the interpretation of the rule – in particular the definition of the bridge – and on a possible solution.
The SVR Lazartigue team believes that modifying the Ultim is not possible: “A boat is a global design, we cannot transform it without completely distorting it”, comments architect Vincent Lauriot-Prévost. She continues to demand that the class follow the report of the oversight committee and demand its public dissemination. Refusal of the Ultim class, which still takes advantage of the international federation: “Nobody is preventing MerConcept from sending its plans and questions to World Sailing, we will then follow its answers”, explains Jean-Christophe Moussard.
To which François Gabart replies: “World Sailing will be able to give interpretations again, but what do we do with them? Who processes them? If it’s an office made up of our competitors, that can’t work.” A question that raises doubts about the governance of a class of boat owners, whose general manager, Jean-Bernard Le Boucher, former director of the marine activity of Macif, would not comment on this subject “for obvious reasons”, he told us.
In the absence of rules clearly establishing who is the actual arbiter in the event of a dispute, which is the case for example within the Imoca class – “It is the rules committee which arbitrates and has the last word whatever happens. ” – confirms its president Antoine Mermod – the dispute could end up in court. At the risk of degrading the image of a class still building itself up, which worries even those on the inside.
“We started from a competitor’s approach, which can be a bit to try to destabilize the opponent but moving to a situation where there is no longer any discussion, with people unable to think of anything other than their personal interest and so here we are emitting a disastrous image“, laments one member of the class.
“It’s a story that has gone on for too long, which, if we don’t find a solution, can have consequences on the sustainability of the class and the long-term commitment of certain boat owners”, adds Samuel Tual, president of “Actual. “We don’t invest in ocean racing to have this type of problem to manage, we have to get back to common sense, to talk to each other and not add fuel to the fire through the media. I am naturally optimistic and I am convinced that we will find a solution together.”
(*) The notice of race for the Route du Rhum indicates that it is open “to multihulls in accordance with the rules of the Ultim 32/23 class, except for exceptions which must be validated by the OA [organizing authority] in consultation with the class.”
Photo: Jean-Marie Liot / Alea