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WHAT’s NEW for 2017 in Sailing? Jan 10th, 2017

Oh boy … what an exciting year this looks to be! Records will be broken and new designs will evolve. But if there’s ONE word, which will and has been responsible for the amazing changes taking place, it’s this ….‘CARBON’. It’s now everywhere … and the experts are continually finding better ways to use it. Although still expensive, it’s now being used in many racing boat hulls, for custom fittings, masts, foils and sails. Its strength and fatigue resistance relative to its weight are strong points … but its brittleness and cost, needs factoring in when making design decisions. In a nutshell, its strength and light weight permit keels to be proportionally heavier and hulls wider, and the combination makes boats more stable and powerful to carry more sail.

2017 is already starting off with what looks like an incredible finish to the Vendée-Globe, expected in just a few days from this posting. There is also a challenge going on to try to beat the all-time record around the world, already down to an amazing 45.6 days, with IDEC SPORT (a 103ft trimaran with foils) presently ahead of that time and soon to be back in the Atlantic. Then in June we have the America’s Cup in the new 15m foiling boats, as well as a Fastnet race in August that is attracting SO much enthusiasm, that the MAX number of registrants (340) was reached in the incredible record time of just 4 mins 24 sec. after the clock struck noon Jan 9th! (The last record ‘race to enter’, took 24 mins). That shows the mounting enthusiasm for SAIL in 2017!

After seeing the French dominate ocean racing for years, there is finally a push back from the British (who started all this ocean racing anyway back in 1960), and they have recently put together an organization (Vendée2020Vision) to assist and promote UK entries for races such as the Vendee Globe, and even though Alex Thomson is the sole competitive British entry this year, he’s doing exceptionally well and giving the predominant French entries a really good run*.

*As my review of the present Vendée Globe race is very ‘time-sensitive’, I’ve placed it at the bottom of this article … so scroll down for timely info. before it’s all over ;)

(Sir) Ben Ainslie is also striving hard to get his name on the America’s Cup this year – and by the end of June, we’ll know how successful or not his campaign was … but it’s adding a broader dimension to the competition than ever before, with more nations now having a real shot at ‘the top prize’.

But it’s the average sailor who will ultimately benefit from all this hi-tech racing over time. Finally, more practical foil designs are appearing and I think we will start to see more foils appearing in fast cruising boats, as the experts learn how to design and build them with improved strength and reliability. The very fact that ‘Hugo Boss’, arguably the fastest boat in the current Vendée-Globe fleet, has been forced to sail on different tacks after his starboard foil was ripped off, will generate great comparison data to show the positive effect of building in a foil. Today, instead of building on highly exposed foils such as we saw with the amazing l’Hydroptere, we are now seeing foils that can be winched into the hull, so that they are less vulnerable in a confined area. Of course, they will affect the use of space in a dedicated cruiser, but for boats built for racing, I see these becoming more the norm as and when class regulations open up to permit them. We’re already seeing a rash of small dinghies with foils, but just be sure it’s a practical solution for your needs. More for sport sailing than anything else.


One may ask, but what does this have to do with “Trimarans”, the center of interest for this website? Well, I see it this way. Trimarans use a float or outrigger (ama) to provide buoyancy on the leeward side, while the windward ama flies above the water. But now we see that (under certain conditions) this positive support can be applied in the same way to the main hull, via a foil giving hydrodynamic lift … without the need for the actual ama hull. A sort of ‘trimaran on steroids’ ;) Of course, the foil will never entirely replace the ama, as it can only give that ‘leeward support’ when the boat reaches a certain speed. Also, the fixed ama not only provides stability when stationary or at sub-foiling speeds, but the deck surface, storage volume and buoyancy is also increased for general ‘living’ and floatability in an emergency. Such foils can either penetrate into the hull near the deck, or be up through the bilge as these sketches show.

The seas and operating conditions may change our future sailing boats too. While we are now getting more accurate and timely weather forecasts to plan safer ocean voyages, we are also seeing more ‘surface clutter’ and I am particularly concerned about the surge in collision with UFO’s (unidentified floating objects). After a personal collision with a huge uncharted rock (4m diameter) laying hidden just 600mm below the surface in some 2.5m of water that brought my Dragonfly trimaran to a dead stop in about 100mm from 7kts, I can totally understand the incredible scare and massive damage that can be inflicted in mid ocean by running into a barely floating 20+ ton container, especially at night. Incredibly, over 20% of the entries have been taken out of the current Vendee Globe after such collisions … and that does not include those who were still able to continue, such as Hugo Boss that possibly lost his starboard foil from such an obstacle.

This may change the basic design of ocean going boats as, like it or not, with over 90% of world goods now being shipped in containers, this ocean clutter is likely to get worse not better in coming years. I used to design container ships at one time and from talking with crew members, I know that containers are not always strapped down as well as they need be, to keep things in place during big storms. The metal key-linkage is just not enough alone … but doubling with diagonal cables is time consuming to install so far too many ships are navigating without them. There should be more regulation and higher fines, but as this will raise shipping prices, it’s not high on the list right now, so the ocean waters we share ‘for pleasure’ are clearly becoming more hazardous.

(I am personally working on a small ocean-going trimaran right now and will be addressing this risk in the design as I consider it intolerable, especially after experiencing a similar brutal collision, as outlined above). In my case, I was catapulted about 2m in the air, fell on the cabin top where a winch broke 2 ribs and then fell through the hatch opening to the sole of the cabin, where I lay paralyzed by temporary nerve damage for over an hour. And that was at only 7kts! (So I will never cruise with a rigid daggerboard again). In the reported case of French skipper Thomas Ruyant on board Le Souffle du Nord, it was even more extreme as he was travelling at a reported 17kts!! He was extremely fortunate to be sleeping and tucked down behind a ‘bean-bag’ so that his head was cushioned as it slammed into a forward bulkhead. If he had been standing, he could well have been catapulted through the boat like many other items were, that ended up travelling 30ft to the forward end, and possibly been fatally injured. Such an impact is also NOT something that the relatively thin skins of a carbon fiber boat can readily resist … in fact, even plywood might absorb that frontal impact better. Here’s a photo showing the failure in compression of the skin … virtually smashing the hull in two, with only the bottom of the boat and a very weakened deck, holding things roughly in place.

Although this is another subject, I am also concerned, should foil use explode, whether such foils will wreck havoc with sea creatures. Perhaps they will learn to ‘hear’ these high speed ‘scalpels of the sea’ coming their way and dive deeper, but if not, they are clearly a potential threat to whales and the like. Time will tell if they are more hazardous than existing dagger boards .. I suspect they probably are, considering their added speed and spread.

Here’s a couple of race classes to watch in 2017.

The IMOCA 60 boats       (see: https://www.imoca.org/en/imoca-boat/)

These monohulls are high-performance racing boats, primarily designed for single-handed competition. High-profile races that feature these boats are:

Three Around-the-World races: The Velux 5-Oceans, the Vendée-Globe & the Barcelona World Race, plus cross-Atlantic races such as the Route du Rhum, Transat Jacques Vabre, Quebec St Malo & the Single Handed Trans-Atlantic, plus the Europa Race & the Calais Round Britain Race.

The IMOCA 60 is an "open" class, meaning that it does not represent fixed boat designs, but permits any design that meets certain restrictions. The class rules specify a 59-60’ length and a maximum 4.5m draft, but place no restrictions on beam, mast height or sail area. There are however extensive rules for flotation, self-righting capability and safety/survival equipment.

ORMA 60 is a class of sailing trimarans, administered by the Ocean Racing Multihull Association (ORMA) that was created in 1996 by the Intl. Sailing Federation (ISAF).

Note: Trimarans were selected over catamarans after OPEN class racing showed them to be consistently faster at that time … mostly due to their wider beam. Use of foils has changed that.

Some of the cross Atlantic events also permit the ORMA 60 multihull boats to compete. Famous ORMA 60 boat names have been FUJICOLOR; GROUPAMA and BANQUE POPULAIRE.

Altogether, I see there are currently SEVEN Races around the Globe … some held in stages (like the VOLVO 70 classic), some have only 2 as crew, right down to the ultimate singlehanded Vendée-Globe that is ‘singlehanded without assistance’ … so sometimes known as “the ultimate Everest of Ocean Racing”.

Another classic is the race against time for “The Jules Verne Trophy”. The only requirement is that you start at a specified location between France and England and originally, one must ‘complete the race in under 80 days’. The idea is to break the present record (now 5 years old), a time that is now down to a remarkable 45.6 days … which equates to an incredible average speed of 19.75kts over the whole 21,600 nmls. Today, if a boat leaves and then finds it’s hopelessly behind the last record run, it will often just return to the starting point to wait for more suitable weather. This is what happened recently, when the Super Maxi trimaran Banque Populaire V (130ft x 75ft beam) returned to make a new start after falling 400 miles behind the previous record in the early stage. At the speeds required, this record will need great weather plus a fabulous boat and crew to set a new record, but one still wonders if what is learned will be as useful to the average yachtsman, as what multiple-boat races are, especially when in smaller boats. This incredible boat also presently holds the record for most distance covered in 24 hours – an astonishing 908.2 nmls with a blazing average speed of 37.84 kts! Not long ago, we wondered if 500 nm would ever be eclipsed …. yet now we’re on the edge of doubling that! Such is the effect of CARBON and its effect on boat design … really quite incredible.

Starting out November 16th 2016, there’s now another foiled Maxi-trimaran currently trying to win the Jules Verne Trophy and with a good part of the tour done, she’s presently well ahead of the last record trip. Soon she’ll be back in the Atlantic and it will depend on how the crossing of the Doldrums goes. Skippered by Frenchman Francis Joyon, she is the 10 year old IDEC SPORT (originally named Groupama 3 & Banque Populaire VII), with a crew of 6 and is 103’ long x 75’ beam and now fitted with foils. With only 7500 miles to go, they are smoking towards Cape Horn and presently already about 1800 miles ahead of the previous record holder.

Finally, to the current VENDEE GLOBE 2016-17

The toughest race of them all … as it’s ‘non-stop and single-handed without assistance’. 29 experienced skippers left France on Nov 6th, so as I write this Jan 10th, it’s Day 66 and the leaders are closing in on the finish. So far, 11 of the 29 have had to retire and I’ve already described a couple of reasons in the core of this article. At least 6 boats had ‘collisions with unknown objects’ and 5 of those had to retire, so that’s of great concern to all ocean-going sailors and I plan to address that risk and how it might affect future boat design in a later article.

These boats are all required to meet the latest IMOCA-60 rules, and while these pin down primarily just the Length and Draft, most of the detail covers what is needed for safety reasons …, like capsize tests etc. So there’s still a healthy variation in design.

But let’s go to the nail-biting excitement that’s happening right now. The sole competitive British entry is Alex Thomson sailing Hugo Boss but he’s had his share of setbacks. First of consequence was that his starboard foil was smashed off by something still ‘unidentified’, back on Nov 19th while in the lead, but still in the Atlantic. When creating this boat, the designers choose to make the boat narrower than the current trend of ultra-wide beam, as they choose to gamble heavily on the foils being effective for stability. But now, with a foil gone, they pay a severe price on Port tack and the boat sails on its ear unless sail is significantly reduced. This pic clearly shows the increased heel to starb’d without the foil and the challenge to keep speed up. Then, a tiller tie-rod broke and Alex had to lower sails while he switched over the good one to the needed leeward side. He then worked to repair the broken one, crudely adding carbon fiber tapes and epoxy while following instructions sent by satellite. Finally, the attachment for one of his main foresail furlers broke. This meant that the forestay, sail and the furler itself were flailing around in high winds and risked to smash the mast if it did not decapitate Alex before then, while he made several attempts to lasso the heavy furler unit. (The same thing happened on Hugo Boss 2 years ago, but that time, they lost the mast as it was the only remaining forestay).

Finally, he got all that secured … but by this time, he was over 500 nms behind the leader Armel Le Cléac'h (roughly pronounced ‘Le Kley-ash’) of France in the latest Banque Populaire Vlll, seen here storming along on a broad reach. In fact, 7 of the boats in the field are now fitted with foils … 6 of them are new boats and as of this moment in time, the first of the non-foil boats is in 5th place, about 1500 nm behind the leader. Two of the 7 foiled boats are out with collision damage, but 4 of the remaining 5 hold the top 4 places, so foils do appear to be making a difference.

Keep in mind though, if trying to equate this to your own boat, that these foils work best at high speed …. and, even for these amazingly fast all-carbon boats, it’s still not certain that they offer any real gain over a good daggerboard while sailing upwind, and they certainly don’t help when speeds are reduced by low winds.

The good news for Alex is that he and Armel have now crossed the Doldrums (where Armel was reportedly down to 4kts) and that they are now both sailing well on starboard tack, so that his remaining foil is now able to work as it’s supposed to. So over the last few days, Alex has been able to slowly ‘haul in’ Armel ... and they are now within about 170 nmls of each other as I write with still about 2500 nmls to go to the finish … so Hugo Boss is back to being a serious challenger and the last few days will be worth following. It’s not clear if Armel has any damage or unusable sails, so we’ll see how this nail-biter ends up. One thing that’s good for sailing competition, is to see the UK finally getting back to be able to compete against the tough and capable Frenchmen who have dominated the sport of speed sailing for many years now. Who knows, perhaps Sir Ben Ainslie can also be a serious competitor in 2017 for the Americas Cup ;)

To get the latest update in English, on the Vendée Globe and the Jules Verne Trophy … go to:


To watch the final finish of the 2016-7 Vendee Globe, there’s a ‘village’ of operations setup with a monster screen. Check out this link for more info:


POSTSCRIPT - VENDEE GLOBE, January 20th, 2017

Well, Welshman Alex Thompson was just not able to make up the deficit. With only 35 miles between himself and winner, his wind speed indicator was no longer giving reliable info to his autopilot, so Alex had to revert mostly to hands-on sailing. He therefore slept little more than 5 hours in the last 3 days and reported he had zero sleep in the last 24 hours, so serious fatigue was settling in. Alex is the 2nd Brit to place 2nd in this formidable solo round-the-world challenge ... the first being the amazing Ellen MacArthur in 2001. Britain is the only non-French country so far to seriously challenge for the top spot in this solo, non-stop, 60ft monohull circumnavigation that makes up the Vendee Globe. All 8 times it’s been held, a Frenchman has taken top honors. In 2021, Alex hopes to put an end to that impressive run.

His boat Hugo Boss was certainly competitive as he had a nice lead at the beginning until his foil was broken by impact with unidentified flotsam. But Alex also suffered a failed tiller tie-rod and a broken furler attachment. Alex also hinted post-race that they needed to work on upwind performance, which is a surprise as she’s narrower than Banque Populaire Vlll. If true, this could be a difference in their foils, or perhaps she’s too light for the rough stuff … not an unusual problem for carbon fiber race boats.

Frenchman Armel Le Cléac'h won with a wonderful record time of 74 days 3 hrs and 35 mins, with Alex finally crossing the line just under 16 hours later. Both beat the old record by at least 3 days, so that was a significant performance improvement. His boat Banque Populaire Vlll performed consistently, other than a failed halyard hook.

So now what? For Alex, with a 3rd place and now a 2nd, it looks like he’s all pumped for another try to win this ‘Holy Grail’ in 2021. Armel however, with two 2nd places and now a win, will move on … reportedly to one of the faster trimarans for some transatlantic races … and then, who knows, perhaps a shot at the Jules Verne Trophy in one of the latest Maxi Trimarans that now exceed 100ft. After seeing Thomas Colville ‘fly’ around a similar track that his Banque Populaire took, but in 49 days instead of 74, he’ll need to adjust to a major increase in average speed … close to an unbelievable + 50% !! About ½ of this is due to boat length, but the balance is from being a trimaran and not needing to carry that lump of lead. Stay tuned ;-)

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