Designed by naval architect Guillaume Verdier in collaboration with the VPLP design firm and the in-house design office, the latest of the Gitana fleet belongs to this new generation of IMOCA monohulls that are ultra-light, planing machines equipped with foils. Since her launch on 7 August 2015, the 60-foot (18.28 metres) craft has continued to evolve, notably during last winter’s substantial refit at the team’s base in Lorient, south-west Brittany.
A boat that is sophisticated in the extreme
A subtle blend of finesse and strength, everything about this boat is geared towards performance. Virtually every part is made to measure and created in a bid to translate a sensation, a figure, and aimed at a prototype that is increasingly quick and specifically geared towards her skipper. The exchange of ideas is a constant within the team. Together, sailors and landsmen and women transform grey matter into clever tricks and systems, fewer grams and extra knots of boat speed.
Prior to the start of The Transat bakerly, Pierre Tissier – Technical Director – and Armand de Jacquelot – engineer and a member of the five-arrow racing stable’s design team -, outline some of the latest optimisations on the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild.
- Target speed
With Gitana 16, we refer to a monohull that slips along at 25 knots and regularly hits 30, speeds which are more traditionally associated with multihulls… The two transatlantic crossings completed in late 2015 enabled a sizeable performance database to be established, which notably allowed the team to gauge the benefits of the foils. “The foil pushes and generates the righting moment on the boat so it’s like having several crew out on the rail. There are real gains but then you have to reduce the drag,” explains Armand de Jacquelot. “As a result we’ve designed a second generation of foils. The geometry of the tip (short section) is more slender and has a greater downwind surface. We have also modified the profile of the shaft (long section) to help the boat come up to the wind and we hope it will be beneficial in The Transat (a race against the winds and currents). Inside the hull, the ballast tank configuration has also been optimised to better control the balance of the boat.”
There’s little benefit in being quick if you break. Today the quest to strike the right balance between performance and safety is based on very concrete observations. “The whole boat has undergone ultra-sound tests in order to obtain a precise diagnosis of the condition of the composite. The aim is to detect the slightest fatigue in the carbon and prevent potential breakage through targeted reinforcing,” adds Pierre Tissier. “Several critical parts, which are subject to considerable stresses have also gone through the scanner. Like the human body, such a device means you can see what’s going on inside the structure and, here too, you can keep an eye out for the slightest problem.”
“Aboard the boat, the instrumentation, namely the presence of tension sensors, such as on the lower shroud guy for example, provides Sébastien with constant information about what load the boat’s under and, in this particular case, the mast,” Armand adds. “In real time, he has this figure on his screens, along with the wind speed, his heading, etc. As such, he adapts his sailing accordingly so as to preserve the rig. On top of this, one last new feature, the foils have been equipped with fibre optics, which enables any micro-distortions in the part to be flagged up and helps the sailor better control the power. In all, at such speeds and with such stresses, the skipper’s ability to sail on feeling is no longer enough. You have to be able to assist him with constant updates and precise structural measurements, which have a direct influence on how the boat handles.”
Driving such a machine requires real strength of character and physical strength. The deck is constantly being swept by big seas so the cockpit is encapsulated to enable the skipper to be protected whilst manoeuvring and the raw carbon belly of the beast is particularly austere. A few moments spent under the cuddy and you soon get a grasp of the situation. “Increasing the number of opportunities for adjustments was part of the boat’s initial specifications,” Armand reminds us. “And, there are a lot of lines for sure! Since the winter, every rope has had its own elected stowage place. Sébastien can use any winch with any line and we’ve also introduced remote sheet control systems so he can wedge himself in wherever he wants and always stay in control. It’s a compact cockpit designed around him and suited to his morphology and his way of sailing. Finally, we’ve added a transparent cover that enables him to close off what one might call the pod so as to protect him from the sea shipping into the back of the cockpit.”
In a constant bid to slip along in the best possible way, Sébastien works on the boat’s trim. To do this, he adjusts his foils and ballast tanks and he stacks, which means shifting all the moveable gear aboard the boat, including the sails that are not hoisted, his clothing and his food… It’s a mammoth task, which on either tack can soon amount to 4 to 500 kilos. “Up top, the cockpit’s very open aft section and the mainsail track attached to the sole have proven their worth in assisting with sail stacking. Over the winter, we focused instead on the inside of the boat, where all that’s much more complicated,” Pierre explains. “The creation of several customised covers has smoothed out the angular surfaces of the bulkheads and other traps that reduce the arduous minutes of exertion shifting a sail a few centimetres to nothing…”
- And the sailor’s life in all that?
The contract between Sébastien Josse and the team was clear: performance first, comfort second. “There are no demands at all on that score. He’s a tough guy” concludes Armand, he too a sailor who is familiar with long, uncomfortable days at sea. Indeed, he competed in the last Mini Transat, crossing the Atlantic singlehanded on a 6.50-metre boat! “Things have improved a bit aboard Gitana 16 in that regard with the installation of a little heater and a micro-bead mattress that moulds to the shape of the body and the introduction of a system enabling Sébastien to listen to music in the cockpit. However, these are only minor changes…”
In Plymouth, on Monday 2 May at 14:30 (GMT+1), the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild will cross the start of The Transat bakerly bound for New York. A dozen or so tough days in the North Atlantic lie ahead, which will enable the skipper to test the latest developments in race configuration. The Gitana Team will then have a few days in the United States to prepare the boat for a second solo transatlantic race between Manhattan and Les Sables d’Olonne on the Atlantic coast. This return to France in early June will provide the final lessons for a last overhaul of the boat to prepare her for the start of the Vendée Globe in November.
Agenda in Plymouth (GMT + 1):
Friday 29 April: Press conference (Plymouth) at 11:00am, skippers’ briefing at 14:30pm
Saturday 30 April: Presentation of the skippers to the public at 14:00pm
Sunday 1 May: Race and Vendée Globe press briefing at 14:15pm
Monday 2 May: Start The Transat bakerly at 14:30pm