Organisers of the Tour de France à la Voile hope to revitalise the team event by revamping the format and choosing a 24ft trimaran. James Boyd takes a close look at the boat
Since it was first held in 1978, sailing’s answer to the Tour de France, the famous cycle race, traditionally mixed inshore racing with coastal legs on an anti-clockwise course round France aboard one-design yachts. For British sailors the Tour Voile has largely dropped off the radar since its high point in 2000 when Adrian Stead and the crew of Barlo Plastics did a ‘Bradley Wiggins’, the only occasion an Anglo-Saxon team has won the event.
In the early 2000s, the Tour Voile was regularly attracting fleets of 40 or so, including a few strong international entries such as Team New Zealand, but numbers slowly began to tail off. In a surprise move at the height of the recession the organisers replaced the Mumm/Farr 30 they were using for the race with a new French design, the Archambault M34.
The new boat was bigger – a welcome factor for the offshore legs – but it was also more expensive for teams to buy, required more crew to sail and, despite its length, proved tender offshore. From the large fleets just a decade earlier, the 2013 entry was down to 12 and in 2014 dwindled still further to just nine.
All is not lost, however. Two years ago, the event was acquired by Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which runs many of France’s top sports events including the Paris-Dakar rally as well as the Tour de France proper. ASO is a big enough company not to shirk change, but even so its plans caused consternation when they were announced at the end of this year’s event.
They have decreed that the 2015 Tour Voile will have no offshore legs, but a series of inshore races in ports around the coast of France and would be raced in 24ft trimarans.
Diam 24 trimaran
The trimaran chosen is the Diam 24, the brainchild of Vianney Ancelin, a contemporary of Michel Desjoyeaux and Roland Jourdain from Port la Fôret in Brittany’s famous ‘Vallée des Fous’ (Valley of the Mad!). Ancelin had been building the Diam F18 catamaran in limited numbers, but two years ago dreamed up a trimaran that would be the multihull equivalent of the J/80, with a similar price tag and racing circuit.
Like many top French multihulls, the Diam 24 is designed by VPLP and is a development and a more racing-orientated version of VPLP’s Chinese-built Multi 23 trimaran.
As Vincent Lauriot Prévost, the ‘LP’ in VPLP, puts it: “The idea is that there are people in their 40s who still like competition and speed and racing and so on, but maybe they don’t want to be out on the trapeze any more. With this kind of boat you can have fun, almost like being on a big trimaran.”
The Diam 24 should have better performance than the Multi 23 and is longer, wider and more powerful. The boat is demountable – a key requirement for the Tour Voile was for two people to be able to assemble or disassemble it. “Every part of the boat – including the floats and beams – had to weigh no more than 65-70kg,” says Lauriot Prévost. “More than that and it wouldn’t be possible for two people to put it together.”