Alex Thomson's decision to replace his Hugo Boss with the most powerful IMOCA 60 raises questions
Has Alex Thomson stolen a march on fellow solo skippers in buying the former Pindar, or has he made a mistake in going for probably the most extreme IMOCA 60 ever built?
The opinion of fellow solo sailors varies and their arguments go to the heart of how this class is developing.
The decision to buy the Juan Kouyoumdjian design – and pay top dollar for it – was hastened by a rule change recently agreed by all the skippers. For several years there has been heated debate about how to limit the rapidly developing power of new designs and rein in safety.
Restricting water ballast and mast height was looked at, as were other parameters. In the end, the skippers agreed on a package of changes. All new boats built would have a maximum righting moment of 32 tonne/metres fully ballasted on one side and with the keel completely canted, a maximum air draught of 29m and a worst case AVS increased from 108° to 110°.
Existing designs which exceed these criteria are exempt and it’s for this reason that Alex Thomson argues Pindar was a no-brainer.
“In the class, everyone see’s it’s been a righting moment game. Everyone’s been wondering where the limit is and no-one knew what anyone else was going to do. Well, now we know where that is.
“It makes sense to get the most powerful boat you can, and this boat has a similar righting moment to a Volvo 70.”
He believes that the enormously muscular boat is a good fit for him. “People need to choose boats for how they sail them. If it’s someone like me who likes to sail boats as close to the targets as possible, this is the right boat.”
Thomson says there is a lot to do to modify the boat. The keel needs to be replaced and Thomson wants to have a new rig and sails and make many more changes to tame the boat.
“When I first went sailing on the boat with Moose [Mike Sanderson, for whom the boat was originally built] it was so difficult it was almost impossible to imagine how Brian Thompson had been able to sail it round the world. It was as if it was made to be difficult, everything from halyard leads, friction to stupid bits of kit. It had been based on ABN AMRO had everything had been done to make the boat as fast as possible but it was really difficult to sail.”
His work now is to make the new Hugo Boss more manageable for short-handed sailing while fully exploiting its as yet unproven speed potential.
But not everyone is convinced that the wide, heavy boats are the right choice for the next development cycle of the class. There are two new boats being built at the moment, one for Jean-Pierre Dick, one for Vincent Riou and a third possible from Riou’s moulds for Jean Le Cam if his insurance company pays out for the loss of his boat during the Vendée Globe.
(He says he’s going to call a big press conference the Paris Boat Show if they don’t.)
These new boats are all Guillaume Verdier/VPLP designs. Riou’s is the same hull design as Marc Guillemot’s Safran and is a move away from the wide, heavy, super-ballasted boats to a lighter and daintier philosophy for speed.
And this is what is splitting opinion. It’s big, wide boats with large sail areas that are also heavy and very draggy versus new designs that have greater bow volumes, use less ballast, don’t need trim tabs and will gain speed by having stiff but lighter structures.
Just where Alex Thomson sits in this new game of development is something we will see next year when he embarks on a new programme in his new boat, and the first of the light and dainty new designs hit the water.