A new batch of solo designs makes me wonder if the Open 60 class has tipped beyond maturity

Vincent Riou’s new IMOCA 60 was launched yesterday in Port La
Forêt, Brittany, the first of the new designs destined for the 2012
Vendée Globe race.

The photos above and below by Benoît Stichelbaut show the class’s compulsory righting test being carried out.

former Vendée winner’s new boat is a VPLP/Verdier design from the
moulds of Marc Guillemot’s Safran. It is the first of a new batch of
boats from the combination of the multihull masters VPLP and Guillaume
Verdier, formerly a designer at Groupe Finot.

Other new boats
from the same design collaboration are on the way: Jean-Pierre Dick’s
new Virbac-Paprec is being built from different moulds in New Zealand
and construction on Michel Desjoyeaux’s new Foncia will go full speed
ahead now that PRB has vacated the CDK yard, which is owned by
Desjoyeaux’s brother Hubert.

Last time round, the predecessors
to these boats were designed by Farr Yacht Designs, and the new boats
mark a mass French migration to native designers. There are some major
design differences, most notably lighter boats that are less reliant on
water ballast to develop power across the wind range.

But it’s
also, I think, a cultural thing and the defection has come about
because French sailors put greater stress on the close working and
collaborative culture that are the norm there.

The other aspect
of interest is how French sailors have persuaded PRB and other French
local or national companies to increase their budgets where other
nationalities – notably the British – are struggling. If you’re a
Vendée Globe follower you’ll probably remember that PRB won the race in
2000/1 and 2004/5 with successive skippers Desjoyeaux and Riou sailing
the same boat.

The next PRB design, which was dismasted in last
year’s Vendée Globe following the rescue of Jean Le Cam and did not
finish the race (in fact, it had a very poor record of race finishes)
is clearly not seen as a good bet for a second race.

So the
competitive lifecycle of top new boats is diminishing to under four
years while budgets topping €9 million are increasing. It’s not
necessarily a good sign. Generally speaking, this is a sign of a class
that has reached maturity and may be reaching the declining period.

 PRB launch 1


PRB launch 2


PRB launch 3


PRB launch