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.

The 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