Safran, monohull winner of the Transat Jacques Vabre, is at the forefront of changing thinking in solo designs

Marc Guillemot’s and Charles Caudrelier’s victory in the Transat Jacques Vabre race is a heartwarming vindication on two fronts.

One is that Guillemot was the popular hero of the Vendée Globe, the skipper who sacrificed any hope of winning the race to go to the aid of Yann Elies when he broke his leg in the Southern Ocean.

The other is that it proves his boat Safran is every bit as quick as it was always rumoured to be. This is a boat that other skippers have looked on at covetously, a light, powerful, stiff boat, and one that looks set to shape the next generation of IMOCA 60s.

The result will be good news for Vincent Riou and Jean-Pierre Dick, both of whom are building new boats also designed by the combination of multihull experts VPLP and Guillaume Verdier. Riou is building from the moulds of Safran; Dick is having a new boat built.

These new designs are a step away from the trend of IMOCA 60s designs to get wider, heavier and more powerful. The emphasis is on developing appendage shapes and effects, reducing weight through refined structures and load transfer, and introducing some of the lessons learned from racing multihulls.  

I talked to Guillaume Verdier and Vincent Lauriot Prévost from VPLP about their joint philosophy.

In part, the approach has been shaped by amendments to the class rule, which limit the righting moment and mast height of all new build boats.

Skippers such as Alex Thomson believe they are better off with the grandfathered ‘super-boats’ such as Pindar which exceed the new limitations but are still permitted to race. Verdier and VPLP don’t concur and say their lighter, less canvassed and narrower waterline designs will be faster all round.

“We are trying to push the parameters, for example bulb shape, daggerboard shape and keel mechanism,” says Lauriot Prévost. He confirms that they have also done intensive computational fluid dynamics research for J-P Dick’s new Virbac to study the interaction of keel and daggerboards and to see how they can achieve the maximum righting moment with a minimum of water ballast.

As the last generation IMOCA 60s got wider, heavier and draggier they became harder to sail, he argues. VPLP/Verdier are trying to find ways to wind that back a little. “I don’t agree that you should have a big, stiff boat with increased ballast and sail area; it’s not a good way,” says Lauriot Prévost.

“The concept of a light boat is to be able to sail quicker with reduced sail area such as one reef and a staysail than a boat with full main and solent.

“When you sail these boat single-handed it really is a big job for skippers to anticipate forecasts and to make the right sail changes at the right time. So it’s easier to reef earlier and it’s better for the boat and easier to helm.

“When you reef you are lowering the centre of effort and that is quite a big deal. The lower your centre of effort the more stable the autopilot course.”

He agrees that they are going “the opposite direction to Juan K” [designer of Pindar, now Hugo Boss].

“With multihulls we were on this idea 15 years ago. I remember the feedback from Yvan Bourgnon when he was racing alongside Paul Vatine and beating him – Bourgnon’s boat was easier to sail and less dangerous because it wasn’t so stiff.”

A boat that is light for a given stiffness and lighter in the water because of the way it generates hydrodynamic lift, is also able to build speed quicker, something else that was critical in VPLP’s long development of 60ft trimarans and record-breaking maxi mulithulls, he adds.

“It’s the same as multihulls; the transition moments are critical.”