The spies were out photographing PRB's ingenious lifting rudders last week - and with good reason


When I asked Vincent Riou, the skipper of PRB, what feature on his new Open 60 he was most proud of he said without hesitation: “The rudders.” What he means isn’t just the ingenuity of the design but the complex engineering involved. Here is a close-up detail of one of them.

Lifting rudders are one of the ‘do you, don’t you?’ questions of the Open 60 class. So, some do and some don’t. A lifting rudder allows you to reduce drag in the light stuff and it can kick up if you hit something. A sizeable percentage of Vendée Globe skippers suffer rudder damage – Isabelle Autissier, Yves Parlier, Joe Seeten and Conrad Humphreys are some I can think of immediately.

Against this argument, rudders that lift up in cassettes fixed to the transom are heavier and less efficient than those underneath the hull, and there is always the risk that a kick-up rudder could release unexpectedly with catastrophic results. In fact, it was this that observers speculated could have caused Riou’s dismasting in the old PRB during The Transat in 2004. He hit an object, a rudder kicked up and the boat crash gybed.

So for their new boats, Riou and his team-mate Michel Desjoyeaux, a man so technical and cerebral he is known as ‘le professeur’, have come up with this doubtless expensive idea: a rudder that can be released (see the stainless and titanium locking mechanism on a purchase system at bottom of the picture), and lifted up one-handed from the cockpit with the purchase on top. A fairing piece seals it off at the transom when lowered so no ‘fence’ is needed on the rudder to prevent cavitation.

Presumably Mich Des’s boat, which has just been launched, will have the same expensive rudder mechanism, which was being much photographed by other teams in Calais last week.