The fastest offshore racing designs ever built, the foiling 100ft Ultim trimarans, will go head-to-head in a solo round the world race in 2023
The Ultim class has announced the first single-handed race round the world for giant multihulls, the Solo Ultim World Tour.
This will likely be the most challenging ocean sailing race ever held. The solo skippers will need to navigate a course as arduous as the Vendée Globe, but will be doing so in 100ft foiling trimarans with complex appendages capable of sailing at 45 knots, with the ever-present risk of a split-second capsize.
Six of the fastest ocean-racing designs in the world will be taking part in the new solo race round the world, with record-breaking sailors Armel Le Cléac’h, Charles Caudrelier and Thomas Coville among the solo skippers lining up.
Unsurprisingly, the race has been a long-time in coming to fruition. Now called the Solo Ultim World Tour, it will be organised by the hugely experienced event company OC Sport Pen Duick, in collaboration with the Class Ultim 32/23, to start in the autumn of 2023.
The concept was first mooted around 15 years ago, just as the notoriously skittish Orma trimarans were in their final days. A calendar was drawn up for the embryonic Ultime class which included solo and crewed round the world races, building up to a solo around the world race set for December 2019, then called the Brest Oceans.
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However, in the 2018 Route du Rhum – the transatlantic race with a reputation for being something of a demolition derby – four of the big trimarans suffered severe damage. Armel le Cléac’h’s Banque Populaire IV capsized and broke up mid-Atlantic, while the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild lost 10m of one float, Sodebo also suffered structural cracking to one float and Macif lost a foil and a rudder.
History seemed to be repeating itself – in the 2002 Route du Rhum, only three of 18 multihulls had managed to complete the race, and the ensuing capsizes and dramatic rescues saw many sponsors leave the Orma fleet. It was clear that the Ultim class was nowhere near ready to race solo around the world.
However, the class changed tack. A multi-stage double-handed race looping around the Atlantic was held in 2019 instead – the Brest Atlantiques. Although several boats suffered damage – Macif swopping out a rudder in Rio, and Sodebo breaking off its starboard rudder after hitting a whale (an impact which caused so much damage that the aft section of the starboard float filled with water and later also broke away), three of the four made it around and there were no dramatic rescues.
Round the world race entries
Even more remarkably, new boats kept being launched. Banque Populaire commissioned a new Ultim for le Cléac’h, and although Francois Gabart’s previous sponsor Macif pulled out mid-build, his new Ultim – code-named M101 – was completed, and he secured new backing from French cosmetics group Kresk (now under the name SVR-Lazatigue).
Combined with a new Sodebo for Thomas Coville in 2019, and a healthy market for second-hand giant trimarans that are ripe for optimisation, the biggest, and most audacious ocean racing fleet in the world is now attracting entry numbers to rival that of the last one-design Volvo Ocean Race (seven in the last Volvo, six currently in the Solo Ultim World Tour).
Confirmed entries for the round the world race so far are: Banque Populaire XI, skippered by Armel Le Cléac’h; Maxi Edmond de Rothschild with Charles Caudrelier (which will come back into the Ultim class after being modified out of class rules for round the world record attempts); Thomas Coville’s Sodebo; Francois Gabart on his new SVR-Lazartigue; Actual, skippered by Yves Le Blevec, and a Brest Ultim Sailing entry, the former Actual, with the skipper still to be announced.
These sailors are the absolute elite of ocean racing. Between the five confirmed skippers alone they include two Vendée Globe winners, two around the world solo record holders, two Volvo Ocean Race wins, at least two Jules Verne around the world crewed records and multiple further attempts.
The start and finish host city has not yet been decided, although discussions are underway with the City of Brest, which has shown keen interest in hosting the event since the creation of the project and hosted the Brest Atlantiques Race in 2019.
The current around the world multihull solo record stands at 42d 16h, set by Gabart on his previous Macif in 2017. The Solo Ultim World Tour is likely to take around 40-50 days, as they will not be setting off with an optimal forecast for record-breaking.
However, the biggest question will be whether they can make it around without race-ending foil damage. After the experiences of the Brest Atlantiques Race and 2019 Route du Rhum, all the teams have been innovating with ways of both avoiding collisions, and making their trimarans more robust in the event of hitting a UFO.
The new Banque Populaire has increased structures, sacrificing ultimate light weight for strength (see more on this in the August issue of Yachting World magazine, out now). Sodebo has been experimenting with appendage fittings designed to absorb impact, and all the big tri’s are trialling collision avoidance systems such as Oscar to try and identify objects in the water.
Charles Caudrelier, the co-skipper of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild who will be taking on the solo race, said: “This solo round-the-world race in the Ultim is a dream I didn’t even dare to hope for in my career. I have always been very drawn to the Vendée Globe, but here, at the helm of the fastest boats on the planet and in flying mode, it is quite simply the ultimate challenge.
“Leading such a boat alone on such a demanding global course is an extraordinary adventure that I am really proud to share with the Gitana Team and on the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. I have been thinking about this world tour for two years, it is this goal that motivates me and keeps me moving forward every day.”
Thomas Coville, skipper of Sodebo Ultim 3, commented: “It is a privilege to be part of this group of sailors. With Sodebo, we have been thinking about this race since 2007 when we launched the construction of the first Sodebo Ultim trimaran.
“There were a lot of twists and turns in the creation of this race around the world. This race justifies 20 years of commitment and high-level sailing. This is the race that will consecrate the life of an athlete and a sailor.”
Armel Le Cléac’h, Banque Populaire skipper added: “Our boats are magical, and I am happy that we can share them with the public around great adventures. I can’t wait for it to start!”
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