The IMOCA 60 Malizia-Seaexplorer is the world’s fastest monohull, having set a blistering 24-hour record of 641.08 nautical miles while competing in The Ocean Race transatlantic leg
Followers of the IMOCA 60 fleet will know that two names have dominated the class over the past two generations when it comes to design: VPLP and Verdier. So, it’s no surprise that all five of the IMOCAs competing in The Ocean Race come from those same drawing boards (and in the case of the oldest boat in the fleet, the 2015-launched Guyot Environnement, a VPLP/Verdier partnership).
Of the four designs, three are by Verdier – 11th Hour Racing Team, Holcim-PRB, and Biotherm. This leaves Boris Herrmann’s Malizia-Seaexplorer as the sole latest generation VPLP IMOCA in the race, but the differences in its design concept run much deeper. Malizia-Seaexplorer was, uniquely among the fleet, designed from the outset for both the 2023 Ocean Race and the 2024 Vendée Globe. The result is a distinctively different looking IMOCA.
VPLP explains that the design differs markedly from previous iterations of IMOCA, particularly in the shape of the hull. Much of this was the result of lessons learned during the 2020 Vendée Globe. The main aim of the hull studies VPLP undertook was to optimise Malizia-Seaexplorer’s performance in the heavy seas of the Southern Ocean without compromising its ability to perform in the more moderate conditions expected on the Atlantic stages of both The Ocean Race and Vendée Globe.
German skipper Herrmann had made three laps of the planet before the Ocean Race start and had specific ideas he wanted to incorporate into the design. Malizia-Seaexplorer has noticeably full bow sections, a higher freeboard and more curved sheerline. Co-skipper Will Harris explained that the boat’s bow shape and volume are two of its key design features.
“The first 3.5m of the bow were cut off, in effect giving us a scow bow,” Harris said while showing me around the boat in the Newport stopover. “It means we’re less likely to catch the bow as we plough into the wave in front of us. And the added volume up front helps lift the boat back out of the water. You look at a boat like Biotherm, it has a bullet nose. Once it digs in a wave it’s hard to get it back out.
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“We really thought about this design for the Southern Ocean, and it really pays off in the heavy conditions. It might not be so good in other conditions, in lighter winds the extra volume means it’s heavier, but in the rough conditions it pays off for us.”
Among the Verdier designs, overall race leader Holcim-PRB seems the most similar in terms of bow shape, though it lacks the volume of Malizia. Not surprisingly, the two designs were clearly superior in the arduous 12,000-mile Southern Ocean Leg 3 of The Ocean Race. Holcim-PRB and Malizia-Seaexplorer were 1st and 2nd through the mid-leg scoring gate. Approaching the gate at longitude 143 East, Malizia-Seaexplorer overtook 11th Hour Racing Team in strong north-westerly winds of 20-25 knots to earn 2nd place.
11th Hour’s onboard reporter Amory Ross ruefully described Malizia’s superiority in the sea state as they went past: “After working our way through Biotherm it was Malizia’s turn to do the same to us this afternoon. They seem to be able to carry more sail and keep their bow up, presumably with the shape of their hull, and while we struggled in the waves to keep from nose diving, they were able to sail at the same speed but lower.
“We watched as they sailed down to us, around our bow, and then continued on in a more southerly direction.”
Malizia kept that pace up in heavy conditions on the approach to Cape Horn and rounded the iconic landmark ahead of Holcim-PRB.
Another design feature Harris credited to their success is the boat’s rocker, the curvature of the hull from bow to stern. Harris said that because the rocker rises up in the stern, it also aids the bow in staying out of the water.
“The rocker continues well into the back of the boat, so the whole boat is like a banana,” Harris said. “The idea behind the rocker rising in the stern is to help lift the bow up even more. By having the stern high we can stack more gear, people and equipment in the back of the boat so the bow comes out even more, so it’s less likely to dig into the waves. The tradeoff is it’s less efficient in marginal planing conditions, it’s a little harder to get on a plane just before foiling, but we feel it’s a very small difference.”
The added freeboard also has multiple benefits, including the boat’s ability to self-right. All IMOCAs must be able to self-right after passing 110° of heel angle. “The higher freeboard means more volume at the front. So, when the bow digs in a wave, there’s a lot of buoyancy to help lift it out of the water. Higher freeboard also means more volume for life onboard. And in the IMOCA rules, a high freeboard means more form stability so we can have a lighter ballast bulb for the 110° test,” Harris adds.
However, it’s Malizia’s foils that have proven to be an unexpected benefit – especially since they’re not the intended foils, but rather a spare set the team had to switch to after Malizia-Seaexplorer’s version one foils were damaged beyond repair before the race start.
The team’s original set suffered damage on the delivery from Guadeloupe at the end of the Route du Rhum to Alicante for the start of The Ocean Race. Harris said that they experienced some rough conditions on the passage and that when the boat nosedived the loads on the foils were counter to the designed loads. There’s a shaft inside the foils around which the carbon fibre is laid, but the carbon wasn’t strong enough to support the huge loads the foils undergo.
An ultrasound check revealed internal damage, and was followed by a frantic search for a replacement set – the team was fortunate to be able to use a set from designer Sam Manuard, similar to those built for Sam Davies’ new Initiatives Coeur.
“To be honest, it’s been a bit of a blessing,” Harris said. The original foils were L-shaped in profile, whereas the replacements are C-shaped. Harris says the biggest benefit is the way the foils regulate the boat’s motion through waves.
“The C-shaped foils are more polyvalent, they’re good in all conditions,” said Harris. “They’re more vertical in profile, which means there’s more righting moment, more of a daggerboard effect. And when the boat starts to lift out of the water the foil comes out in a natural way and helps stabilise the flight of the boat. It doesn’t leap as much. The L-foils are not as good at managing those leaps, you must play more with their extension. With the C-foils, if they’re extended a bit too much in a gust it’s OK. They allow the boat to lift over the wave and not jump so much that it ventilates.”
The C-shape foil versus L-shape played out dramatically on Leg 5 of The Ocean Race, when 11th Hour Racing Team, Holcim-PRB and Malizia-Seaexplorer all took turns blowing through the race and outright monohull 24-hour records (previously standing at 602 and 618 miles respectively, the latter set by the 100ft Comanche back in 2015). During what’s been dubbed the ‘North Atlantic Speed Sailing Seminar’ Malizia-Seaexplorer ended up with the top number, setting a new record of 641.13 miles in 24 hours on 26 May, having maintained a breathtaking average speed of 26.71 knots.
“We had exceptional conditions with a flat sea, the wind steady from the right direction, the right angle for such a long time,” said Herrmann.
“No sail changes – actually, we took a reef in and out, so we slowed down for these two moments, but apart from that nothing slowed us down for a longer time. Sometimes, the waves got a little bit shorter and we’d slow down to 18 knots and get a bit stuck in the sea. But most of the time the boat would pass the sea perfectly and fly at 27-34 knots, it felt really relaxed.”
Bulletproof IMOCA 60
Regardless of the foil shape, Malizia-Seaexplorer is a beast of a boat. Harris noted that the boat has 30% more structure than the other IMOCAs. The hull is solid carbon fibre, no foam core, up to 16 layers thick in some places. The trend among the IMOCA class is to eliminate the foam cores and use a monolithic construction process that eliminates the possibility of core failure. Given the 30-knot speeds these boats are capable of, their skippers must have confidence that the machine will not break.
“This is a very good boat for the Vendée Globe, it is very good for the overall campaign,” said Herrmann. “I don’t foresee broken stringers or a delamination after a cold front. We have a monolithic very strong hull, a little heavier but when we are up on the foils we perform very much like the pack.
“We are seeing sensational performances downwind and upwind, a few knots quicker than the old boat, the ergonomics are so much better than the old boat. There are so many good things about this boat.”
LOA: 18.28m / 59ft 11in
LOA inc bowsprit: 20.12m / 65ft 5in
Beam: 5.70m / 18ft 3in
Draught: 4.50m / 14ft 8in
Mast height: 27.24m / 88ft 9in
Sail area upwind: 270m2 / 2,906ft2
Sail area offwind: 550m2 / 5,920ft2
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