MA­CHINES OF MADMEN,

“Or­ga­niz­ers have good rea­son to pause and con­sider the san­ity of such a con­test of wits and en­gi­neer­ing, but the fu­ture of high-speed global pur­suits is now, and there is no turn­ing back.”

Sailing World - - Contents - B y J a m e s B oyd

In De­cem­ber 2019, off­shore sail­ing’s elite soloists are ex­pected to start the Brest Oceans, what will be the ul­ti­mate around- the­world sail­ing race. If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan be­fore then, there could be six 100- foot fly­ing mul­ti­hulls, each guided by a sin­gle skip­per re­spon­si­ble for com­plet­ing the non­stop cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion against all odds.

There’s a 60- mile stretch of France’s Brit­tany coast, be­tween La Trinité-sur-mer and Port la Forêt, where some­thing in the drink­ing wa­ter causes cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als with high con­cen­tra­tions of salt wa­ter in their veins to want to go to sea, alone, aboard such mon­strous and rad­i­cal craft. Here, too, French cor­po­ra­tions and pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als, ap­par­ently drink­ing from the same foun­tain, are will­ing to bankroll the sailors and their Ul­time 100 tri­marans, which have al­ready proved ca­pa­ble of 850 sin­gle­handed miles in a day. While it seems likely six new max­itri­marans, known in France as Ul­times, could be on the Brest Oceans start line, there are at least 10 other such large mul­ti­hulls in ex­is­tence, de­signed for sin­gle­handed round-the-world sail­ing, that, in the­ory, could com­pete in the race as well. Be­cause of se­vere break­ages and one dis­as­trous cap­size in the Ul­time fleet dur­ing the 2018 Route du Rhum, Brest Oceans or­ga­niz­ers have good rea­son to pause and con­sider the san­ity of such a con­test of wits and en­gi­neer­ing, but the fu­ture of high-speed global pur­suits is now, and there is no turn­ing back.

Ul­times have the sim­plest of box rules, pa­ram­e­ters in­tended to cre­ate boats that are vaguely sim­i­lar and ca­pa­ble of rac­ing with­out es­ca­lat­ing costs. Length over­all must fall be­tween 24 and 32 me­ters. Beam must be less than 23 me­ters and free­board no less than 1.4 me­ters. Mast height can be no more than 120 per­cent of the length of the long­est hull. Those that meet Brest Oceans en­try re­quire­ments in­clude Thomas Coville’s Sodebo Ul­tim, to be launched in 2019; Fran­cois Gabart’s solo roundthe- world and 24- hour record holder MACIF; Seb Josse’s Maxi

Ed­mond de Roth­schild; Yves le Blevec’s Ac­tual ( nee- Sodebo), which launched in 2014; and, po­ten­tially, Armel Le Cléac’h’s maxi

Banque Pop­u­laire IX, launched in 2017, but which broke and cap­sized cat­a­stroph­i­cally in the early stages of the 2018 Route du Rhum Des­ti­na­tion Guade­loupe and whose fate, at the time of writ­ing, re­mains un­cer­tain. One other, be­long­ing to 62-year-old Fran­cis Joyon (win­ner of the 2018 Route du Rhum), is the present Jules Verne Tro­phy record holder ( fastest non­stop round- the­world fully crewed). Joyon has said he won’t com­pete in Brest Oceans, but per­haps after his Route du Rhum vic­tory he might change his mind, or his 2006-vin­tage IDEC Sport will be taken round by some­one else.

As an in­di­ca­tion of how far mul­ti­hull sail­ing tech­nol­ogy has evolved in the Ul­time class, along with the hu­man abil­ity to sail such craft, con­sider that it was 14 years ago when Joyon sur­prised ev­ery­one when he man­aged a solo non­stop lap in 72 days. Since then, other soloists have taken large chunks from the record, es­pe­cially young Vendee Globe win­ner Gabart, who, in 2018, shaved a week off Coville’s pre­vi­ous record, re­duc­ing the time to just 42 days, 16 hours, 40 min­utes and 35 sec­onds, main­tain­ing an av­er­age speed of 27.2 knots. The evo­lu­tion of the Ul­time shows no sign of slow­ing ei­ther. MACIF was the first to “fly” on foils, but Banque Pop­u­laire and

Maxi Ed­mond de Roth­schild have been pushed to new lim­its, ca­pa­ble of foil­ing in much lower wind­speeds. The lat­ter, skip­pered by Volvo Ocean Race and Vendee Globe skip­per Josse, is the lat­est in an ex­ten­sive line of mul­ti­hulls and IMOCA 60s funded by Baron Ben­jamin de Roth­schild, whose boats are also called Gi­tana. The boat mea­sures in as an Ul­time, with a quoted dis­place­ment of 15.5 tons, an up­wind sail area of 450 square me­ters and a down­wind in­ven­tory of 650 square me­ters.

The VPLP de­sign firm has main­tained a monopoly in such large off­shore mul­ti­hulls re­cently, but Gi­tana is the first Ul­time from

the de­sign of­fice of Guil­laume Verdier, best known in­ter­na­tion­ally as the naval ar­chi­tect be­hind Emi­rates Team New Zea­land’s Amer­ica’s Cup de­signs. The new maxi tri­maran had at least as many peo­ple work­ing on it as an Amer­ica’s Cup cam­paign (and no doubt a bud­get to match), which in­cluded a mix of ex­perts from Verdier’s de­sign of­fice and Gi­tana team’s in-house de­sign­ers in their mag­nif­i­cent pur­pose-built fa­cil­ity in Lori­ent, France. They also ben­e­fited by con­sid­er­able in­put from Emi­rates Team New Zea­land’s tech­ni­cal staff.

Wit­ness­ing the Ul­times lined along­side one an­other in St. Malo, France, be­fore the start of the Route du Rhum, in much the same way as they will be next year in Brest, is a sight to be­hold. Each has acres of net­ting fill­ing the spa­ces be­tween the three hulls. For the size of boat, their raked wing masts look tiny and are stepped as much as two-thirds of the way back from the bow. The rea­son for such mast place­ment is bal­ance ( Gi­tana is de­signed to sail un­der main­sail alone), but also to counter the mul­ti­hull’s Achilles’ heel — the propen­sity to cap­size. ORMA 60 tri­marans of the past were lim­ited in length, had a beam com­pa­ra­ble to their length and were over-can­vassed. As a re­sult, they reg­u­larly pitch-poled, trip­ping over the lee­ward bow. The mod­ern Ul­time, how­ever, coun­ters this ten­dency by hav­ing a much longer bow and less beam for the given length. Now, if it cap­sizes, it does so lat­er­ally, or flips as the re­sult of a struc­tural fail­ure, as oc­curred to Banque Pop­u­laire in the Route du Rhum. A sec­ondary ad­van­tage of hav­ing the sail plan so far aft is that it makes it more head­sail-driven. Large furl­ing head­sails are eas­ier for the sin­gle­handed sailor to man­age than tak­ing a reef in the mas­sive and cum­ber­some main­sail.

Ul­times have con­sid­er­able free­board com­pared to equiv­a­lent­size mono­hulls. Due to their be­ing ca­pa­ble of sus­tained speeds of 40 knots and more, and be­cause they are often sailed solo, the cock­pits pro­vide crit­i­cal shel­ter. In what is ef­fec­tively a pi­lot­house, an Ul­time skip­per can pad around the cock­pit, pro­tected from high-pres­sure salt­wa­ter douses and the con­stant gale of freez­ing ap­par­ent wind. Gi­tana’s cabin and cock­pit lay­out are tra­di­tional for these boats, with a large cov­ered area of the cock­pit and two wheels.

Most often, the au­topi­lot will drive the boat, al­low­ing the sailor to ac­cess a com­plex ar­ray of hy­draulic and sail con­trols that are lo­cated be­tween the wheels. A nar­row walk­way past the pedestal grinder leads for­ward to the in­te­rior. As is the case with all new Ul­times, the cabin area is on deck for ease of ac­cess, the main hull’s in­te­rior used only for en­gines, gen­er­a­tors, bat­ter­ies and stowage.

These boats are al­ready ca­pa­ble of in­sanely high speeds, and while once upon a time they used to in­voke a cer­tain pucker ef­fect when fly­ing the cen­tral hull, the lat­est boats are fit­ted with foils ca­pa­ble of sim­ply el­e­vat­ing the Ul­time’s 13- to 15-ton bulk clear of the wa­ter. Be­cause of such high free­board, the sen­sa­tion of speed is barely per­ceiv­able — even at high boat­speeds. “It is like a four-wheel-drive ve­hi­cle,” Verdier says. “Even when you go 40 knots you are not re­ally im­pressed or scared. That’s one rea­son you can go so fast.”

Gi­tana is sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent from the other Ul­times in that it is a cata­ma­ran-tri­maran hy­brid, i.e., the plat­form has out­board hulls rather than floats, which are con­cep­tu­ally ca­pa­ble of sus­tain­ing greater loads, vi­tal to pre­vent­ing any move­ment around its foils. Gi­tana’s main hull, al­though sub­stan­tial, is now more akin to a beam used to counter fore and aft rig loads and on which to mount a cen­tral dag­ger­board.

The boat also has a unique cross­beam con­fig­u­ra­tion. VPLP’S typ­i­cal de­signs, like Banque Pop­u­laire, have two sets of beams ori­ented in an X-type con­fig­u­ra­tion to counter the se­vere tor­sional loads these boats ex­pe­ri­ence. Off the rear of the aft beam, a giant semi­cir­cu­lar beam of the main­sheet track, the el­lip­ti­cal-shaped space be­tween this and the aft beam form an en­closed area for the cock­pit and cabin. Gi­tana, on the other hand, has two sets of roughly par­al­lel cross­beams, the aft beam form­ing the aft side ( rather than the for­ward side) of the cock­pit, which saves the weight of a ded­i­cated main­sheet track beam.

Tri­maran cross­beams usu­ally have com­plex com­pound cur­va­ture ( so they’re high enough to min­i­mize the slam­ming forces of waves) that then drops down to meet the floats. In com­par­i­son, Gi­tana’s cross­beams are not like “bits of spaghetti,” Verdier says, but straighter, mak­ing them stronger and eas­ier to build. This ap­proach, how­ever, does re­quire the floats to have more free­board to “meet” the beams. The floats have a U-sec­tion shape, so they’re ef­fi­cient when Gi­tana isn’t fly­ing. “If you want to make a boat that only foils, then you make it lighter with smaller foils,” says skip­per Josse. “But the pro­gram of this boat is to sail it sin­gle­handed around the world.”

While re­cent Amer­ica’s Cup cata­ma­rans have a foil con­fig­u­ra­tion that in­cludes re­tract­ing main lift­ing foils and T- con­fig­u­ra­tion rud­ders fit­ted with el­e­va­tors, the mod­ern Ul­times dif­fer by hav­ing a cen­ter hull too. Most teams use a third T-rud­der on the cen­ter hull, as well as a dag­ger­board, which is fit­ted with a trim tab to pre­vent lee­way and pro­vide lift when sail­ing up­wind. Con­se­quently, Ul­times per­form well in up­wind con­di­tions. Gi­tana’s dag­ger­board, in ad­di­tion to hav­ing a trim tab, has an el­e­va­tor at its base. Verdier says this is not in­tended to pro­vide down­force, but rather to sta­bi­lize the boat.

“On the Amer­ica’s Cup 50 cata­ma­ran you could move the wing very quickly,” Verdier says. “Be­cause it was rigid and self-bal­anced, it was very easy to sheet in and out, plus you had ac­cu­rate con­trol of twist. On the Ul­times, it’s very in­ef­fi­cient, very hard to sheet in and out, so there is a big prob­lem with roll sta­bil­ity.” The dag­ger­board’s el­e­va­tor sup­pos­edly fixes this, mak­ing bear-away ma­neu­vers much safer.

The pri­mary foils on Gi­tana, ob­vi­ously born from a wealth of Amer­ica’s Cup ex­pe­ri­ence, dif­fer from Banque Pop­u­laire’s in that when they’re low­ered, they have some V- shape to them. The con­fig­u­ra­tion helps make them rel­a­tively stable in terms of “heave” ( i. e., up- down move­ment) be­cause, while their rake ( fore and aft ro­ta­tion) can be ad­justed, they can’t cant in­board/ out­board ( lat­eral ro­ta­tion) like the foils on Amer­ica’s Cup cata­ma­rans and Banque Pop­u­laire do. Cant- an­gle ad­just­ment al­lows an L- shaped board ( the flat­ter foil tip shape is faster when con­di­tions al­low it to be used) to de­velop some V. The down­side of a cant mech­a­nism, how­ever, is the re­quire­ment for heavy hy­draulics to op­er­ate it.

The sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween Ul­time and Amer­ica’s Cup- style foils is their area of op­er­a­tion. AC cata­ma­rans are only ever raced in­shore in flat wa­ter, whereas Ul­times must op­er­ate off­shore in large waves and con­fused seas. Con­se­quently, Gi­tana is fit­ted with some of the long­est foils ever built, Verdier says — around 8 me­ters long — in or­der to in­crease the foil’s draft and thereby al­low­ing the rud­der to re­main im­mersed. “It is un­known ter­ri­tory,” he ad­mits. “There is a wave height where you have to stop us­ing the foils. When you are go­ing up­wind into 4-me­ter waves, for ex­am­ple, you should not be foil­ing any­more.”

Yet, the boards must still be strong enough to sup­port the en­tire weight of the boat plus dy­namic load­ings of around 20 tons. On Gi­tana, rud­ders are fit­ted with el­e­va­tors to ad­just the boat’s fore and aft trim. Rud­ders can be raised ver­ti­cally in cas­ings (rather than flip- up) like dag­ger­boards, and have large cowl­ings above the deck to re­duce windage around the top of the boards when hoisted. Josse says he raises the rud­ders to elim­i­nate drag as well as to pre­vent them from hit­ting any­thing at 40 knots.

As with hull fly­ing on non­foil­ing mul­ti­hulls, Josse says he doesn’t no­tice the mo­ment his boat be­comes air­borne. There is no sud­den lurch for­ward as it takes off. “You don’t no­tice you’re fly­ing — it’s re­ally smooth,” he says. “Peo­ple ex­pect it to be like a turbo jet, but it isn’t. It is a big boat, and when I do 35 knots it doesn’t feel fast. I have to point out to peo­ple they are do­ing 40 knots.”

Liftoff wind­speed, he adds, is cur­rently as low as 15 knots of wind. The art of sail­ing such giant boats sin­gle­handed re­quires ac­knowl­edg­ing that one will be far from 100 per­cent ef­fi­cient. Josse knows the mo­ments where he can push his craft to its lim­its are rare. Fif­teen knots and flat wa­ter make it rel­a­tively easy. “I’m not good enough to foil all of the time,” he ad­mits. “I do what I know and no more. But just do­ing that, I’m al­ready at 35 knots. I push when I feel con­fi­dent in my sta­bil­ity.”

The most dif­fi­cult ma­neu­vers on board are any­thing in­volv­ing the boat’s big­gest J-0 head­sail. “Un­furl­ing it, sheet­ing it on and furl­ing the J2 takes about 40 to 50 min­utes,” Josse says. A tack or jibe takes around 20 min­utes (it is not just the la­bo­ri­ous process of sheet­ing in, but all the ap­pendages and their rake set­tings must be

swapped and re­peated too, as well as the mast canted to weather on the new tack.

A per­pet­ual nig­gling worry at high speed is, of course, a cap­size. Gi­tana has man­ual sheet re­leases for the head­sail and main­sail (Josse sleeps clutch­ing them), but there are also elec­tronic pro­gram­mable re­lease sys­tems for main­sheet, trav­eler and jib sheet, should the boat near its tip­ping point.

As a team, Gi­tana has been cam­paign­ing to in­crease au­to­ma­tion that can be used on Ul­times. At present, an au­topi­lot can steer the boat, but au­to­matic sta­bi­liza­tion fea­tures are banned. The ban, the team ar­gues, makes the boats less safe and also in­creases the chance of equip­ment dam­age due to op­er­a­tor er­ror. With au­to­ma­tion con­trol­ling the foils, Josse says, “we would be able to sail in big waves and to fly all the time. At present, we aren’t al­lowed to do that.”

He con­sid­ers op­er­at­ing the foils man­u­ally, as they must do now, far too slow. “We have three ap­pendages — two rud­ders and the dag­ger­board,” Josse says. “To main­tain good bal­ance, we should trim them to­gether rather than one by one.”

On Gi­tana, the peak speed to date is 45 knots in 22 knots of wind, but top speeds are not as im­por­tant as the daily run. Josse is con­fi­dent Gabart’s 24-hour solo record can be beaten, and the 1,000-mile day will be a re­al­ity within the next five years. But it won’t be easy.

“To be fast in this boat you need flat wa­ter, and 20 knots is op­ti­mum, and you need 1,000 miles of that,” Josse says. “In 30 knots, the sea state starts to get bad and your sta­bil­ity starts to go down — and then you’re slow.” Q

The sheer size and scale of the new gen­er­a­tion of 100-foot-plus Ul­time tri­marans is breath­tak­ing, as they dwarf the solo sailors who will soon race them around the world. Maxi Ed­mond de Roth­schild ( Gi­tana 17) skip­pered by Seb Josse, of France, is one of the class’s lat­est launches.

The com­plex struc­tural en­gi­neer­ing of the gi­gan­tic Ul­time tri­marans con­tin­ues to test the lim­i­ta­tions of com­pos­ite man­u­fac­tur­ing. In the 2018 Route du Rhum, nearly 24 feet of Gi­tana 17’ s star­board float sheared off dur­ing a pow­er­ful storm with high seas.

In the pro­tec­tion of Gi­tana 17’ s cabin house, Seb Josse can safely man­age the boat, the sail plan and the foils. The more time the sailors re­main out of the el­e­ments, the faster they can go over the long haul.

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