A calculated risk

Lizzy learning how to sail the IMOCA 60 solo

Lizzy learning how to sail the IMOCA 60 solo

Last year Lizzy Foreman took part in the Mini Transat and hopes to race in the Vendee Globe one day. In this series the experienced racer takes us on a journey through the lives of racing sailors looking at the challenge these men and women face. This month Lizzy considers the impact of foiling boats in the current edition of the Vendée Globe.

On the 6 November, 29 skippers left the pontoons in Les Sables d’Olonne to take part in one of the most gruelling races in existence, the Vendée Globe.

They have their sights set on breaking Francois Gabart’s around the world record of 78 days, set in 2013.

It is a high possibility, considering that seven of the IMOCA 60s entered have been fitted with revolutionary foils. Consisting of two parts, a shaft (acting as a daggerboard) and the tip (which generates lift), the boats can effectively ‘fly’ over the water gaining an extra two knots of boat speed. That is equivalent to a two-day lead over the non-foiling boats.

VPLP/Verdier designed all the new builds for this edition of the race: Safran, Banque Populaire, Vento de Sardegna, Edmond de Rothschild and St. Micahel-Virbac are each equipped with similar foils. Hugo Boss, considered the most radical of the VPLP designs and built in England, is the only boat to have had its foils designed ‘in house’.

New for old

Maitre Coq, which is another VPLP design, is the sole older generation boat to have been retro-fitted with foils at a cost of 500,000 euros. Clearly this potentially race winning appendage was too much of a financial burden for some of the skippers.

Yet despite the high speeds that these foils can generate, they only work when the boat is sailing between 70 – 120 degrees off the wind, with a minimum of 12 knots of boat speed. This means that the foiling boats will struggle in light and upwind conditions, having to opt for much wider sailing angles (up to 65 degrees off the wind) compared to their competitors, as highlighted by the shorter, light wind races that have been held this year.

Technically, however, the Vendée Globe could be won by a foiling boat. Only 10 to 15 per cent of the course is sailed upwind, with the Southern Ocean brining gnarly, high wind conditions.

Safran  putting on a foiling display. Image: Jean Marie LIOT / DPPI

Safran putting on a foiling display. Image: Jean Marie LIOT / DPPI

High risk foils

The risk of damage to the foils remains extremely high, particularly considering the harsh conditions of the Vendee Globe. Alex Thompson, on Hugo Boss, will not even be able to race with his new set, having broken them during testing while averaging 28 knots of boat speed.

The New York – Vendee transatlantic race (a qualifying course for the Vendée Globe held in May) saw the destruction of three foils. Banque Populaire/Armel Le Cléac’h retired from the race having broken a foil after hitting an object in the water, while Jean-Pierre Dick/StMichel-Virbac broke his during the race. Jérémie Beyou/Maitre Coq hit a whale while on route to the start line, completely smashing the starboard foil, and so had to sail without it.

With so much damage during a race averaging only 10 days, it does beg the question – will the foilers make it?

“If there is no comparison in terms of performance, and the foilers manage to go fast (…) without breakage, it will be a great indication of what is to come.” Jérémie Beyou, ­­April 2016.

Check out the video of Lizzy learning how to sail the IMOCA 60 solo on the All at Sea Facebook page – www.facebook.com/allatseanewspaper