Photos; Chris Schmidt / Spindrift Racing

One man on a 140ft trimaran

Yann Guichard on Spindrift 2's ambitious Route du Rhum and transatlantic record campaigns

Thursday January 30th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

Franck Cammas has a lot to answer for.

In the last Route du Rhum in 2010 there was a whole array of large multihulls entered, ranging from the 100-105 footers such as Cammas’ Groupama 3 and the trio of Irens Cabaret sisterships IDEC, Sodebo and Oman Air Majan to Yann Guichard in the modified ORMA 60 Gitana 11, extended up to 77ft, and Ellen MacArthur’s 75ft solo round the world boat B&Q Castorama, sailed by round the world legend Philippe Monnet as La Boîte à Pizza.

Prior to the start there was furious debate over whether the smaller more nimble boats capable of faster manoeuvres could outstrip the more cumbersome, but faster in a straight line bigger boats. In the end Cammas, in a feat reminiscent of Eric Tabarly sailing his Whitbread maxi Pen Duick VI to victory singlehanded in the 1976 OSTAR, sauntered across the Atlantic to bring home his 105ft trimaran (which earlier in the year he’d set a new Jules Verne Trophy record aboard with a few crew) more than nine hours ahead of race favourite Francis Joyon’s IDEC 2.

Groupama 3 is back in the Route du Rhum this year (confusingly) as Banque Populaire VII, now in the hands of Armel le Cleac’h (currently trailblazing his way across to the Bahamas on a solo Route of Discovery record – closing on the finish more than 500 miles ahead of Francis Joyon’s record pace). But yesterday the Spindrift Racing team upped the ante with the announcement that Yann Guichard will be sailing the world’s largest (and fastest) racing trimaran - formerly Banque Populaire V, now Spindrift 2 - in this November’s race. Singlehanded. On a boat that is 40m long by 23m wide, where the mainsail alone is at present 450sqm and the genniker 610sqm. To put this into perspective, sailors would baulk at sailing a VO70 solo – the main on that is a titchy 175sqm and the biggest genniker 500sqm.

Although Dona Bertarelli and Yann Guichard's Spindrift Racing team acquired Banque Populaire V to embark on a program of fully crewed record breaking, culminating in the Jules Verne Trophy (scheduled tentatively for the winter of 2015-16), the possibility of sailing the boat in the Route du Rhum has been an itch Yann Guichard has been increasing keen to scratch over these last months.

He says he tried out solo sailing the world’s largest trimaran while they were delivering her home from the end of their successful Route of Discovery record attempt last autumn.

“We came back with nine people onboard, but I tried to sail the boat and do some manoeuvres on my own at times - it was the first time I had done that. I realised it was possible to do it in those conditions, but not all conditions. So we discussed it with Dona [Bertarelli] and the sponsors. The Route du Rhum is a famous race in France. But it all will depend on the conditions for sure. If the weather is terrible or if I need to manoeuvre a lot, or to reef or remove a reef or tack and gybe a lot, it will be really difficult for me. And if I have any problem onboard, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to resolve them on my own...”

Looking at the race last time Cammas took the most southerly route of the competitors in the ‘Ultime’ class, shaving Cape Finisterre and popping out in front when conditions deteriorated for the boats which had gone west early.

“For sure, it was the perfect weather for him. It was downwind,” says Guichard. But I think with this boat [Spindrift 2] it is difficult to go on the northern route, because you’d probably have to go through a front which would be difficult. But it is a race, not a record, you cannot choose the time you start, so if it is not possible to go to the south, you have to go another way...”

While Groupama 3 had a new reduced sail plan for the Route du Rhum based on a shorter 36m rig (rather than the 40m one used for her Jules Verne Trophy attempt), so at present Spindrift 2 is having her existing rig shortened by 6m down to 37.7m tall.

“We are shortening the existing mast for two reasons: money and time,” explains Leo Lucet, Spindrift Racing’s Executive Director. “During the Jules Verne and the transatlantic records [as Banque Populaire], they sailed almost all the time with one reef in. So shortening the mast will result in less weight and less aerodynamic turbulence.”

New sails are being developed for the boat with North Sails France, the previous mostly Cuben fibre wardrobe being replaced with a combination of 3Di and 3DL, again with the aim of saving weight.

However while Groupama 3 kept her big rig for records, Spindrift will also use her more low aspect sail plan for her attempt this summer on the fully crewed west to east Atlantic record, which their boat established in 2009 as Banque Populaire V when Pascal Bidegorry was skipper.

There will of course be differences between Spindrift 2 in the fully crewed Transat record and singlehanded Route du Rhum modes. The west to east transatlantic record between New York and the Lizard is now perhaps the hardest of all the records in the World Sailing Speed Record Council’s as despite its length of 2880 miles, it is the fastest, Banque Populaire V having made the crossing in just 3 days 15 hours 25 minutes and 48 seconds at a formidable average speed of 32.94 knots.

“When Banque Populaire V broke the record, the forecast was really exceptional, 25-30 knots, flat water, all on one gybe,” says Guichard. “So we will need exceptional weather as well, but also a boat that is better optimised. So there is no point in having to take a reef - if you want to beat the record if you have to use all of the mainsail. The mast weighs 40-50kg per metre, so if you make it 5m smaller for example that is 300kg...”

And if they are only going to be sailing on one gybe, then why not make the boat more asymmetric? They intend to lose the weather (starboard) foil and rudder, however Guichard says they fill be fitting a smallish water ballast tank on the starboard side to compensate for this in order to maintain lateral stability. As the record and the Route du Rhum are downwind affairs, they are replacing the daggerboard in the main hull with a shorter one without a trim tab. The hydraulic canting mechanism for the mast is also to be removed (a further 600kg weight saving). Interestingly it is likely that for the record they’ll set the rig up to that it fixed slightly inclined to weather.

There is also the intention to try sailing the boat with less crew, possiblly with 10 (as opposed to the usual 14).

Spindrift 2 will be relaunched at the end of March and will be on stand-by in New York from mid-May until mid-August. If a suitable weather doesn’t materialise within this period then the boat will be delivered back to Europe to prepare for the Route du Rhum. “The best weather wind is June,” says Guichard of their window. “July and August are difficult because the depressions don’t go the whole way – they start going north of Ireland.”

Route du Rhum

For the Route du Rhum, obviously the boat will go back into its symmetric configuration and the team is doing all it can otherwise to make the job of sailing the beast as easy as it can be for one man.

Obviously anything to do with sail handling is a nightmare. When we sailed on the boat it took the best part of 15-20 minutes and all the pumps manned to hoist the main. Given his limited experience on the delivery, Guichard says that throwing out a reef takes roughly 40 minutes to get back up to speed. However it is handling the genniker that represents the greatest ‘challenge’ as even furling it is a major effort while hoisting and dropping it there is strong potential for it to damage the mast.

Going for a smaller rig, will make the sails slightly more manageable, but there is no intention to change down to a smaller size from the giant Harken winches currently installed. However they are going to change the gearing to make the winches more suitable for the solo sailor. They could also go for more purchases on sheets and halyards, but Lucet says this would results in having too much rope on board.

In the process of being fitted on board is a ‘bicycle’, as Cammas had fitted to Groupama 3 prior to the last race, that will enable Guichard to use both his arms and legs to drive the winches. This will take the place of two of the pedestals. Otherwise there is a big drive to reduce friction throughout the boat, in particular in furling mechanisms and blocks. “The boat was built to finish and not break anything. Now we are trying to make it more efficient,” says Leo Lucet.

For the Route du Rhum, the boat will be fitted with an autopilot for the first time. According to Lucet this is currently in development.

To assist them in the work, the Spindrift Racing team has grown. In addition to the sailing team, which comprises a squad of 13 in addition to co-skippers Guichard and Dona Bertarelli, there are now 16 on the shore team plus a further five working on the administration and comms sides (remember they have a D35 and MOD70 to run too). They are mostly housed in the team’s base in St Philibert, close to La Trinité, while Spindrift 2, due to her colossal size, lives in Lorient. The design team has recently been boosted by two engineers Edouard Touchard, previously with Groupama and Yannis Troalen, from the Banque Populaire team, the design team managed by Technical Manager Antoine Carraz, mostly recently with Michel Desjoyeaux’s Foncia MOD 70 campaign.

So how does Guichard feel about the Route du Rhum? “I am confident, but for sure it is the bigger challenge of my sailing life. I’m sure I will be nervous on start day but I am okay now. I am happy because I took the decision with Dona and I believe I’ve looked into every parameter.”

He says the outcome will ultimately be in the lap of the Gods and there remains the possibility that if the weather is light for the start and the first week (unlikely given that it will be November), the smaller more agile multihulls could gain enough advantage over the larger more cumbersome craft. Otherwise it could come down to a waterline length-off. “For me, I don’t need strong conditions at the start, although I can have them after the Golfe de Gascogne because then it is about heading straight. Ideally I need stable conditions with few changes of wind direction. But the first big challenge will be to pass the first turning mark off Cape Frehel because it is really close in to the shore and there are a lot of spectator boats there – that will be a big challenge! It will also be harder because of all boats in the Ultimate class, Spindrift 2 was the only one specifically designed to be sailed with a crew rather than singlehanded.”


A significant issue that has raised its head again in the multihull racing world has been that of capsize, most recently with that of Lionel Lemonchois’ year old 80 footer Prince de Bretagne on her singlehanded France to Mauritius record attempt. However both the Spindrift and Virbac Paprec MOD70s also capsized last year.

While great efforts were made back in the day to reduce ORMA 60s from pitchpoling, by canting the mast to weather and adding a lifting foil to leeward to prevent the leeward bow digging in, all of the recent spate have been more conventional capsizes, laterally over the leeward float.

One reason for this trend is because the latest generation boats are relatively narrow for their length compared to the ORMA 60s which were virtually square. For example Spindrift 2 is 40m long but her beam is only 23m (ie 57% of LOA), while the 31.5m Banque Populaire VII is 22.5m wide (71% of LOA) and similarly on the Irens-Cabaret 100 footers beam is about 55% of LOA. The MOD70s and Prince de Bretagne are relatively squarer at 78% and 74% respectively.

However due to the sheer scale and displacement of Spindrift 2, which should weigh into the Route du Rhum at around 22 tonnes (down from 24), the force required to topple the boat will be substantially more. Some smart person out there has probably got a formula to put numbers to this.

Guichard reflects that Spindrift 2 certainly feels a lot safer than Gitana 11, which he sailed four years ago. This, he says, is probably the reason Seb Josse has opted to take the MOD 70 in the race instead. However a weak point of the MOD70 that is believed to have contributed to their capsizesis is their hydraulic mainsheet, that is slow to dump in gusts.

All the big Route du Rhum multihulls are also likely to be fitted with sheet release mechanisms to help prevent their capsize. These are mechanical devices comprising a jammer attached to a pendulum, which causes the jaws of the jammer to open if the boat heels beyond a preset angle. Guichard says he had such a system on Gitana 11 and intends to have two or three fitted to Spindrift 2 to dump the main and headsail sheets if the going gets too perilous.

Guichard agrees with us, that he’s surprised that the Ultimate class is so buoyant at present. While the MOD70s seem to be in a holding pattern at present (to be generou), there is the existing fleet of big tris we’ve mentioned in this article, while in addition Thomas Coville is rebuilding Olivier de Kersauson’s Geronimo that will be relaunched as the new Sodebo, a giant singlehander, due for launch this summer, while Vendee Globe winner Francois Gabart has a new MACIF giant tri in build due for launch in 2015 with the aim of winning the 2018 Route du Rhum.

Part of the apparent success of the Ultimate class compared to the waning MOD 70 may simply be that for the former their race track is potentially around the world through the Southern Ocean whereas around the world the pretty way, ie through the canals, as was being proposed by the MOD class, just doesn’t capture the imagination as much. However Guichard anticipates that in five to ten year’s time the Volvo Ocean Race will be sailed in multihulls...




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