IMOCA 60 case: the reasons for the resounding flop of the flying monohulls

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Screenshot 2015-11-02 at 2:03:35 p.m.
Four out of five new-generation IMOCA 60s (those with foils) had to retire due to serious structural failures at the Transat Jacques Vabre Atlantic race
. A resounding and dangerous flop of the new flying boats that were supposed to revolutionize the monohull world. They all happen to be designed by one team, the French VPLP/Verdier.

WHAT HAPPENED
Three withdrew before “disintegrating,” Edmond De Rotschild, Safran and Saint Michel-Vibrac. The fourth retreatant, Hugo Boss, owned by Alex Thomson and Guillermo Altadill, has even capsized and is in danger of sinking. But that’s not all, the fifth is also in trouble.
Banque Populaire VIII’s Arme Le Cleac’h and Erwan Tabarly, the ranking leader among the IMOCAs, appears to be having problems with the starboard foil control system, and is “letting up” on the throttle… Then we ask ourselves, average speeds in hand and taking into account the multimillion-dollar investments behind these boats: how could this happen. More importantly, whose damn fault is it?

Damage to a
Damage to a “rib” aboard St Michel – Virbac photo taken from Sailinganarchy.com)

SOMEONE MADE A MISTAKE
To try to understand this, we questioned the “great outcast” of Jacques Vabre, Andrea Mura (who had to withdraw his entry due to budget issues, despite having a brand new boat-also equipped with foils-on his hands): “The problem,” he told us, “lies in the fact that all the boats presented similar failures: that is, damage to the internal structure and its ribs.”. Let us explain: one of the absolute novelties of these IMOCAs is the construction of the hulls, which are increasingly lighter. The new construction solution consists of innovative transverse reinforcements, already seen, longitudinally, on the 100-foot Comanche. That saves weight, offsetting that added by the foil system. Instead of a structural grid with a smaller number of (but larger and heavier) mires, Verdier and VPLP designers aimed for a structure of closely spaced semicircular ribs supporting an extremely thin-skinned hull (4 millimeters in places). You save weight (as mentioned, to compensate for the increase from installing foils) but if the loads are not distributed as well as possible–you crack. “In my opinion,” Andrea Mura continued, “the error should be sought in the design or construction.”

DESIGNER’S FAULT?
Too bad the four broken boats, St. Michel – Virbac, Edmond de Rothschild, Hugo Boss, and Safran, were built by three different shipyards, by Multiplast (the first two), Green Marine, and CDK, respectively. Could it be that three major construction sites were completely wrong? What if the designers were to blame for the error? “I had my boat built by Persico,” says Mura, “it was the only one made with America’s Cup technology, but I would have to have fortune-telling skills to assure you that once in the race, it would not present any problems.”

VERDIER’S UNACCOMPLISHED WARNINGS
Guillaume Verdier , one of the designers, realized that the risk of having these boats, so innovative but newly launched, participate in a 5,400-mile race in the Atlantic would be great. He had been very clear: “He always strongly advised us against taking part in Jacques Vabre because it was too risky, with only two months of testing, testing and training behind us. That would have been crazy“, claims the Italian sailor. A recommendation disregarded by the teams, on whom there is great pressure from sponsors who invest exorbitant amounts of money. “Moreover, few are aware of another detail. Since foils constitute a very strong righting torque, the mast and sails are overloaded: although less heeling gives you the feeling that you can handle the situation comfortably, if you have too much sail up or cock the sails too much you risk disalberating or otherwise damaging the structure. Even if you are a very strong and experienced sailor.”

A SOLUTION WOULD HAVE BEEN THERE
Verdier knew this well and had asked the class to equip the boats with a new reinforced one-design mast
. A request rejected by IMOCA for merely “political” reasons. It was felt that the new 60-footers would already benefit from foils, so why increase their safety?” Crazy stuff. “And did you know that in Verdier and VPLP’s initial idea, the keel was supposed to be “quick release,” that is, it was supposed to “detach” and return to the middle of the boat if the loads were found to be too high, causing the boat to be overstressed but safeguarding the overall structure?“. We will follow developments, in the meantime, however, let us make one point: we would never want to be in the Verdier/VPLP firm’s shoes!

E.R.

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