Design theory

In ten days’ time, a fleet of 22 IMOCA 60s will take part in the first major international offshore yacht race since the COVID-19 pandemic began – and it will be very much a design contest.

Written by Scott Alle
Photography by Pierre Bouras – L’Occitane en Provence

23 June 2020


Among the starting line-up for the Vendée–Arctique–Les Sables d’Olonne will be the latest full-foiling IMOCA 60s and a clutch of heavily modified older boats sporting new sets of foils.

L’Occitane en Provence, skippered by French sailing star Armel Tripon, is expected to be among the leaders of the punishing 3,600-mile solo race, now the lead-in to the main event, the Vendée Globe, scheduled to start on 8 November.

Launched at the end of January 2020, the concept behind L’Occitane en Provence was efficient performance and a boat that can be pushed hard downwind and broad-reaching, particularly in heavy seas.

The distinctive scow bow design has been back on the water for a month, testing sails and systems. Tripon was enthusiastic about the boat’s performance soon after the first outings.


“At the helm, she is very stable –even in strong winds – and you can steer her with just one hand. She responds gently and precisely. I think that is fairly exceptional on this type of boat.

The foils are also very stable. The boat takes off with very little wind and can be easily kept under control. When you are outside, it feels like sailing a multihull, particularly since with the foils, which stretch right out, the boat does not heel over very much. She seems light and flies through the air. When you are inside, the noises amplified by the stiffness of the carbon remind us of the forces and strains.”

Armel Tripon’s new Venéee ride is one of the most recent boats in the latest generation IMOCA class. After two years of design and build, the yacht was unveiled in Nantes, France – the skipper’s hometown but also the location of the Black Pepper Yachts shipyard where the foiling monohull, designed by the architect Sam Manuard, was built and equipped with a North Sails wardrobe.

Tripon said, “It’s an incredible opportunity in my life as a sailor to be at the helm of this new boat.” The 44-year-old skipper continued, “And what a boat! An IMOCA for a completely crazy race –the Vendée Globe.”

This will be the first solo around-the-world race for Armel Tripon who won the Route du Rhum in 2018 in the Multi50 class. But it is also Sam Manuard’s first IMOCA Open 60 for the Vendée Globe and the first monohull in this class built by Black Pepper Yachts.

“This boat, which we wanted to be unique, has a genuine philosophy,” continues Armel Tripon. “It’s a project that strongly reflects our aspirations.

“From the outset, our goal was to put together a new design team, different in its way of thinking, which brings fresh ideas and is not afraid to think outside the box.

“This includes all the other partners, the shipyard and the sponsor who gave us the green light, convinced by the philosophy of our project.”

In just ten days, L’Occitane en Provence and Tripon will line up in the Vendée’s most important lead-up race, the Vendée–Arctique–Les Sables d’Olonne. Starting on 4 July, the 3,600-nautical-mile race will begin and end off Les Sables d’Olonne, with waypoints to the west of Iceland and north of the Azores.

The Sam Manuard design will be pitted against two of the three new VPLP fully foiling boats – Charal and DMG Mori. The third in the trio, Hugo Boss, hit the water just over a week ago after a keel refit. Skipper Alex Thomson decided to pass up the fleet racing hit-out to concentrate on his own preparations.

L’Occitane en Provence’s scow hull design stands out from the rest of the IMOCA fleet as it is the only one with the distinctive round and wide bow shape.

Why such a choice? Sam Manuard is a naval architect but also a professional sailor — a combination that gives him a unique understanding of  the boat’s reactions.

He explains that the idea was to limit detrimental stressors to the performance of both the boat and the skipper. “Scow hulls are more tolerant,” he argues.

“It has been noticed that with this (scow) shape, when the yacht moves with the sea, ie downwind, the bow buries less. When the boat fills with water, it is a source of stress for the sailor and therefore a barrier to human performance. We’ve tried to target a virtuous spiral where all the small factors go in the same direction to reduce both mechanical stress and that of the skipper,” he adds.

As with all of the Vendée teams, a lot of thought has gone into the design of the sails (limited to eight for the Vendée Globe) and on the question of energy aboard the boats. The North Sails design team led by Gautier Sergent was in the loop from the first meetings about the project.

“The aim was to create a fast, balanced, reliable boat, high performance, but one that could also be handled by a single skipper for 70 days,” says Sergent, North Sails Head of R&D Department.

“We freely imagined an ideal concept based on collective expertise. It was refined and adjusted, leaving aside any preconceived ideas over the months of the design period. And Armel trusted us.”

After this first phase of brainstorming, another fundamental aspect of this project was the computing power: the aerodynamic efficiency of the sails and hydrodynamic simulation, which fed into the VPP.

“In this study, a lot of calculations and simulations were carried out for which North Sails managed all the aerodynamics,” says Sam Manuard.

This includes the overall aerodynamic drag and the interaction between the platform and the sails. “It’s a key parameter on foilers that are going faster and faster, and it has a big impact on the boat’s stability,” explains Gautier Sergent.

Apivia, the winner of the Transat Jacques Vabre race back in October 2019, is also expected to be among the leading pack with L’Occitane en Provence, Charal and DMG Mori. Apivia’s skipper Charlie Dalin has also compared the new generation IMOCAs to sailing a multihull because of the rapid acceleration and potential to nosedive when over-canvassed. 

Tripon will have plenty of opportunities to discover what his new foiling creation is capable of during the long legs across the North Atlantic next month.


The Boss is back

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