There are few individuals who you could imagine tracking the progress of Arkea Ultim Challenge race leader Charles Caudrelier any closer than Guillaume Verdier – the French designer of Caudrelier’s Maxi Edmond de Rothschild 100-foot foiling trimaran.
While the rest of the six boat fleet have suffered breakdowns and/or been forced into pit stops during the opening fortnight of this inaugural Ultim solo around the world race, Caudrelier has so far been issue free and today holds a lead on more than 2,000 nautical miles over second placed Thomas Coville on Sodebo Ultim 3.
Despite this race being Caudrelier’s first ever solo around-the-world race the French skipper has been setting records as he goes, with new benchmark times for the passages from Ushant to Australia’s Cape Leeuwin, and from Cape Agulhas in South Africa and the longitude of Tasmania’s Cape South East.
It’s a performance that Verdier says he had suspected was possible prior to the race, but one he certainly had not predicted – as he explains in this interview with Arkea Ultim Challenge website.
Is this race as you imagined it might be Guillaume?
I just don’t make predictions of these kinds of things. I just don’t. In terms of speeds it is what I thought, yes, but I did not have a vision that it would happen like this or like that. I just don’t do predictions. I have enough experience not to expect anything or predict anything. I just cross my fingers.
But they are going fast, Charles is fast and going well. He is not supposed to be going at crazy speeds, we don’t want him to damage the boat in this position, but what is remarkable is these boats are a lot more comfortable than Open 60s. They are going much faster and are much more comfortable. I really wish the Open 60s would understand this, that by allowing us to have elevators on the rudders they could fix a lot of their problems slamming and damaging their boats and the skippers.
This race is making a good show. Yes there are maybe not enough boats and not enough competition right now, but it is a good show for the architecture and design.
And how closely are you monitoring Maxi Edmond de Rothschild?
I watch the performance of Gitana all the time because we are in the process of designing other boats and it is very interesting looking at downgraded performance, that is to say not the optimum (theoretical) performance. I am quite impressed seeing 840 mile days, even though it has been done before, it is still quite remarkable especially as Charles is not out to beat the record but is at a normal racing speed, not pushing himself like crazy. It is very remarkable.
How much has Maxi Edmond de Rothschild improved for this season?
The boat is a little bit better in terms of safety and the appendages used to damage themselves a little bit because of cavitation. Each year we move forward and improve on the cavitation and make sure we don’t lose bits of composite just through cavitation. Cavitation on these boats when you sail them above 40 knots looks like where you have shot bullets with a gun on the appendages, it just rips away the carbon and so we try to improve that all the time. It is not easy, pushing it all the time, widening the cavitation bucket and so on. It is always a compromise. You always have to compromise. Gitana seems to be reliable.
Are we seeing that Gitana is more reliable because it has had a longer development and optimising lifecycle?
We had many problems in the past that a lot of them are fixed now, starting from the trailing edge of the foils which got damaged, cavitation which ripped apart the appendages, the fairing that broke off and non structural pieces, so it looks like – well, no, it is not even half way yet, so let’s not say anything now.
And what are you learning for the next boats?
I learned that you are still fighting, they want the boat to be the ultimate light weight and for me it has to be reliable, that is my goal. Reliability comes first for me, by a long, long way. Otherwise you are just designing a boat to race in front of the boatyard only! They always want the boat faster and lighter.. But I cannot talk about the new boat.
What is the key design difference between Gitana and the other new generation Ultims?
Gitana is a boat which has big, high floats and I pushed for that at the start to spread the torsion. If you have little floats on a big main hull when you go through waves with flexi arms and a lot of curvature in the arms when you go through waves that tends to make a lot of movement of the float and the arms and the main hull is the very stiff object in torsion.
I wanted to spread the torsion more equally between the three so I would have very accurate foil controls. I wanted accuracy in my appendages and so stiffness was a priority. And having floats which are narrow and high, ours are very narrow on Gitana, to go through waves well, and very high for torsion reasons.
You pay a price for that in weight but for me it helps you in control. And it seems SVR does well too though it is a smaller hull section and beams which are smaller. You need to make a lot of material on the small sections to make it stiff or equivalent. That was my philosophy, making it narrow to go through waves.
Does that hold true for the new boat?
I am not allowed to talk about the new boat whether it is a catamaran, a trimaran – or a quadramaran with two masts! (laughs)
What are your other observations about the race and where we are on ocean racing right now?
The race is interesting. I was really worried because you cross your fingers, there is so much luck involved in not having a collision, things like that we design boats to be safer for collisions. The first objective in design is avoiding collisions, also to be sustainable. The idea of hitting an object at speed is so scary.
Sailing is still a beautiful example of ecology, in my opinion, and it is a good experimental project to show how you can use so much wind energy power and from other sources to load up battery packs. I would be so in favour of future races that we allow the accumulation of energy as an example to the population that we don’t need fuels.
What more can we do, are there more solutions to avoid damage from collisions?
I think probably, like collecting energy there needs to be different approaches so that the best one prevails. I was on the Quebec Saint Malo race before where the fishermen are among a lot of whales. They say you have to leave the music on, or make some noise, that was the experience of the fishermen in the Saint Lawrence area.
And we look at other technical ways with thermal cameras, with masthead cameras. The masthead cameras are not always efficient because the masthead is moving a lot and keeping the camera focused on one point is hard, and sometimes you may see a difference in temperature but it is moving a lot in the waves, it is hard also. That was the experience in 2011 with Safran originally and it was so hard to spot. Some frequencies in the water disturb the mammals or sonar.
I think we need to keep working on it and the best way will likely be a combination of these things. But we cannot keep hitting mammals. Fishermen and cargo ships have not tried to solve the problem and they are doing the same things. They don’t talk about it but we need to find solutions to this for us and them as we all use the oceans.
Do you lose more or less sleep following this race or the Vendée Globe?
The Vendée Globe is more stressful for me. I am not sure why, it lasts longer and now the boats are stupidly brutal in the Vendée Globe, it is like having the shock of a hammer. But we are getting better all the time offshore.