They had this crazy ambition, the big flying boats, to surf above the foam, to affirm their technological excellence and to embody the future of sailing. Yes, in 2018, the Ultimes attracted all eyes at the start of the previous Route du Rhum, rare and expensive birds, brilliant plumage, vibrant song. And then quite quickly the swan song.
Bad sea conditions, and immediately breakage on many floors. Out of six starters, four boats suffered damage, the worst hitting the People’s Bank IX of Armel Le Cléac’h, capsized off the Azores. XXL fright for the skipper finally recovered by Portuguese fishermen. “It was a real trauma for me, my team and the sponsor: we had all been in sailing for a long time without ever having experienced a major breakage.he says. It was very brutal, and we then went into “never again” mode. With one priority: safety. »
The team can still recover the data recorded on the destroyed trimaran, and realize the unsuitability of certain structures. Weak points are identified on the front arm of the boat which connects the three hulls. The copy is revised for the new People’s Bank XI launched in April 2021, and the decision is made to double the initial structure of the arm, even if it means increasing the weight, the sailor’s worst enemy. Everything, rather than still knowing, in the event of an accident, the loss of the boat.
A hundred sensors per boat
Had they gone too far too fast, these Ultimates first clashing four years ago. “We then had no hindsight and no notion of the power we had in our hands.concedes Thomas Coville, the skipper of Sodebo, forced in 2018 to divert to repair a crack on a hull-float link arm. As soon as we got back, we all discussed with the engineers, saying to ourselves: we can no longer navigate like this on testosterone, to whoever is the least afraid. We need to better understand the forces at play.”
Most skippers have therefore fitted their boats with sensors on the floats, foils and masts to measure the loads and forces their mounts are subjected to. Dozens of meters of optical fiber make it possible to recover this data, duly analyzed in each team. “A technician draws up regular reports with us to see whether or not we are approaching certain critical thresholds, and if we exceed 75% or more, we reworkexplains Thomas Coville. These are human resources that we did not have before. »
“In theory, it works”
The data thus collected was widely shared, in particular between Armel Le Cléac’h, Thomas Coville and Charles Caudrelier, who is a favorite on this Route du Rhum with his Maxi Edmond de Rothschild.“There was a real solidarity that benefited everyone”assures Armel Le Cléac’h. “It’s healthysupports Thomas Coville. The empirical work could no longer continue. These are months and months of analyzes and experiments, but when the figures are confirmed by the sensations during navigation, they become what are called “indisputable”. I also made myself a T-shirt with this great sentence: one day, I will go live in theory, because in theory, it works “.
These sensors, permanently connected, can also be used to set alarms, warning the solo sailor and calling for his vigilance. “We can run the machine much smarter”, notes Armel Le Cléac’h. Thomas Coville confesses that he now feels ” lost “ without these parameters constituting for him a real navigation aid. “In any case, I am a thousand times more serene today than four years ago.he swears. I didn’t expect to make so much progress so quickly with this boat. »
A few days before the start, it was therefore a quiet optimism that reigned on the Quai des Ultimes, disproportionate to the tension felt in 2018. “It’s our first solo sailor since, it’s up to us to write history and show the progress madeconcludes Armel Le Cléac’h. To finally do this beautiful race that eluded us four years ago, it would be just magical. »