A new boat for Armel Le Cléac’h, thirty months after the sinking of 2018 which had pulverized the previous one. A new youth and a new skipper, Yves Le Blévec, for Actual, the old one Macif by François Gabart on whom the skipper had beaten the record for single-handed round the world … These two good news are blowing a wind of optimism on the Ultim class, a gauge reserved for giant multihulls measuring between 23 and 32 m, which has seen many setbacks in recent years.
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Launched in the euphoria of the 2010s, very favorable to ocean racing and sailing sponsorship, the class is coming out of three difficult years. The Route du Rhum 2018 was catastrophic, with damage to three of the five boats entered, including that of Armel Le Cléac’h shattered off Spain. 2019 was brackish, with only one race on the program. And 2020 completely empty, due to the Covid, but also to the failure of the two attempts at a world record in crews, that of Sodebo (Thomas Coville) and Gitana (Franck Cammas).
The renunciation of these two great sailors in November and December 2020, in the middle of the Vendée Globe, has gone unnoticed. Sign that the cameras had changed lens, focused on a thrilling human scale race, without a record at the end, which gave France a great breath of fresh air in the heart of this epidemic winter. The Imocas, the monohulls of the Vendée Globe, have taken on all the light, throwing the ultra-powerful multihulls into the shadows. Their technology-packed spaceship side then appeared to be out of step with the times.
“Do not oppose the genres”
“I think that we should not oppose the genres, this Vendée Globe has been magnificent but atypical”, explains its former winner, François Gabart, boss of MerConcept, the shipyard that built the Apivia by Charlie Dalin, ranked second at Les Sables d’Olonne. “We highlight the human side, the relative slowness of the Vendée Globe, but under normal weather conditions, the most recent boats would have broken records”, he continues.
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A handsome player, he looks very favorably on the launching of the boat of his historic competitor, Armel Le Cléach ‘, even if his own project remains docked. The decision in 2020 of Macif, his usual partner to withdraw from the Ultim class while continuing his action in other categories, had struck a thunderbolt in the world of ocean racing. Especially since it had intervened even though its new “multi” was in the middle of the construction site.
Did it sound the end of the category? This is the question regularly asked to Jean-Bernard Le Boucher, long at the helm of Macif’s sailing sponsorship program and future boss of the Ultim class as soon as he retires in June 2021. “I will not comment on Macif’s decision, he warns, the work has been continued and the boat will be launched in June with a new partner that we are actively looking for, but that does not call into question the class, in which I firmly believe. There is room for everyone on the water and large multihulls keep a major role ”.
“We don’t measure the limits yet”
Which ? “The desire of men to go as quickly as possible on the water thanks to the wind will not be denied, these boats remain magnificent laboratories and dream machines”, observes, for his part, Emmanuel Bachellerie, organizer of the Brest Atlantique race and the new owner of one of the seven Ultim in activity (see opposite). “It’s a development class, the advancements of which benefit everyone. Foils were developed on multis, I am convinced of the potential of the category and its boats, the limits of which we do not yet measure ”, continues François Gabart.
The forty days wall for a crewed round-the-world trip (Jules Verne trophy) stands. But not for long, believes the skipper-engineer, who would see the thirty-day bar crossed within ten years. “By provocation, I often say that I will see a sailboat in my lifetime go around in a week”, smiles François Gabart, 38 years old. Jean-Bernard Le Boucher, future boss of the class, does not see so far. “Things have to be reorganized in order to give more visibility to these boats to justify the investments of the partners, he explains, we started on the basis of one big race per year, which is not enough, it is still too early to make announcements but we are working on it ”.
Seven boats launched around the world in 2023
The Ultim class boats already have two events on the program: the Jacques Vabre double-handed Transat (November 2021) and the Route du Rhum (single-handed transatlantic, 2022). But their main objective remains the Brest Oceans 2023 project, a promising solo race around the world. Seven boats are already in the running: some like “Actual”, “Banque populaire”, “Gitana”, “Idhec” and “Sodebo” already have a sponsor and a skipper. Two are still looking for an available sponsor and skipper: “M101” prepared by François Gabart and “Brest Ultime Sailing”.