Things have been heating up in the 100’ Maxi world since the early 2000s, with the emergence of beasts such as Don Jones’s Skandia, Brett Bakewell-White’s Konica-Minolta, Reichel-Pugh’s Wild Oats and more recently Juan K’s Rambler… Yet one consortium well known to round the world and high-octane multis enthusiasts is about to break in this very closed circle, with a radical take on the subject. We talk to Guillaume Verdier and Xavier Guilbaud of VPLP about “the project known as New3”.
Jocelyn Blériot – Initially published in Seahorse
“It all started in February 2013 when Ken Read contacted us through the North Sails office in Vannes (South Brittany, home to both Verdier and VPLP)”, Guillaume explains. Mandated by former Netscape boss and very keen racer Jim Clark, Read was keen to step off the beaten path and to try something new.” In order to come up, it has been said, with the “fastest monohull on the planet”. “Having sailed on Rambler”, continues Guillaume, “Ken had been impressed and thought that the logic could be pushed further… also, the speed that our boats displayed upwind on the Vendée Globe played a role in his decision to turn to us. I guess that this made him realize that the preconceived idea according to which our Open 60s are not good on that point of sail was just wrong. Three days after the initial phone call, Vincent Lauriot-Prévost and myself met with Read in the UK and we started working right away, it all was very quick and we’re all still busy with the project to this date. What Read and Clark wanted was a boat for the offshore classics, Sydney – Hobart being on top of the list, but also capable of attempting to break major records and why not to go around the world. They approached us without setting any limits and with a very open programme in mind: design-wise, we had a blank sheet and felt we were trusted completely.” With regards to the general philosophy,VPLP’s Xavier Guilbaud notes: “We did look very closely at Rambler and Wild Oats XI, and in the end New3 is much closer to the former. Wild Oats XI has had very good results, but in all fairness does not have a very strong opposition, whereas Rambler never obtained real results but proved very quick.” The skipper, taking input from his ‘wingmen’ Casey Smith and Tony Mutter, wished to explore ways to increase performance and was particularly interested in the solutions Verdier and VPLP had put in place with regards to the keel pin: “On our 60s it sits at an angle (the front end being higher that the lower one) so as to align the keel fin with the hull shapes when the boat is heeling. To go with that setup we worked on a setback sailplan position” (ed: an approach already clearly visible on Macif).
“We started by compiling lots of data regarding past races and records, crunching that up with about 25 years of weather observations. In parallel we designed hulls of variable widths and several options for the sailplan, and the conclusion we came to was that going the wide route was the way forward provided we could implement the angled keel pin solution. The type of hull we had in mind tend to sail with quite a bit of heeling angle most of the time – we’re talking 20 to 30º of heel – so we optimized the design for this specificity: with the kind of sail area these big racers carry as there’s always a lot of hands on deck, they heel pretty much all the time, not only upwind.” Xavier Guilbaud adds: “Given the width, it’s important to be able to reduce the wetted surface in light airs.” In terms of length, even if the designers started without any type of rules-related constraints, they ended up settling for 100’ because the team did not want to exceed that for practical reasons, and it made things easier for events such as Sydney – Hobart… as New3 will simply slot into an existing Maxi class. “To go back to the sailplan”, Verdier continues, “the configuration we have is quite similar to that of Banque Populaire V (Ed: the VPLP-designed trimaran, current Jules Verne Trophy holder). Since on the maxi trimaran the crew can handle the sail area with traditional winches, we thought that the same would apply to the maxi-mono, thus generating substantial savings and allowing the team to line up for proper offshore WSSRC ratified records if they felt like it.” Guilbaud, who has been with VPLP since 2000 and was heavily involved in the design office’s maxi-multi projects, adds: “When you think that New3 has roughly the same righting moment as the Groupama 3 tri in solo configuration, it’s quite staggering. And when we started talking about going manual only, Read and his team were very skeptical at first. That means a lot of big guys on deck, but has many advantages, notably on a course like the North Atlantic where the weight of the fuel that would be required to power the systems is not negligible. To my knowledge, New3 is the first Maxi of its type to go fully manual” Hearing between the lines, if such a thing exists, it’s also pretty obvious that neither Verdier nor the VPLP crew would have appreciated fitting this radical racer with push buttons…
“One of the big factors we haven’t mentioned yet is draft”, says Guillaume, “and even though I’m not at liberty to disclose the exact figure, I think it’s safe to say we designed the longest keel that has ever been seen on a maxi of that type. Basically, we looked at all the harbours the boat is likely to end up it, and went to the maximum of what this logistical constraint would allow. All things considered it does remain in the spirit of a ‘blown up’ Open 60, notably if you look at the fact that it’s fitted with off-centre ballasts. For regulation-enforced safety reasons we have to have these really low down in the boat, as it must not capsize even when reaching 110º of heel. ” What does differentiate New3 from a Vendée racer, though, is the fact that it has a lower freeboard, whilst at the same time being 12 metres longer and 8 metres wide! Undoubtedly, the visual impact should be in the red zone and generate quite a bit of photography from the very first outing… The daggerboard configuration is reasonably traditional in the sense that, at least for its first incarnation, New3 does not rely on curved foils: twin straight – but tapered – daggerboards sit at 10º of angle, providing a bit of lift. “We have looked at many different solutions”, explains Xavier, “but given the time constraints felt the safe option was to launch with a proven configuration – yet this particular aspect is one that surely will be part of the boat’s evolution in the future, as many developments are possible.”
In order to be ready in time for the start in Sydney on December the 26th, decisions had to be made quickly, and it’s certainly one of the remarkable features of a plan which so far looks perfectly executed. Guillaume explains: “Construction started very quickly under the supervision of Tim Hacket and Brandon Linton, two really extraordinary characters with a very impressive track record (Puma VO70, Wild Oats, Artemis AC72…), at Hodgdon Yachts in Maine. The boat will be launched at the end of August to undergo sea trials on the East Coast, and then it will be shipped by cargo to Australia. The timing was always going to be tight, but we’re right on par as we speak, no delays whatsoever so far… I think it’s a masterpiece in terms of project management, quality of work and sticking to deadlines – the whole affair probably amounts to about 120,000 man hours. Structurally we received the support of people from Team New Zealand, notably Giovanni Belgrano who helped us verify our designs and make sure we were OK to pass the Germanischer Lloyd tests as required by Sydney to Hobart organisers.” With huge loads needing to be withheld – think for instance that the Cariboni tailor-made keel ram can take 600 tonnes before breaking – structural work was of particular importance and Guillaume designed one of his trademark tight, mesh-like “grid” not dissimilar in terms of underlying logic to the ramifications found in a tree leaf. “We also have a monolithic portion in the impact zone, as the efforts will be so important that we did not trust a sandwich.” As part of the commando operation, team members of VPLP/Verdier have stayed on site to assist the build team in Maine. “It makes a huge difference”, notes Xavier, “as the build team have someone at hand who can answer their questions on the spot… As a result, we are also much more involved in the details and some things we would leave to the technical crew on other projects we provide input in in this case. It allows us to learn a lot, and to get a good window into that anglo-saxon world we knew very little of so far.”
Both designers are clear on the fact that New3 will not strictly-speaking revolutionise the Maxi world, but acknowledge that it definitely brings a new dimension to the game, and as such will be under heavy scrutiny as soon as it touches the water this summer. “We know there is quite a bit of noise around New3 already, people talk and are intrigued so naturally, if our approach proves conclusive, we’ll get good exposure on a scene we’ve up until now been absent of.” A sentiment echoed by Guillaume: “A chance to design a boat of this caliber does not come up very often, and we’ve been extremely fortunate to be trusted with that project. We’ve done the best job possible and used the full extent of our knowledge to date.”