Pindar's latest Open 60 campaign hasn't got off to the best of starts. Designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian, their first brand new boat is extreme, even by Open 60 standards, but suffered a dismasting during the Artemis Round the Island Race last August The rig was repaired, but moments out from arriving in Le Havre last autumn prior to the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre, she dismasted again. The boat has also had a change of skipper, Mike Sanderson being poached to run TeamOrigin, his seaboots being ably filled by Brian Thompson.
When we catch up with him Thompson won't reveal too much about the cause of the rig failures, but it doesn't take too much to figure out roughly the area at fault. At 30m off the deck the Southern Spars-built mast was the tallest in the IMOCA 60 fleet and had the added complication of being a rotating wing that could be canted fore and aft as could be done on the late great ORMA 60 trimarans, but on this occasion through the use of hydraulic deck spreaders, allowing a change in rake of up to 3 degrees. Very cunning.
"It is a great idea because it gets more rig tension on, which is the problem with these boats, but it obviously increases the compression on the rig. And it allows you to have different rakes. The multihulls have done it for years very effectively," explains Thompson, who remains adamant that this wasn't the cause of the dismastings.
IMOCA are known to have been unhappy about Pindar's rakeable rig. Thomas Coville's Sodebo Open 60 back in the late 1990s was originally fitted with a rotating spar that could cant laterally and despite winning the Transat Jacques Vabre this development was banned by the class. Prohibiting the ability to change rake while sailing is expected to be an amendment to the IMOCA rule when it is revisited next year, as part of the class' on-going efforts to keep a lid on cost.
To sidestep potential issues with the class, Pindar's new rig will not include the canting hydraulic outriggers/deck spreaders as Thompson confirms they are removing them. One of the reasons for this is that the boat was originally conceived by Mike Sanderson primarily for use in the Atlantic. Since taking the helm, Thompson has agreed to race the boat in the Vendee Globe and acknowledges that the original rig set-up was probably too extreme for this race.
The new rig will be fixed on its original aft rake configuration. "Most of the sails were set on the aft rake anyway," Thompson continues. "We'll be slower on the Artemis Transat because we'll be on aft rake, but for the Vendee I think we'll probably be quicker to Cape Horn and we won't be so worried by a tiny bit more headstay drag."
So why have there been so many dismastings in the IMOCA fleet recently? The obvious reason would seem to be that the power of the rigs has scaled up dramatically while all-up tube weights haven't as designers have attempted to shed weight aloft. This may be the prime cause, however the dismastings all seem to have occurred in different ways – a fitting failure here, peel ply believed to have been found in the laminate in another example and one being hammered through the Southern Ocean with the highly unstable sail combination of two reefs in the main and a masthead code zero. It should be remembered that in the IMOCA class, there are no constraints on the rig – hence the dramatic design developments and variations between set-ups – whereas in the Volvo Ocean Race the design box for masts results in them being virtually bulletproof, but is so tight they are almost one design.
"It may be people have been pushing the weight issue quite hard," says Thompson of the spate of dismastings. "I think now it is going to go back and people will be pushing reliability. Also the way people sail their boats, especially downwind when you are stuffing it into waves. How do you set up the rig so that it is most stable in those conditions when you are having those big loads? You want to balance the sails and keep the bow out of the water."
Pindar's new spar has been designed by French specialist engineer Herve Devaux and is being built by Lorimar, not because the team have any issues with Southern Spars – boats with Lorimar spars have also dismasted recently. As a spar manufacturer Lorimar have the most experience when it comes to building rotating wingmasts, something they have done for many of the most successful ORMA 60s and G-Class maxi-multihulls. There is also a major time constraint. Even with the new mast being completed at the end of March and the boat sailing in early April, this will leave just over a month prior to the first major event of the season, the Artemis Transat, starting on 11 May.
While Thompson says the whole ethos about the boat now is to ensure its reliability with the Vendee Globe in mind, contrary to rumour the new rig won't be shorter. "We haven't sailed it enough, but it didn't feel too bad when we did. The beam is amazing gybing. You pin the boat with the main in the centre and the thing is totally stable. Most boats are very unstable in that configuration. You put the new runner on and you can ease the old runner off before you gybe.."
No modifications are being made to the hull, however they will be adding extra protection around the cockpit ready for the Vendee Globe. The sides of the coachroof are being extended aft down either side of the cockpit and Thompson says they will fit a small sliding roof, like Foncia's but not so big. More electronics are also having to be added to get the boat Vendee Globe ready. This includes the fitting of a Fleet 77 satcom unit and AIS vessel tracking, now mandatory for the Vendee. In addition to this, as part of Pindar's alignment with the international environmental charity, Earthwatch, Thompson says that they will also be equipping the boat to make maximum use of alternative energy devices such as wind generators and solar panels.
Pindar's performance in the Artemis Transat will be interesting to observe. Despite her rig being fixed in its ‘aft' rake position, the boat still has many positive attributes to get her quickly across the North Atlantic against the prevailing winds, with giant daggerboards and vast stability through having a beamier hull and as a result more water ballast and a very much heavier bulb than the rest of the fleet. "If you have more beam, you need a bigger bulb to heel the boat to 10deg and your ballast is further off the sailing centreline of the boat. The whole boat gets heavier," says Thompson. While the displacement of most of the new Open 60s is around the 8-9 tonne mark, with the new Pindar it is believed to be in excess of 11.
"It is substantially heavier than the other Open 60s, but a lot of that is in the bulb," says Thompson. "So I would say light airs performance we won't get nailed because we have got a taller rig, but we are not going to be quicker than Safran. We are hoping that in the low teens of wind speed, then we'll have an advantage."
Because of the time constraint between relaunching and the Artemis Transat, Thompson says they will probably stay in Lorient to train rather than returning to Gosport. There is also the possibility of joining in the Open 60 training out of the famous Figaro school in nearby Port la Foret. After the Transat they will probably sail the boat back with two or three crew on board, but in Vendee Globe mode. Then there is the Round the Island Race and again in the Artemis Round the Island Race during Cowes Week. This will be followed by a refit prior to the main event, the Vendee Globe, starting on 9 November.
So will the new Pindar be a rocket ship compared to the competition? Certainly in Thompson, a man with more large multihull racing experience than anyone in the UK, they have the right man to find out.
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