Rigged for a record

Later this year an all-UK team hopes its groundbreaking technology can set a new record in the world’s only single-handed non-stop yacht race. Siobhan Wagner reports

One of the world’s most technically advanced ocean-going yachts could be representing the UK in the Vendée Globe — a non-stop race around the planet which starts on the west coast of France in November.

The race is designed specifically for IMOCA Open 60 Class yachts, and Artemis 60 will be skippered by 33-year-old Jonny Malbon, from the Isle of Wight, who will sail his craft through the many perils — including icebergs, hurricanes and mountainous waves — awaiting competitors in the world’s only single-handed non-stop yacht race.

Founded in 1989, the race has taken place every four years since 1992. The last winner, France’s Vincent Riou, finished in 87 days, 10 hours and 47 minutes in 2005, so this is the time Malbon will be aiming to beat.

And this is where he and the Artemis 60 research team hope their technologically-advanced yacht will come into its own.

The hull, for example, was designed by technical director Simon Rogers, and features a 10mm step that runs transversely across the craft, effectively ventilating the underside of the hull and reducing drag, which in turn increases speed. The design, originated by the speedboat industry and adapted by Rogers’s team for sailing, is expected to be one of the key features that will help increase the yacht’s speed to a maximum 35 knots.

Rogers said the step might also promote planing, which is when the boat rises slightly out of the water so it glides over instead of ploughing through it. ‘However, it’s difficult to know if the step is big or small enough,’ he added.

The final yacht design was decided on after putting 50 different models through a special weather routing software that simulated race routes around the world with expected conditions.

‘We ran about 10,000 simulations around the world,’ said Rogers. The team ran the yachts in groups of five. They then took the best of the five and put them through the next race. Rogers said product design software CATIA from Dassault Systèmes was integral to this operation.

‘We used CATIA mainly because it is highly parametric, and with the hulls changing daily it allowed us to leave the decision of the hull design to the last minute,’ he said.

The biggest challenge was deciding how big to make the step and where to put it. The reason steps aren’t normally used on sailing boats is because of control and stability issues. While speedboats are naturally even keeled and balanced, sailboats lean over, or heel, with the force of wind on the sails. Rogers said Open 60s have a 10º stability rule, which means a boat cannot heel more than that amount when static.

Therefore the team developed a way to ensure the craft maintained stability using the internal water ballast tank. This is accomplished by filling the tank while going upwind to stabilise the yacht and emptying it when going downwind for less weight.

Rogers — son of Jeremy, who designed the popular Contessa yacht range in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s — said software played an integral role in the design of the internal water ballast tank.

‘With CATIA we can change the centre of buoyancy or the maximum weight of the tank with a click of a button,’ he said. ‘I don’t know how many times it ran the routine, but to do it manually would have taken weeks and weeks.’

Rogers’s company Rogers Yacht Design, founded in 1990, has been designing everything from dinghies to America’s Cup yachts.

This is his first experience with an Open 60, but he said he has been closely following the class for the past 20 years. He explained that the IMOCA Open 60 Class yacht is a fairly flexible design.

‘The class is like F1,’ he said. ‘You have a rule you design to. Yachts can’t be longer than 60ft or deeper than 4.5m and there is stability criteria we have to comply with. The craft are made almost entirely out of carbon, including the sails. There is a limitation on other materials, but apart from that the rules are pretty flexible.’

As well as the hull and ballast tank technology, Rogers’s team also came up with a new design concept for the wing rig (mast). For this, it relied on the help of aerospace specialists at Boeing, who ran several designs through computational fluid dynamics software.

Rogers said the rig is bigger than many others. ‘Most rigs are about 600mm at their maximum thickness. Ours is approaching a metre,’ he said.

The team also changed the position for the maximum thickness of the carbon rig. ‘We’re able to get about a 20-25 per cent reduction in drag on the section for the same lift,’ said Rogers. ‘We found a really sweet spot that worked engineering-wise and aeronautically.’

Rogers said Artemis 60 expects to be racing against some impressive competition this year. ‘The construction and techniques are improving every year,’ he said. ‘The build times for the craft have gone from what was about 20,000 to 25,000 hours to about 40,000 hours. They are much more complex and there is a lot more in them now.’

Other yachts have already qualified for the Vendée and Artemis 60 is the last one to launch, but Rogers said that is a good sign. ‘Ours is probably the most thought about and optimised craft in the race,’ he said.

While the team was still waiting for the qualifying round, they were already pumped up for the big race in November. ‘We’re extremely excited to be in an all-UK campaign,’ said Rogers. ‘The guys are really up for it and proud of this amazing bit of engineering.’

Artemis 60 may be packed with the latest technology but it is worth remembering that Malbon and the skippers of all the other craft are out there on the world’s oceans completely alone.
All the sailing and repairs have to be carried out single-handedly and the skippers will be disqualified if they go into port. They can only sleep when their boat is on autopilot. Rogers explained that they sleep in 10-minute sections. ‘If you get two hours sleep a day you are doing very well,’ he said.

Yachts are tracked by satellite every 11 minutes and each one is equipped with Inmarsat systems that allow them to send live video anywhere in the world. Every four hours they are sent weather information and positional data of all the other competitors.

With these daily hardships, many yachtsman regard Vendée as the most serious test of endurance and the ultimate in ocean racing.