Built using composite materials, IMOCA monohulls are designed to be as light as possible to favour speed, whilst also being fairly solid to withstand the worst possible conditions when racing on the open sea, particularly during the Vendée Globe.
These 60-footers really came into being in 1986, during the second edition of the BOC Challenge where five monohulls were reasonably proportioned at 18.28 metres (60 feet). Even back then, the most modern monohulls were already displaying the characteristics of boats designed for the downwind conditions of the Southern Ocean, namely a wide beam and a long waterline.
A few years later, in 1998, canting keels designed to increase the righting moment became the norm and computer systems became increasingly important for retrieving weather forecasts and communicating with land. Essential for singlehanded sailing, autopilots also gradually became more and more 'intelligent'.
Hulls and sail plans have also evolved, with boats becoming more powerful and featuring wider sterns and improved performance upwind. Cockpits have also become increasingly well protected, some boats even sporting sliding roof cuddies to protect the manoeuvring area.
The safety requirements imposed by the IMOCA class on both sailors and naval architects have contributed a great deal to the boat’s success. Since 2000, these monohulls have had to prove before a race start that they’re able to right themselves without outside assistance and guarantee they are watertight inside as well as extremely buoyant in the event of capsizing or water ingress.
With a minimum of twenty boats at the start of the Vendée Globe since 2000, today IMOCA is the biggest offshore class in the world. Consequently, the history of IMOCA and that of the Vendée Globe are one and the same.
Midway through the noughties, foils put in an appearance on the America's Cup multihulls and then very quickly began to grace some of the IMOCA monohulls. These lifting surfaces shaped like Dali moustaches enable the boat to 'plane', skimming over the surface of the water and thus limiting the water resistance and enabling the boat to accelerate quickly.
Six foilers took the start of the Vendée Globe 2016-17 (Banque Populiare VIII, Edmond de Rothschild, Hugo Boss, No Way Back, Safran, St-Michel-Virbac and Maître CoQ), two were forced to retire but the four ranked boats topped the final leader board headed by the winner and course record holder, Armel Le Cléac'h (74d 3h 35m 46s).
Since then, the class has opened up the measurement regarding how to trim the foils. As such, they have greater freedom of movement (up and down & fore and aft), stimulating the architects’ creativity all the more.
For the Vendée Globe 2020-21, eight new boats will be at the start, all equipped with the latest state-of-the-art foils. Observers believe that the event record might well be beaten by several days… making a circumnavigation of the globe in under 70 days a distinct possibility.
From 2021-22, this story will be shared with that of The Ocean Race, a crewed round the world race with stopovers.