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Juan Kouyoumdjian: “The IMOCAs are fantastic laboratories to try out innovations”

Gaia Coretti / JYD
Gaia Coretti / JYD

The Franco-Argentinean designer, Juan Kouyoumdjian, recently chosen to design Sébastien Simon’s future Arkea-Paprec, is making a return to the IMOCA circuit. After Pindar (2008) and Cheminées Poujoulat (2012), the very famous architect known as Juan K is now looking at his third 60-foot IMOCA with the aim of designing and fine-tuning a boat to win the next Vendée Globe. We met up with him to find out more.


Juan, how do you feel about returning to the IMOCA circuit and the Vendée Globe in particular?

“It’s a huge satisfaction. I’m very lucky to be able to work with a highly professional team, who have the means to succeed. My past experience in the Vendée Globe is interesting. The first IMOCA I came up with, Pindar, was definitely not designed for the solo round the world race. Her owner did not want to sail single-handed or even double-handed, so the boat was meant for a crew. However, the 60-foot boat finished the 2008-2009 Vendée Globe in fifth place (in the hands of the British sailor, Brian Thompson, editor’s note). The second IMOCA on which I worked, Cheminées Poujoulat, was special, as her skipper, Bernard Stamm had some very special requests. The specifications were very personal, yet she did well in the races she took part in. For a long time, Bernard was one of the three frontrunners in the 2012-2013 Vendée Globe, before encountering some electrical difficulties. This new project in collaboration with Sébastien Simon and his technical director, Vincent Riou, is going to allow me to turn the page with a top class team.”


It seems that there is a lot going on between Sébastien Simon and Vincent Riou. Is that going to be key to the successful design of a winning boat?

When Sébastien and Vincent came to see me in Valencia, I did indeed see that there was a strong understanding between them. That is vital, especially in the context of the Vendée Globe, which is truly a solo race. The target is to come up with something specifically for the sailor. It’s down to him to draw up the specifications and determine the way in which he is going to use his boat. That has a strong influence on the design process.  I’ve known Vincent for a long time and we have already worked together. As for Sébastien, I was impressed by his ability to come up with the right questions. Thanks to his engineering background, he has a clear vision of where he wants to go. His youthfulness, his desire and talent, coupled with my experience and Vincent’s, should allow us to work well together.”


“The architect’s work doesn’t end with the design phase”

For a naval architect, an IMOCA and the Vendée Globe are a great opportunity to allow you to express yourself…

Yes, it’s fantastic. In the world of monohull sailing today, the Vendée Globe is a unique opportunity to innovate and freely express one’s potential. Working on the development of an Open 60 project is intellectually fascinating. The IMOCAs are incredible laboratories, and we can continue to push back the frontiers in terms of research.”


You are not only involved in the design of the boat, but also in its development until 2020. That is not very common in the IMOCA context…
That’s true, the IMOCA circuit is increasingly professional and once the boat is in the water, the teams take over. Those in the “premiership” can do well and know where they can make gains in terms of performance. But Sébastien Simon and Vincent Riou laid down their conditions: they wanted the designer to stay with them during the fine-tuning process. That is something I am looking forward to. An architect’s work doesn’t end with the design phase, as there is a lot to gain once the boat has been launched.”


“Finding the right configuration to win the Vendée Globe”

Have you signed an exclusivity clause with Sébastien Simon for the next Vendée Globe ?

Not in the true sense. Having said that, if another sailor asked me to work on a new IMOCA, Sébastien could oppose his veto, if he sees them as a close rival. For me, it seems normal to work on one project with the aim of winning the Vendée Globe. We did well to put that clause in place, as last month two racers came to see me about a new boat. Sébastien thought they were very serious and so I turned them down... ”


What can you tell us today about the possible design features of the future Arkea-Paprec?
I can see the boat in my mind. Intuitively, I know what we are aiming for, but we have to keep an open mind and analyse all the possibilities. We are trying to examine all the choices that remain open in the class rules. In an Open class, there are an infinite number of possibilities. It is impossible to design an IMOCA, which sails well in every condition and point of sail. We have to make compromises to find the right combination to win the Vendée Globe. From that point of view, working with Vincent Riou is a huge advantage. He gives us a lot of help in determining that configuration. His involvement is priceless. This period in which we are looking at all the different possibilities will soon be over and then we’ll be in the construction and fine-tuning phases. But in reality, the design work never ends. On the eve of the start of the Vendée Globe, we will still be getting ideas. That’s what happens in this job and what makes it so fantastic.”

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