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IMOCA General Meeting – Technical decryption

The General Meeting on 19 April 2013 targeted two very important dossiers for IMOCA, which had been under study since 2011.

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The Meeting, which was held in Barcelona in June 2011 requested that IMOCA’s Executive Committee continued its study (initiated in January) into the evolution of the class measurement with the aim of having simpler, more reliable, less costly boats, whilst retaining a certain freedom of design.

Two years on, IMOCA has decided its future, by respecting the Committee’s wishes and its two outlines for consideration. The objectives were ambitious:

  • to reduce costs
  • to make the boats reliable
  • to simplify the boats
  • to improve accessibility
  • to follow up the transition

Prior to coming to a decision about the global evolution of its class measurement, the General Meeting has adopted a change in the rules relating to the design and construction of the keels. From now on, all the new keels must be made from a single piece of forged stainless steel. The safety factors have been revised and increased, new load cases have been enforced and the frequencies specific to these increased. The standardised keel for the new boats will adhere to these criteria.

The first aim, namely that of reducing the costs, is doubtless the hardest to achieve, especially in a professional mechanical sport. It’s this objective, which led the Class’ directors to examine the standardisation of the boats.

This solution wasn’t retained by the Meeting, which opted instead to reserve a certain architectural freedom.

It was the alternative solution with a standardised keel and mast, which was retained by the majority of the members.

This solution, which leaves a lot of freedom in the hull design, respects all the set objectives in part:

- To reduce costs:

  • the standardisation of keels and masts brings about a saving. Studies are pooled, construction is optimised and customised development is forbidden.
    These items will be less expensive, both in terms of purchase price and running costs.
  • In terms of investment, the keel and mast are transformed into bankable items. Furthermore the standardisation of the rig creates a second-hand market for the sails, which is an advantage for less wealthy projects.

 

- To make the boats reliable

  • IMOCA focused on its two weak points and here too the answer came down to the standardisation of the keels and masts. These two items will benefit from the Class’ vast experience and will no longer be the subject of competition and hence risk-taking.
  • It was essential for the keel, the breakage of which can put the skipper’s life in danger. The level of complexity in this element is such that even the best projects can experience problems.
  • The standardisation will be beneficial on the masts which could no longer be insured and whose loss leads to very serious damage and retirement from races.

- To simplify the boats

  • The removal of the 10° test and the AVS provides architectural freedom and restricts the need to have ballast tanks.
  • The construction and control of the ballast tanks was very complex.
  • For all that, the boat loses nothing in terms of safety, with a better AVSwc, the angle at which the boat capsizes in the worst conditions increases from 110° to 114° (in 2009 it was 108°).
  • The power of the boat is limited to 22T/m at a heeling angle of 25°, which means that the power is now taken into account in actual sailing conditions.

- To improve accessibility

  • The simplification of the boats contributes to it
  • The standardisation of the keels and masts simplifies the design dossier; it restricts the fields of research linked to the boats’ performance and should thus enable more high performance projects. It’s a step forward in attracting young skippers and internationalisation, which tends to favour the quality of the sailor and the athlete.
  • The banning of the use of overly sophisticated materials will limit technological and budgetary excesses

- To follow up the transition

It was an essential matter, which was taken into account in all the proposed evolutions.

It was a question of preserving the existing fleet and offering solutions for the new boats, which enabled uniformity amongst the fleet.

Key points:

  • the existing boats can continue competing in the 2012 class measurement
  • the change of keel is recommended on all the boats which don’t have a forged steel keel and any boats which don’t switch keels will have to have a compensatory weight added in the name of sporting equity.
  • The existing boat can switch to the new class measurement with few modifications as all the criteria of the new class measurement have taken into account the condition of the current fleet. They’ll notably be able to retain their mast.
  • Though the new boats will have to have the new keel and mast, these will be very similar to the existing ones and their investment will be guaranteed in terms of performance.

To resume, the technical criteria retained by the new rules will contribute to the reliability of the boats. This will have an impact on their ability to compete, whilst taking fewer risks. The fear of breakage will not be so great, which should encourage the skippers to participate in all the championship races.

Though the keels and masts remain the most exposed elements, they will be interchangeable and any damage to them will no longer call into question the presence of the boats at the most important meetings.

This is in line with the thinking voiced by the race organisers and the IMOCA championship.


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