January 2014 witnessed a whole series of announcements within the IMOCA class, which notably included four projects already gearing themselves up for the next Vendée Globe. ‘Repeat offenders’ or rookies, the four competing sailors are brimming with talent. Most significantly this announcement will enable the impact of the new class rules relating to the definition of the new boats to be measured.
Following on from the Transat Jacques Vabre, which saw victory go to Vincent Riou and Jean Le Cam on PRB at the front of a fleet which surprised observers by its uniformity, it is now time for the major projects to take centre stage and already certain racing stables are getting themselves into full working order for the upcoming events.
With Safran the emphasis is very much on playing the youth card as the stable is entrusting the helm of the next IMOCA prototype to Morgan Lagravière, French Offshore Racing Champion in the Figaro Bénéteau in 2012… Hailing from an Olympic sailing background, Morgan has enjoyed a meteoric rise. Immediately compelling recognition within the Figaro circuit, whose demanding nature spectators are all too familiar with, he has now stepped things up another gear. Indeed his career thus far is not dissimilar to that of a certain François Gabart. For 2014, Morgan will be Marc Guillemot’s appointed crew during the New York – Barcelona Race, and may well step aboard for the Barcelona World Race too. Sporting the colours of Safran this sailor currently has moments where he feels as if he’s in a dream and moments of great lucidity: “It’s an exceptional opportunity for me, which is totally in line with my aspirations. I’m a competitor and there’s no way I would set off on a Vendée Globe without setting my sights on a good result. This is the perfect recipe: I have the opportunity to learn alongside Marc (Guillemot), who will give me the necessary leg up and I’ll have a new boat, which is just magical… I think I’ll only really grasp what this all means when I step aboard Safran.”
Another candidate, Armel le Cléac’h is returning to the fray, again sporting the colours of Banque Populaire. In order to secure a new boat, the mutual benefit bank has joined forces with the Safran group to pool build costs for the construction of two new prototypes. Designed by Guillaume Verdier and VPLP, the two craft will benefit from the same mould and the same appendages. The only likely difference is the ergonomics of the deck layout, which will adhere to the demands of each skipper. This particular evolution perfectly ties in with the thinking of the IMOCA Class, whose aim has always been to control the manufacturing costs of the new craft.
A further two sailors have announced their intention to be among the contenders in November 2016. In the United Kingdom, Alex Thomson has renewed his partnership with Hugo Boss and the British sailor has already announced an intensive sailing programme including the New York – Barcelona and the Barcelona World Race (double-handed with Pepe Ribes). A decision is yet to be made about the construction of a new boat or the revamping of an existing craft.
Sébastien Josse has the same dilemma and after a fruitful period on a multihull he is returning to his first love with the Gitana Team. “I’ve never made any secret of my desire to return to a race I find thrilling, particularly given that my last experience proved to be a little frustrating. Today, we’ve validated the principle, but we haven’t yet made the choice between building a new boat or improving on a former boat…” Sébastien doesn’t yet know, given that it’s a new class rule, which of the solutions present the best ratio between the cost of construction and the potential gain in speed. “This new class rule creates a degree of uncertainty. We will be waiting for things to become a bit clearer before making our decision about whether or not we need to open new unexplored avenues or work on improving the existing…” This is perhaps to its credit that the new class rule opens discussion.