Yesterday, two months to the day until the much awaited start of the Vendée Globe, the monohull in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group got a taste of the ocean again during sail trials in the bay of Quiberon, Brittany.
It was a moment of enjoyment for the Gitana Team who have worked without respite the whole summer to provide their skipper with a meticulously prepared boat. During the six weeks between now and Gitana Eighty’s arrival in the French port of Les Sables d’Olonne, Loïck Peyron will go for a series of test sails to validate the final adjustments and run through the basics again.
The traditional summer work came to an end last week in the technical base in Saint-Philibert, SW Brittany. After a month and half’s work, Gitana Eighty is afloat in the port of La Trinité-sur-Mer once more. Now well grounded in the familiar manœuvres of relaunching and keel stepping, the Gitana Team competently conducted these operations. Despite this there was a rather ‘formal’ air to proceedings: 'It’s our last launch and in particular our last keel stepping prior to the Vendée Globe, so everything has to be perfect!' underlined one of the members of the shore crew.
The objective of making the existing keel reliable has been the dominant feature in all the work, as the boat captain William Fabulet confirms: 'Mid July our objective was clear. To develop Gitana Eighty in certain areas but above all, to make those elements which had already proven their worth, reliable. Every aspect of the boat was examined and we’ve replaced the parts which needed changing, either as a result of wear, or as a precautionary measure. The running and standing rigging has seen fairly radical changes, the electronic and computer installations have been checked with a large amount of work on the automatic pilot systems, which are especially important during a Vendée Globe. Our composite specialists have reviewed the appendage profiles too. Added to that we have naturally sought to improve the comfort of our skipper by working on the interior ergonomics (reinforcing the watertightness of the portlights, positioning of the chart table…). Every detail is vital and nobody has been sparing of their efforts. The outcome will be our greatest satisfaction.'
Registering in the Imoca class ruling, the 60 foot monohulls have to respect a certain number of safety rules in order to conform with the specifications imposed. With the monohull equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild having changed its keel over the course of the summer, some tests awaited the boat on its relaunch.
In this way, on Monday morning, anyone out for a stroll around the port of La Trinité-sur-Mer had front row seats to a rather atypical sight; an 18 metre monohull heeled over on its side… Indeed the Gitana Team were performing a so-called 90° test: 'this consists of heeling the boat over to 90° in order to check the vessel’s righting moment. Once the boat is canted over with the help of a crane, we measure the traction at the masthead with a dynamometer. The aim of all this being to check that in the event of capsize, the weight of the keel is sufficiently high to enable Gitana Eighty to right itself without assistance' explains Loïck Peyron. It is worth nothing that if this test had been imposed during the first Vendée Globe, we wouldn’t have seen the kind of incident with Philippe Poupon off South Africa, which required an intervention by Loïck. Finally, after scoring 10/10 for this 90° manoeuvre, an equally as important but a lot less spectacular exercise was completed in order to gain an entry ticket to the Vendée Globe: 'it was a question of completely filling the ballasts, whilst pushing the keel over as far as it would go and ensuring that the hull didn’t exceed a heeling angle of 10°.'
For understandably practical reasons the class measurement tests require the boat to be as empty as possible. In this way, since last week’s launch and keel stepping, the Gitana Team have had to wait a few days before heading out to sea.
Now though, the coming weeks promise to be hectic for the skipper of Gitana Eighty, with particular emphasis on the new set of sails the 60 footer will have for its circumnavigation of the globe. The deadline for the Vendée Globe is fast approaching and every day must be used wisely.