The l’Hydroptère DCNS 'pilots' will have to wait until next season to relaunch their Transpacific record attempt between Los Angeles and Honolulu. Ultimately their 2012 campaign, which has been driven at a steady pace throughout the year, hasn’t offered up a favourable weather window to set sail for the Hawaiian archipelago. However, it’s a date that Alain Thébault, Jacques Vincent, Luc Alphand, Jean Le Cam and Yves Parlier have every intention of confirming in the coming spring.
They hung on in there till the last minute but finally Alain Thébault and his crew, currently in San Francisco, have taken the decision not to set off on the Transpacific record attempt this year. The ideal period for such a departure covers June, July and August. Extended by several weeks in the hope of one last opportunity, the weather stand-by has now been put on hold. Any opportunities that presented themselves during that period, wouldn’t have enabled an improvement on the time set by Geronimo, Olivier de Kersauson’s giant trimaran, as they presented themselves too early on in the season. Indeed there were two windows at the start of July, whilst the trimaran was in the process of being unloaded in Los Angeles, and another, which proved to be the last, two weeks later, when the boat was carrying out its very first sea trials in California.
'Of course we’re disappointed. In sailing, the race begins the minute you get into the preparation stage. We knew it would be tight. The campaign began late due to the technical evolutions necessary for adapting the trimaran to the conditions of an oceanic crossing. Added to that, there were some administrative difficulties to sort out to ensure the transfer to the USA went smoothly. In the end, we missed out on the mid-July weather window by just one week. It came down to very little in the end; a delay at customs and a few days lost in Panama… The shore team did a great job making up for lost time but the weather windows presented themselves at the start of the season rather than at the end. That’s the name of the game with a project like this! It’ll be a different story next year as we’ll already be on site, really raring to go', explained Alain Thébault, skipper of the boat.
In order to beat the Transpacific record, the pilots of l’Hydroptère DCNS will have to better Olivier de Kersauson’s time on his maxi trimaran Geronimo. The latter made Honolulu in 4 days and 19 hours. In reality they are two radically opposed machines with two rather different strategies. L’Hydroptère DCNS measures 18 metres in length, weighs in at 7 tonnes, has five crew members and skims the surface of the water perched on its 6-metre foils. Light and speedy, the flying trimaran has limited speed in heavy seas due to its small frame. Geronimo measures 34 metres in length, weighs in at 20 tonnes, has 12 crew and is one of the powerful, enduring giants of the seas. 'It’s reminiscent of a battle between David and Goliath. We’re light and fast, but half the size and hence compelled to use cunning as our racing strategies are dictated by different rules. Geronimo took the gamble of a November start. They benefited from some very good winds and thanks to its size, the maxi was able to maintain a good average speed without the constraints of sea state. In contrast our strategy involves a summer departure. The aim is to benefit from the summer’s thermal breezes to quickly get away from Los Angeles, whilst in November Geronimo was deprived of these favourable breezes and hence racked up some relatively low speeds at the start. At the end of the summer, the position of the zone of high pressure is at risk of extending our route southwards and the first autumn storms cause the sea state to deteriorate with cross seas, which isn’t very favourable for high speeds' explained Jacques Vincent, co-skipper.
Right now, Alain Thébault’s team is continuing its training in San Francisco and showing the technology aboard l’Hydroptère DCNS to best advantage, not so far from Silicon Valley. At the same time, DCNS’ engineers are continuing with the fine-tuning of the servo-control system that regulates the boat’s trim. Over the next few weeks, l’Hydroptère DCNS will be delivered back to Los Angeles. 'We’ve certainly covered some ground! I’ve learnt a great deal about the trimaran whilst participating in the preparation, the training and the boisterous delivery trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. L’Hydroptère DCNS is more like a plane than a sailboat. It’s a real challenge to understand such a machine. My experience in the Dakar, where technique is as important as the race, really served me well, admitted crewman Luc Alphand.