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Britain's Phil Sharp on his new Sam Manuard designed IMOCA

by Vendee Globe 29 Jan 07:29 PST
Phil Sharp - Vendee Globe © OceansLab

Britain's Phil Sharp will line up with a new zero emissions Sam Manuard IMOCA highlighting hydrogen fuel cell technology. After several previous attempts, including getting very close to having a boat for the 2016-17 race, Phil Sharp looks set to realise his dreams of competing in the Vendee Globe following this week's announcement that the 41-year-old from Jersey in the Channel Islands will have the third Sam Manuard designed IMOCA to be built by Black Pepper Yachts based in Nantes.

Sharp, a degree qualified mechanical engineer, has long been an advocate of clean energy technology and has consistently promoted the decarbonisation of marine transport of all types, from leisure vessels to massive cargo ships. Away from yacht racing, Sharp is the founder of Genevos, a start-up company which has developed an innovative plug-and-play hydrogen fuel cell module with scalable marine applications. His IMOCA OceansLab will be a platform which will simultaneously promote, prove and test new, clean technology.

In some respects, he follows in the footsteps of the likes Yoann Richomme, stepping directly from the front of Class40 to a cutting edge IMOCA, harbouring hopes of a podium finish. Sharp comes to the Vendée Globe after podiums in the Mini class in the early 2000s, winning the Route du Rhum - Destination Guadeloupe in Class40 in 2006 and finishing third in 2018. He is twice Class40 European circuit champion and has a fearsome reputation as a hard driving, smart skipper.

But his Manuard design, which has small updates from hull sisterships Bureau Vallée (launched as L'Occitane de Provence) and Sam Davies's new Initiatives-Coeur, will only be launched late July this year or early August on time for the Defi Azimut and the Transat Jacques Vabre. He will be playing catch up relative to the new 2021 and 2022 launched IMOCAs.

Phil, why this Manuard IMOCA then, presumably because it was available for sale as one thing?

In fact, we were competing against another party and it came down to a bit of a race in the end to get everything in place to secure the boat. I very much like the Manuard concept (of the wide 'scow' bow ndlr). I have sailed on Sam Manuard designed boats a lot, my Class40 was an Manuard design, I sailed Manuard Mini. I know him from the Mini class as early as 2005. But I really think the boat is a great concept for the Vendée Globe. It is a stable platform, easier to sail than other designs I think, it is not over complex, and fundamentally has great form stability which is complemented by the foils. I think the package is very versatile package that you need to do well in the Vendee Globe. We don't have time to engineer and develop different foils, for example, now so we will have a package that the designer Sam has worked hard together, but which has not really been proven yet in earnest. I am confident it will work well in solo configuration and crewed in the future.

What is your projected launch date and initial sailing programme?

We are aiming to launch the boat end of July, early August, sea trials in August, train in September in order do the Defi Azimut, the Transat Jacques Vabre and the "Retour à la Base" which will be my crucial qualifier for the Vendee Globe.

Is your funding package complete?

No we are still looking for a headline sponsor, we have base sponsor to cover this season but we are looking for a major sponsor. We are probably the only new boat which still has an option for a major, headline sponsor to come on board and I think the hydrogen, clean technology will have a broad appeal for a sponsor to partner with OceansLab.

How does Genevos work as a business and where are you now with that technology?

We started out a few years ago for a feasibility study for hydrogen on an IMOCA and then we set up the Class40project but we immediately realised the potential of the technology in the marine sector generally and we launched the business for fuel cell technology in the marine sector with a plug and play hydrogen power system to completely replace any diesel engine on any boat. It does not matter if it is inshore or offshore, it can power ships' auxiliary systems or the propulsion systems. It will move IMOCA on to become a true 'zero emissions' race boat which is not the case with most boats today. We really feel the IMOCA is a pioneering class which embraces and highlights new, clean technology.

You developed this technology yourself?

Yes, it is a patented technology. We effectively developed wanted something which is simple and easy to install by an OEM (original equipment manufacturer ndlr), the shipyards, in place of a diesel engine or generator. We are very excited to be entering commercialisation and much higher power systems, up to 80kw, targeting fast ferries, wind farm service vessels and so on. The IMOCA project showcases the technology for the marine sector, a pilot project to increase confidence in the technology. It here and is available today, it works. OceansLab's objective is to highlight an advanced technology which is scalable and available to the marine industry, focusing on hydrogen but also using some very disruptive recyclable composite materials as well which the boating sector is greatly in need of, moving the boating towards a cleaner future.

What is your realistic ambition on this race, you are late getting into the quadrennial?

My ambition is always to be at the front or near it, to have a competitive platform to go for a strong result. It is fair to say time is our biggest enemy on this project. We need to do things well and keep things clean and simple and focus on using the potential of the boat as early as possible without going for the last two or three percent. Who knows? I am not going to say we are aiming for victory because you jinx yourself and there are so many people with more experience than me but I like to think I am aiming for a podium finish otherwise I would not be building a new boat.

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