Building sails for the IMOCA

Published on August 10th, 2020

The premier event in 2020 will be the Vendée Globe race, held every four years and providing solo sailors with a non-stop course around the world in the IMOCA Class. Starting November 8 from Les Sables d’Olonne, three-quarters of the fleet will be using North Sails, 17 of which have a full set and 7 with a partial set.

Yann Regniau, Yann Andrillon, and Quentin Ponroy, designers at North Sails France, share their thinking on how to propel these 60-footers around the world.

How do you design a set of sails for a Vendée Globe?
There are no absolute rules. It depends on the team, whether they are building a new boat or not, and on the expertise they have in-house. For most new boats, we are involved right from the design stage, working alongside the architects to define the sail plan.

In all cases, we have contact and information meetings to precisely target the skipper’s needs and what we can bring him in terms of experience and tools. Then, we draw up the first drafts from the architect’s plans where we can directly simulate our sails in 3D, which allows us to refine the triangulation.

In summary, the sail design is fed by three means: theoretical studies from North Sails (aero and structure), a rich database of sails designed for IMOCA boats combined with our expertise and boat-skipper input.

The main stages include the definition of the specifications of the sail with the team; the design (theoretical studies, 3D drawing, and structure); the manufacturing sheet; the manufacturing of the 3Di structure in Minden (Nevada, USA) and finally the finishes at North Sails France (Vannes, Brittany.)

What are the particularities of the Vendée Globe in terms of weather conditions and sail optimization?
One of the peculiarities is the length and duration of the Vendée Globe, the race takes the fastest boats 2 ½ months to complete, but most racers finish in three months. The sails become extremely stressed throughout the race, so the structure must be adapted to account for all possible wear and tear. Reliability is the keyword. The three aspects that characterize this race – around the world, single-handed and non-stop – also apply to the sails. Full story.

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