Massive test of man and machine

Published on November 19th, 2023

There is no greater offshore achievement than winning the Vendée Globe, held ever four years for the IMOCA 60-foot class. This singlehanded non-stop around the world race is a massive test of man and machine, and every moment now is preparing for the 2024 edition.

The recent IMOCA test was the 2023 Transat Jacques Vabre, a 5400nm course from France to Martinique, which was won by Thomas Ruyant alongside Morgan Lagravière on Ruyant’s new Antoine Koch/Finot Conq-designed foiler. They covered the transatlantic course at an average speed of 19 knots.

The pair on board For People finished just over four hours ahead of second-placed Yoann Richomme and Yann Eliès on Paprec Arkéa, the sistership of For People, who were just nine minutes ahead of third-placed Sam Goodchild and Koch himself on Ruyant’s old boat, For The Planet.

A delighted Ruyant admitted that his long-term focus remains the round-the-world challenge. “That’s the goal and the whole group is working towards it. In the back of our minds, we’re making our boat more reliable for the Vendée Globe. You can’t write the history of the Vendée Globe in advance, but that’s our goal.”

An intriguing aspect of Ruyant and Lagravière’s performance was the extent to which they relied in the second half of this race on hand-steering a beautifully balanced boat that allowed them to do that for hours at a time.

While Lagravière spent a lot of time on the helm, Ruyant was using the intelligence he gained to improve his auto-pilot set-up that he will rely on when he goes solo in the upcoming Retour à la Base – a 3500nm race from Martinique to Lorient, France – and then the Vendèe Globe itself.

“I was concentrating on adjusting the pilot,” explained Ruyant. “And there are certain operating modes that you manage to put in place when sailing double-handed, which I won’t be able to do single-handed. So, we were working on the settings to put in place for solo sailing.”

For second place finisher, Richomme believes this race and this season will have confirmed in most people’s minds that the two Koch/Finot Conq sisterships are “the best design of this generation” and he is looking forward to racing his new boat single-handed for the first time in the Retour à la Base.

As for hand-steering, Richomme is well aware that it can be quicker on the two Koch/Finot Conq boats that, unlike almost all the others in the Class, do not produce big weather helm when powered up. But his focus was more on setting up his pilot for solo sailing, rather than doing so with Eliès on the helm.

“You do have phases where you are faster hand-steering because the boat does fly and, if you can manage to keep it flying, it does count,” he explained. “But it’s a bit different depending on your objectives, because we do have to learn how to set it up fast under auto-pilot when we are by ourselves, so I wasn’t too keen on doing that too much.”

Koch’s remarkable performance in this Transat Jacques Vabre – as the co-designer of the first two finishers and co-skipper of the boat coming third –­ was nicely acknowledged at the finish. The five other sailors that made up the podium lifted him off his feet on the dockside in recognition of his efforts both at sea and in the design office.

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