The ultimate foiling machine? Onboard SVR-Lazartigue

Yachting World

SVR-Lazartigue is the newest Ultim trimaran, designed for current solo around the world record holder François Gabart. Gabart gave François Tregouet an exclusive tour of this extraordinary machine.

Launched in July after 150,000 hours of work, SVR-Lazartigue is the latest addition to the burgeoning Ultim 32/23 fleet. In addition to the complexity that’s inherent to these giant foilers, this rocketship design includes many unique innovations which are currently being extensively tested and fine-tuned. We were lucky enough to be able to explore some of them in detail with skipper François Gabart.

Having boarded the team’s support RIB as they headed out from the MerConcept pontoon at around croissant-time, we searched for the blue giant among the squalls. François Gabart and Tom Laperche, who was co-skipper in this autumn’s Transat Jacques Vabre, were returning to their base in Concarneau, Brittany, having just completed a 1,000-mile training loop in the company of three other Ultims: Sodebo, Banque Populaire and Gitana.

SVR-Lazartigue finally appeared as just a dot on the horizon. There was no need to throttle up to reach it though: it was closing in fast. When it drew level, even with one reef in the main and no headsail, our big outboard-powered RIB was struggling to keep up. The crew heading out on deck to lower the sails appear tiny, whereas in reality Tom Laperche must be over 6ft tall.

Twin cockpit bubbles adjacent to the mast

While the overall dimensions of SVR-Lazartigue are as breathtaking as the rest of the Ultim class trimarans, certain proportions of SVR-Lazartigue immediately stand out. First, the floats seem particularly narrow. There are two reasons for this: as the helm stations are no longer ‘on’ the deck but integrated into the central hull, the latter seems proportionally beefed-up, especially between the two connecting beams.

The other factor is that as the latest generation trimarans spend more time in foiling mode, so the volume of the floats is no longer as critical.

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The third dimension that stands out when viewing this monster vessel from the water is the length of the horizontal surface of the foil tip – it’s a full 4m (13ft) stretched under the net towards the central hull.

Onboard SVR-Lazartigue

Gabart is at the helm in the starboard cockpit. This is the trademark of his new baby: two sliding bubbles, flush with the deck, which call to mind a Spitfire aeroplane or fighter jet. The analogy is not accidental: these ultra high performance trimarans reach such high speeds that staying outside is not only uncomfortable, but almost unbearable, and certainly incompatible with achieving a high level of human performance.

Boat speeds of 40 knots have become the norm – below 30 knots the crew feels unusually slow!

Despite being exhausted, Gabart and his teammate are smiling broadly. They have just completed a 200-mile reaching leg at an average boat speed of 37 knots, racing side by side with Sodebo. But to have completed 1,000 miles in racing conditions without any major technical problems in such a new launch is clearly the main satisfaction. That’s a triumph for Gabart’s MerConcept technical team – just a week before, they had to abandon the Défi Azimut Ultim race following damage to a foil jack.

Hydraulics are a key component on these boats. With enormous forces involved there are 23 hydraulic cylinders onboard on SVR-Lazartigue. One of the particularities of the Ultim class is that everything on board must be controlled by human power; only so-called closed-loop circuits are allowed.

Above: electronics, regulators, electric engine and a small diesel generator are housed under the floor of the cockpit and living areas

So while the grinders are connected to the winches, they are also connected to hydraulic pumps. If, for example, the crew want to increase the rake on a foil by 3°, they set the control to 3°, open the valve and it goes up to 3°. But the hydraulic pressure to achieve that has to be generated by the two-man crew, and it is in no way automated or self-adjusting.

65 knots of apparent wind

Most of the cylinders are hidden – inside the boom, behind a foil arm, and down below – the aerodynamics are optimised as never before on an offshore boat.

The apparent wind created by the speeds reached is “mind-blowing”, says Gabart. “This is the most impressive thing about this boat. We have never had these apparent wind figures on other boats.

“Here, we regularly reach speeds of over 40 knots at less than 90° true wind angle (TWA). In certain conditions, such as 25 knots of wind on flat seas, at 65°-70° off the wind, you’re doing 40 knots. That’s 60-65 knots of apparent wind speed. The maximum AWS in our log is not far from 70 knots.

The low profile fighter pilot-style cockpit ‘pods’

“When you go outside, it’s violent. Compared to the previous generation, this is where the difference is the most significant, between 65° and 80° off the wind, where we see very strong apparent winds,” Gabart explains.

At these speeds air resistance takes on an unprecedented importance. The design team, including VPLP, has focussed heavily on creating an aerodynamically optimised shape with every element refined to offer the lowest possible drag. The upper part of the foredeck is non-structural – all the strength is underneath at the level of the anchoring points of the headsails.

“The interesting [point] is that we can stow the sails there, protected from the wind. In the long term it will be closed off by a canvas cover to reduce water ingress, even though there are drains on the sides. This is an area that still needs to be optimised. We can see that the technical team seems to have played with the jigsaw before this training session,” observes Gabart.

Fred Bérat, the boat captain, asks Tom Laperche for his feedback. “We’ll have to use foam or partition off the unused areas to reduce the volume likely to take on sea water,” Laperche comments. That will add weight, but aerodynamically, nothing protrudes, the furling drums are completely hidden and the sail is flush with the deck when unfurled.

Gabart, a passionate engineer, explaining how the foils work. Each weighs 400kg (882lb) and supports a trimaran that weighs 38 times that

The entire deck and structure is designed to favour laminar flow and reduce air disturbance. All the way aft, only the two small cockpit bubbles protrude from the deck. Even the Fleet communication antennas, although cylindrical, are streamlined at the rear.

Within each of the two cockpit bubbles, a small Formula 1-type steering wheel acts as a helm. For the time being, only one button is fitted, the emergency mainsail release button, but more controls will come in the long term, Gabart explains. “We imagine we’ll be able to put a lot of things on it, especially for safety. And possibly sail adjustments when there are people around to grind the winches and therefore power the hydraulics below deck.”

The pilot-style flight position is designed to help the sailors maintain focus and high levels of performance while helming for long periods of time.“While we thought we would have to wear a helmet or harness to avoid hitting our heads, it turns out we are very well supported at shoulder level, especially since we don’t have to steer at high angles. You can steer standing up or sitting down and footrests are due to be fitted soon.”

Gabart is confident he’ll be able to spend hours comfortably at the helm “just like in a car”.

Fingertip conrol on SVR-Lazartigue

Three rudders are mechanically connected at the back of the stern arm, while at the front, electronics are used. The two Madintech pilots have their cylinders permanently connected to the same central rudder shaft.

More fingertip controls are planned for the Formula 1-style steering wheel in future

Just above, on the outside, a conventional wheel is connected directly to it, which is more practical for port manoeuvres or race starts: “Because we can see what’s going on better and we’re more used to the feeling. In the long term I am confident that we will be able to have the same feeling and efficiency on our small steering wheels, from a distance, but there is still work to be done, especially because of the speed of reaction of the cylinders,” he says.

From the inside helm stations or watch stations, as well as the companionway access just aft, there’s good visibility, almost 360°, even under the boom. However, below deck, where manoeuvres, navigation and living space are organised, there is no direct view outside.

As on Alex Thomson’s IMOCA Hugo Boss, cameras have been installed for an exterior view. But the two SVR-Lazartigue co-skippers admit they’re not yet always in the habit of automatically looking at the screens.

Chainplates and furling drums for the headsails are integrated under a false deck to help aerodynamics

At the stern, all sheets are tunnelled to two huge 43cm diameter Harken Air 900 winches: “We can put each of the eight sheets, which all arrive at the same place, crosswise on the two main winches, so we can do peels at any time between any sails: J0, J1, J2 and J3,” says Gabart. Up front are the so-called utility winches for halyards, furling lines, reefing lines, or barber-haulers.

Living zone

At the rear of the low-slung, white painted cockpit, a living area houses a navigation zone with a newly installed bucket seat facing a canting screen. There is a beanbag for sleeping on the floor, although berths will be installed on both sides for stowage. The only extra is a micro-galley.

Forward is another living area, this one in bare carbon, located along the centre of gravity of the boat. When the boat is being sailed in crewed mode, the space is big enough to sleep six people in a race or on a record attempt. “In terms of noise, we were quite uncertain about this central hull living area,” admits Gabart,

As well as nav and performance information the screens also display the positions and trim settings of the foils, rudders and centreboard

“I’m surprised, because intuitively I thought it would be quite different from the previous boat (Macif which became Actual) and in the end, here, in the closed cockpit, it’s quite similar. As soon as you put your head in the bubble, even when it’s closed, you hear and feel the wind, just like before.”

The central hull on SVR-Lazartigue is divided in two along its entire length, with a lower level under the cockpit and the living areas. In addition to the electric motor, the battery pack and a small diesel generator, there are a lot of electronics housed below. “Emilien Lavigne, the computer and electronics specialist is, after me, the one who has sailed the boat the most since she was launched,” points out the skipper, such is the importance of the hidden technology on board.

Meanwhile the most obvious examples of latest development technology are the incredible wings of this boat designed for flight. The shape of the SVR-Lazartigue foils is particularly complex, between the L-shaped lower section and and the S-shaped vertical a free ball joint gives a degree of freedom in the foil boxes to be able to raise and lower them. The upper section moves longitudinally, allowing the rake to be adjusted.

Skipper for scale! The two main Harken Air 900 winches on which all the headsail sheets are mounted

Unlike a conventional racing yacht, the VPPs (velocity prediction programmes) provided by the architects VPLP are much more than simple polars with the speed targets. The charts, displayed in the cockpit, also recommend theoretical settings for foil depth, rake and flaps.

“It’s amazing how good the fit is, on a windy sea, in out-of-the-ordinary conditions like a reaching leg in 40 knots, 50m from the beach without a single wave. Or the opposite, like now, where there’s only 10 knots of wind, but the sea remains rough following the passage of a front,” says Gabart.

As for the sensation of foiling at high speeds, Gabart is effusive about the behaviour of his blue rocket: “The more foil surface you have, the more damping there is in the waves. When you fly, there are few shocks, just quite violent movements due to the high speed. When the boat jumps a wave, the foil never really comes out of the water, even if it stalls, it absorbs a lot. Even when you’re not flying, at the same speed, it’s much more comfortable than an IMOCA. Even though, sometimes we go twice as fast…”

SVR-Lazartigue specifications

Length: 32m / 105ft 0in
Beam: 23m / 75ft 5in
Displacement (approx): 15,000kg / 33,000lb
Weight of one foil: 400kg / 880lb
Draught: 4.5m / 14ft 9in
Air draught: 37m / 121ft 5in
Mast length: 33m / 108ft 3in
Sail area upwind: 425m² / 4,574ft
Sail area downwind: 645m² / 6,942ft


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