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To foil, or not to foil? That’s a constant question for the GC32, the newly selected platform for the Extreme Sailing Series. And since the answer depends on conditions, it can change from moment to moment and will definitely vary from one event to the next. Which brings up a word you don’t expect to hear from a sail designer: “forgiveness.”

Gautier Sergent designed the sails for the GC32 (mainsail, two jibs, and a gennaker); all are North Sails 3Di. “You have to go from wider apparent wind angles and lower apparent wind speeds to tight angles and high speeds with one sail inventory,” he explains. ”And obviously ESS races are very demanding in terms of maneuvers, which is always hard for the sails. That is why we have a full 3Di inventory.”

The sails also have to be forgiving to cover a wide variety of racing formats, since the ESS uses the one design class-legal sails. “The difficulty (and the fun) is that the GC32 are foiling catamarans sailing in a wide variety of racing formats (GC32 circuit, ESS, Bol d’Or long distance sailing) and on many different stretches of water (from lake to ocean). You need to cater to all this with only four sails in total.”

So the sails need to be light enough to handle lake sailing, where the boats are often in displacement mode. And those same four sails need to be strong enough for foiling in the roughest ocean conditions. Add to that this fact: since the GC32 is still a relatively young class, sailors are still figuring out the boats. It adds up to a tough challenge in terms of ease of use, durabllity, and lifespan—which fortunately 3Di can handle.

This will be the second year North Sails has been involved with the GC32 class, and Sergent (along with class leader Alan Pennaneach) have used their knowledge gained from designing to other strict one design rules. “We’ve been involved from day one,” Sergent says, “taking part in designing the sail plan with Martin Fisher and Southern Spars.” Through sea trials and boat development, the team has also worked closely with the class and Laurent Lenne.

“This will be its first year in the ESS and I am sure we will learn a lot on how the teams use the boats and how we can improve,” continues Sergent. “It is also the first year that we have a full 3Di inventory. Up until last year the gennaker was 3DL.”

And it will be the first year the ESS incorporates a wide variety of courses into each event. Fortunately, the standard GC32 sails are already geared toward variety, so they can handle it. “The key word is forgiveness,” Sergent reminds us. “3Di really helps in this respect, because they are very reactive and sensitive to trimming and tuning.”

And on the eve of the first ESS event, Sergent does have a prediction about who will win—though he admits, “There is such a high level of skill that it is very tricky to predict.” But “if we had to be biased, we would say Alinghi or Spindrift since we have North Sails representatives Pierre Yves Jorand and Arnaud Psarofaghis on Alinghi, and Jacques Guichard on Spindrift…!”

Racing begins March 16, more on the event website.

For more information about the North Sails GC32 sail offering, contact: Alan Pennaneach +33 2 97 40 90 90 | alan.pennaneach@northsails.com