North Sails NEWS

Story Contributors: Gautier Sergent


North Sails Continues to Offer Personalized Cutting-Edge Design Service in the Rapidly Evolving IMOCA Class

📸 MxHorlaville /disobey /Apivia

The newest generation of foiling IMOCAs are heading for the start line of the Transat Jacques Vabre – a crucial part of the four year Vendée Globe cycle. The 4,350 mile two-handed race from France to Brazil is the first opportunity for everyone to get a clear look at how both boats and skippers are progressing, one year before the start of the non-stop round the world race that is considered the pinnacle of solo offshore racing. 

Vendée Globe Dreams: Four Years in the Making

North Sails has been deeply involved in helping six new IMOCAs, as well as a number of older boats, prepare for both the 2020 Vendée Globe and the TJV. There is no doubt the awe-inspiring foilers will wow sailing fans, but how will they perform when racing under pressure day after day? There is so much at stake and all to play for…

Design First: Unique Tools and Expertise

Head of North Sails France and 3Di expert Gautier Sergent leads the team that has been working closely with so many IMOCA skippers. “This has been a very exciting time in the IMOCA class. We have recently seen the launch of several brand new boats for the Vendée Globe, and the TJV is going to be a rigorous testing ground for 2020.”  

North Sails is unique because sailors consult with the company very early on in their design process, Gautier explains. “After the last Vendée Globe in 2016, we had a full debrief on what we had seen, learnt, and where things were heading: where was the innovation going to be coming from, and what was driving it? It’s important after a big race like that to look at what happens at the end, and the decisions that were made. That put us in a really strong position for this next edition of the race, and to be a trusted partner as foiling takes center stage.” 

The IMOCA class is constantly striving to push boundaries, and thanks to the elite team at North Design Services and the ever-evolving North Design Suite (NDS), North Sails is able to provide critical input to the continuous loop of information between designers, structural engineers, and skippers. NDS makes it possible to virtually test and optimize any part of a sailboat in any sailing environment, even before the boat is built, allowing skippers to find the very best solutions for their new boat.  

”No one else has their own tools like we do,” says Gautier. “NDS allows us not only to do all the simulation in-house, but we are also continuing to develop our tools so we can be really responsive and reactive to needs and changing trends. We make sure we can provide useful data to the experts in other fields, such as hydro, structure, ergonomics, etc.” 

In such a fast-moving environment, old methods of on-the-water experimental learning no longer keep up. “That is why our Design Services offering has been such a game changer for finding what works for any given team,” Gautier says. “The VPP [Velocity Prediction Program] has been really useful in understanding the whole boat; not just the sail, but how is the sail affecting the full design, and vice versa?” 

But tools are not reality, he adds. “So you also need designers with enough expertise to interpret the results, integrate sailors’ feedback, and suggest directions to investigate. It’s the only way to keep up with the pace and work out a sail package that reflects the input from everyone. Objective information is what we are after, because pre-conceived ideas will hold you back. It is a brave new world.”

Personal Service: Tailored Solutions for Skippers

Each skipper brings a different level of experience to the campaign, so each boat requires a customized sail package. Gautier says his team has enjoyed the challenge of finding the right combination for each boat and sailor. “No team has been the same, and as a result no solution has been the same either. For each brand new boat, we have an almost dedicated North Sails expert. All have different ways to go about solving an issue, so it has really enabled us to broaden our thinking. We work really hard to find that sweet spot.”

Time to Race: Vendée Globe Countdown

As the clock ticks down to the start, Gautier is eager to see all this hard work line up on the race track. “I can’t wait to see the results of the work the team put into these boats, and how decisions play out in real terms. I am confident that we have given our skippers the best opportunity to achieve their potential. It has been a privilege, and we have all greatly enjoyed the process.” Looking ahead, he adds, “We have already set a plan of action to use the feedback from the TJV to keep moving forward from here. Much more to come before the Vendee Globe!”  

Story Contributors

Cutting Edge Design For The IMOCA Class headshot
Gautier Sergent

General Manager — Vannes, France

Long-time North Sails expert Gautier Sergent recently took on a new challenge as general manager of North Sails France. With expertise in all aspects of sailmaking, Gautier is in a perfect position to expand the already significant presence of North...

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