The origins of the Vendée Globe

Massive crowds at the Vendée Globe
The Vendée Globe starts in just over two weeks. It is, in my humble opinion, the best sailing event on the calendar, better than the America’s Cup and way better than the Volvo Ocean Race. I am allowed to say that having done a number of Volvo’s back when the event was called the Whitbread Race. Let’s just look at it. The Vendée Globe is a single-handed, non stop, no assistance lap of the planet. Reach out and get some help and you are out; no questions, no chances. The sailors have to make it from France, where they leave just as the winter gales are rolling in, sail around the world via Cape Horn and return to France just as the Spring gales are rolling in. No easy task.

Then there are the boats. I appreciate that a VOR 65 is quite a machine but they pale by comparison when stacked against an IMOCA 60. The IMOCA’s are infinitely more powerful, are much more tricked out with their Dali foils and tubercles on the rudders, and are overall much more innovative. Consider this; in the last Volvo Ocean Race Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing set (I think I am correct here) the longest 24-hour run of 551 nautical miles whereas in the last Vendée Globe François Gabart, sailing single-handed on a smaller boat, logged an impressive 545 nautical miles. Just six fewer miles, all alone and on a boat that is five feet shorter in length. I rest my case.

Having stated just how awesome I think the event is let me harken back to its very humble beginnings. Does anyone even know who came up with the idea of the Vendée Globe?  I do. I was a kid sailmaker working for Hood Sails in the early 80’s when I got a call from a lady in Newport, Rhode Island who was helping a French sailor who had just arrived for the BOC Challenge. He needed some work done on his sails so I drove to Newport and met a very humble Philippe Jeantot.

Jeantot started his career as a deep sea diver working on oil rigs but read about the BOC and entered and won the race in 1982 aboard Credit Agricole. He won the BOC four years later in a newer, larger Credit Agricole, and in 1989 announced the idea of a brand new solo, non-stop race around the world, the event that would become the Vendée Globe. Jeantot competed in the first Vendée Globe finishing fourth and a year later he once again entered the BOC and finished third. After four solo circumnavigations Jeantot announced that he was retiring from sailing to manage the Vendée and to concentrate on his boat building company with he had founded in 1985. Jeantot Marine was the leading builder of cruising catamarans and was dominating the American market with their Privilege Catamarans. I was in France many times in the 80’s and Jeantot had become a real superstar. He was their Michael Jordan. The Vendée Globe was fast becoming one of the most popular sporting events in Europe and Jeantot Marine was doing great. That was all until it wasn’t.

Like many who rise to fame and fortune in a short amount of time, Jeantot was enjoying his success and from the outside it looked like all was well. But it wasn’t. Court report show that the company he had set up to run his sailing events like the Vendée Globe was channeling money through an Irish bank account rather than through his French account. Records show that he allegedly funneled in excess of €1 million (£660,000) through the Irish account rather than his company account. In November 1990, Jeantot was given a suspended two-year sentence and fined €15,000 (£9,900) for tax evasion. He appealed but the verdict was upheld and the man who was riding the crest of popularity and success plummeted about as far down as one could go. In the end he was convicted on multiple charges ranging from embezzlement to tax fraud. 

Philippe Jeantot now lives aboard his boat in Koh Samui, an island in the Gulf of Thailand. He recently told a reporter, “I saw beautiful days. That’s all that matters now.” I like the simplicity of that statement for it was in the simplicity of an idea that the Vendée Globe grew from a thought into one of the greatest sporting challenges of all time.

Philippe Jeantot in his prime

Jeantot living in Thailand

I hope that you enjoyed this blog. I invite you to subscribe so that you will not miss a blog post. You will get a great free gift and weekly sailing related blogs. Click the pic to subscribe.
Brian Hancock – owner Great Circle Sails

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Vendee Globe: Choosing Sails

Each solo sailor is allowed to carry 9 sails around the world. Here's what they'll take and how they decide on what to carry in their quiver.

Each solo sailor is allowed to carry 9 sails around the world. Here's what they'll take and how they decide on what to carry in their quiver.
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America’s Cup Schedule Confirmed

The schedule for the final showdown of the 35th America's Cup has been released, including the Louis Vuitton Qualifier, and the J Class superyacht regatta.

The schedule for the final showdown of the 35th America's Cup has been released, including the Louis Vuitton Qualifier, and the J Class superyacht regatta.
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Dilly & Tony Save Day Zero dark thirty

I’m on radar watch at the nav station. Our new crew David is on deck, fighting off the first signs of seasickness. The fog has come and gone all day. Just now its rolled in thick, visibility down to zero. The glow of the tricolor light reflecting on the heavy fog casts an eerie shadow to either side of the boat, just at that transition angle between the colored, red/green lights that shine forward, and the white light that shines astern. The wind just shut down again and we are motor-sailing on a course parallel to the coast, some twenty miles north of Cape Race, our first turning point. A small fishing boat called ‘Terry & Sisters’ appeared on the AIS, steaming out of Fermeuse Harbor behind us, an early start to their day. Dan L is still with us, as he will be all the way to Annapolis, asleep on the port pilot bunk. His best friend Doug flew out to St. John’s on Saturday to join us for leg 8, and he’s asleep on the starboard pilot berth. Mia just came off watch and crashed out back aft. That rounds out our crew of five. I’ve got the ‘C’ watch with David this time since we’re one-down from a full crew. Lately, with a full contingent of six, I’ve not been taking a watch at all, instead ‘floating’ as needed and popping up at each watch change to ensure all is well on deck. I don’t get that luxury this time, and am back on schedule with the crew. Would you guess that Seattle is on the same latitude as St. John’s!? I’d have lost a bet on that one. Both David & Doug flew out from Seattle where they live (though they don’t know each other), and the topic came up at breakfast this morning in town at the Rocket Bakery, surely the crown jewel of St. John’s eateries. Well, we checked the Google, and sure enough, there it was. Andy’s wrong again! We had our first official crew briefing at the bakery this morning, killing some time while we waited for the larger Watt & Sea prop to arrive at FedEx. It did arrive, in fact, just as we were finishing up, so while Mia did the last provisioning and paid the Harbormaster, I taxied off to FedEx to get it while the boys scrubbed the decks and completed the last of the pre-departure checklist. We were off the dock by 1300. That we left at all was a minor miracle. On Saturday morning, while Mia and I were enjoying a sleep-in at Greg’s cabin out in Dildo (‘have a ding-dong day in Dildo!’), Dan rang to inform us that the engine wouldn’t start. He had been trying to charge the batteries. I told him to just plug us in to shore power instead and I’d fiddle with it on our return Sunday, thinking it was likely a loose wire or a bad solenoid I could just ‘jump’ with a screwdriver. At 10pm Sunday night it became apparent that neither of my quick fixes were the key. Bad starter? It looked more and more likely. Great. Another setback on what’s been a year full of them. I’m still getting over my appendectomy surgery for god’s sake! But I’m learning how to handle these things and didn’t stress. David was due to join the crew on Monday afternoon, with a planned Tuesday departure to allow the full amount of time to explore the fjords and visit St. Pierre. Would we go with no engine? With the Watt & Sea (known affectionately as ‘Watson’), we’d be able to make enough power. But it would change the mission from one of exploration to one of ‘get home’ to Halifax. I’d long ago learned that while I can hold my own maintaining and troubleshooting a diesel, I’m no mechanic. I resolved to not waste anymore time or effort and call a proper mechanic first thing Mondaymorning. We had plenty more to do on the boat, things I was quite capable of doing myself and where my time would be much more valuable. Next morning, properly rested, Greg got me in touch with a guy at a local alternator repair shop. Tony, the owner, was on the boat helping me confirm my bad starter diagnosis by 0900, incredibly. Thirty minutes later, he’d rounded up ‘Dilly’ (‘no, Dilly, not Billy’, I was corrected), a real character of a guy but super friendly and a right mechanic. ‘He’s a bit of a wingnut,’ Tony warned me, ‘but a great mechanic.’ While delivering a constant stream of barely intelligible dialog – think Brad Pitt from the movie ‘Snatch,’ crossed with an Irishman and a Canadian fisherman and you’ll get a sense of his accent – Dilly dove, literally, head first into the engine room and had the faulty starter off an hour later. He drove it back to Tony’s shop for a quick rebuild, and by 1330 that same day, Dilly had it reinstalled and the engine firing. All for just a few hundred bucks. It was the quickest, smoothest marine repair I’ve ever been a party to in my entire sailing career. This kind of thing, especially with engines, NEVER goes so smoothly. Onward. David arrived just as Dilly was testing his work, and I didn’t even need to explain to him the contingency. Suddenly we were back in business and right on time. Hence the celebratory breakfast at the bakery this morning. Which brings us full circle. As I type, said engine is churning in the background. Normally I’d despise the sound, but in this instance it’s sweet music to my ears. The wind has been mostly non-existent today, so without it, while we would have considered going, we’d not have gotten far! We’re back in exploratory mode, with new hope for scoping out some fjords. 

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Chapter 6 – Where Art and Science Meet – Part 3

Chapter 6 is an in-depth look at the sailmaking process from how we used to make to how they are made these days in a modern sail loft. There is a lot to cover from basic design elements like sail geometry and engineering to a look at the manufacturing process. There will be four parts to Chapter 6. This is part 3 that is all about how sail designers  . I urge you to download Part 1 and 2 as well as Part 3 and 4 when they are published so that you will have a comprehensive knowledge of sail design as well as the manufacturing process which will also be covered.

Sail Design 101
The job facing the sail designer is challenging. He needs to take two-dimensional pieces of fabric and turn them into a three-dimensional aerodynamic shape. It’s a complex process made more difficult by the fact that the force of wind will inevitably strain and stretch the fabric, at least to some degree, out of its initial shape, and while these stresses can be calculated in advance, creating a sail that is able to manage all of the various loads is not easy. The process has been made easier since the advent of stable fabrics and powerful computers, and with data banks of empirical data from which to draw, sailmakers are now able to get the flying shape of a sail close to the designed shape. Bearing in mind that sails will undergo various loads and the design process includes dealing with these loads no matter how they occur, let’s start with a blank piece of paper (or more to the point, blank computer screen) and work through basic sail design. We will look at the following steps:
  • Geometry
  • Sail shape
  • Analysis

Step 1 — Geometry
Once the sailmaker has your rig measurement details and understands the kind of sailing you plan to do, he can start the design process by figuring out the geometry of each sail. Perfect aerodynamic shape and engineering amount to zero if the sails do not fit, and this means more than just getting the luff lengths right and having the sail sheet to the tracks. The sail designer needs to take into account details like the location and length of the mast spreaders and where the standing rigging fits into the overall rig plan. For example, he needs to be careful that the design shape for a headsail does not have the sail going right through the spreaders when trimmed for sailing hard on the wind. He also needs to be sure that once the sailor bears away onto a reach that the sail can still be sheeted to the boat. The same points apply to the mainsail. The designer needs to take into account the location of the backstay and design the roach profile accordingly. There is no point in adding roach to the sail and then not being able to tack the sail through the back- stay. He also needs to be careful when designing a full-batten mainsail that the bat- ten locations do not coincide with the spreaders, both when fully hoisted and reefed. Point loading a batten on a spreader is looking for trouble.

The kind of sailing you plan to do also plays an important part in the geometry of the sails. If you are strictly inshore racing, the sail designer will keep the clew of the headsails fairly low and have the foot of the sail “sweep” the deck. On the other hand if you are heading offshore it might be useful to raise the clew so that waves can pass under the foot. This will also allow some visibility under the sail. Finally, the sail designer needs to be sure that there is some correlation between the sizes of different sails so that the sailor can reduce sail area and still keep the center of effort of the sailplan in the right location so that the boat remains balanced.

Step 2 — Sail Shape
There are two theoretical design shapes for each sail. The first is the molded shape; in other words, the static shape of the sail before it is subject to any loads. The second is the flying shape, i.e., the shape of the sail after it has been subjected to the force of the wind. The design process incorporates both the molded and flying shapes, and it becomes the designer’s job to take both into account before moving on to Step 3, which is the part of the process that analyzes the interaction between molded and flying shapes.

Molded Shape — This shape is usually drawn from a data bank of known sail shapes and serves as a jump-off point for the design process. It is illustrated by horizontal and vertical cross sections of the surface of the sail and the measurements are called offsets. Offsets are a two-dimensional way to describe a three-dimensional curve. These offsets show the important design features of a sail, namely the chord depth, the position of the maximum draft, the angle of leading edge and the amount of twist in the sail. They are created for each section, or horizontal “slice” of the sail. Think of the sail design as a huge stack of individually created cambered shapes each with its own chord-depth ratio, twist, and maximum depth location. Stacking them on top of each other creates the overall sail shape.

Most sail designers have their own software that allows them to enter the boat’s rig dimensions and deck hardware into the actual sail design program. This is fairly sophisticated and can be a great help in terms of the next step in the process, since it allows the designer to manipulate the sail and rig as one, and to address wind-flow issues over the entire plane, not just over individual sails. The mechanical properties of the mast and rigging can also be entered, including moments of inertia and a material’s stiffness or resistance to stretch. Using this information, the designer can determine the deformation under load for the sail and every piece of standing and running rigging right down to the stretch in sheets and halyards. This kind of precise information is vital. If halyards stretch or the mast bends more than the designer anticipated, the shape of the sail will be affected. Being able to have some control over parts of the boat previously out of his realm allows the designer to have more control over his design. This control may only be in the form of knowing what to expect and designing the sail accordingly, but in any event it’s useful knowledge.

Flying Shape — Once the designer is satisfied with the molded shape, he needs to subject the sail to the forces of the wind. This can be done by integrating it into a load program that exerts various loads on the sail. In addition to the rig information, the sail designer can input information about the fibers and fabric he plans to use. Drawing from a database of known stretch characteristics for different styles of fabric, the sail designer can see how a chosen fabric will stand up to the anticipated loads. The amount and orientation of fibers in a sail will have a tremendous effect on the flying shape of the sail.

These load programs take the design and “flow” air over the surface at predetermined settings. These can include true wind speed (TWS), true wind angle (TWA), leeway, boat speed, and angle of heel. The settings can be changed at random and the result displayed in a series of pressure maps that show the various pressures on the sail at any given time. By entering the fabric information, the designer can determine just how effective the fabric choice will be in resisting stretch. This leads the sail designer to the next and most important stage, the analysis.

Assessing the various loads in different wind conditions

Step 3 — Analysis
Analysis is basically an extension of the initial load models and determines how the design distorts when it comes under load in the real world, in other words how the molded shape looks when it is flying. With all the relevant data programmed into the computer, the program will now start to compute how much and where the sail will distort when it comes under various loads. This distorted sail shape is then recreated as a molded shape and the new shape again run through the flow program. This back-and-forth process continues until the sail designer is happy with his design, i.e., when the wind and other forces will not over-tax the fabric, and when any potential distortion can be accommodated by engineering. The designer can also manipulate the sail mechanically and see what effect it has on the loads, and by extension, the shape. This manipulation can be in the form of easing or tightening the backstay, easing or tightening the sheet, or changing a sheet lead position. Modern programs are sensitive enough to respond to even the finest adjustments. Therefore, by careful manipulation and analysis, the sail designer can tweak the design until he is satisfied.

This part of the design process may last only a few hours if a similar type of sail has already been designed and built for a previous customer, or it may last a week or more if it’s a custom design for a high-stakes project like the America’s Cup or Volvo Ocean Race. Once the designer is happy with his creation, his initial involvement with the sail is finished and the process moves on to the next stage.

Adding wind to a three dimensional design

Part 4 of Where Art and Science Meet will look at The Five Steps to Making Sails. A look at how the design translates into building the sail

Note:  I have set up a Facebook Group called All About Sails – everything you need to know about that most important part of your boat – the sails. I invite you to join – click here

I hope that you enjoyed this blog. I invite you to subscribe so that you will not miss a blog post. You will get a great free gift and weekly blogs about sails and sailmaking. Click the pic to subscribe and if you are in need of new sails please contact us for a no obligation quote.

Brian Hancock – Owner Great Circle Sails

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Playing the Long Game

When it comes to winning a long event, it's good for everyone to be on the same page about what's essential - from the practice until the final race.

When it comes to winning a long event, it's good for everyone to be on the same page about what's essential - from the practice until the final race.
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Remote Boat Monitoring: here comes Navico GoFree Vessel/Track and Siren Marine MTC

Written by Ben Ellison on Oct 19, 2016 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub


While off-boat monitoring was already getting better and more competitive, finally one of the big four marine electronics brands is about to join the fray. Navico’s GoFree Connected Vessel concept is not just important because it will be marketed and serviced worldwide, but also because the development team took the time to think out a truly comprehensive system that can potentially serve a wide variety of boaters in multiple ways. Meanwhile team Siren Marine has been building on their years of remote monitoring, tracking and control experience and will soon announce a series of second-generation MTC products that sound exciting. This entry will take a preliminary look at both these systems and I’ll soon share testing results on two more…

Navico_GoFree_Vessel_app_and_cloud_services_aPanbo.jpgGoFree Vessel is the online component of GoFree Connected Vessel, and the screen above shows the unique TripReplay feature that will be available with some service plans. You can re-enjoy a cruise or a fishing adventure with all sorts of collected boat data plus geo-positioned photos, and you can share such trips via social media. And that’s just a fun benefit of the system design. The online Vessel dashboard, along with the GoFree Track Full-time Engine & Monitoring hardware, can also take care of traditional monitoring tasks like high bilge alarms and geofence theft protection. Remote control of appropriate devices like deck lights and air conditioning is supported, and the data logging routines are optimized to help you or your techs troubleshoot engine problems.

When you think about it, there are so many benefits possible when you connect lots of boat sensing with Internet cloud data storage and smart software. I know that the GoFree developers have thought about it a lot, and here’s an impressive TripReplay detail: Charter fleet companies that install GoFree Track systems to remotely monitor their assets will also be able to give limited data access to clients, so that you or I can add our charter trips to the personal GoFree Vessel site where we may also keep track of our own boat(s). That’s smart!

Navico_GoFree_Connected_Vessel_system_diagram_cPanbo.jpgWireless communications are key to a connected boat and GoFree Track seems to offer every possibility. If you download the brochure, you’ll see that the WiFi model will retail for $799 with free basic connected services like geofencing and email alerting up to five sensors. An $8 per month WiFi HD plan gets you lots more data, online dashboard access with TripReplay, remote controls, and much more. And since the Track device “automatically stores over a month’s worth of complete vessel, engine, and navigation data,” you will still get online access to your underway data even if you only use marina WiFi for automatic uploading (and watching the boat when you’re ashore).

There will also be a $999 Cell-Fi version of GoFree Track, plus an $800 satellite option, with Navico including the global cellular and Iridium service subscriptions in their various SD and HD cell and sat plans. And, finally, I believe that a Track WiFi-only owner will be able to provide it with their own cell or sat connectivity via their boat WiFi router. The communications choices are comprehensive, and so are the sensor interfaces.

Navico_GoFree_Track_prototype_hardware_cPanbo.jpgThat black GoFree Track Telematics Module can connect not only to the oblong GPS/WiFi antenna, but also to a boat’s NMEA 2000 network and to one or two engines using the J1939 data protocol. I believe that the module will even bridge J1939 gauge info to the boat’s N2K screens — a nice added feature — and it also collects the engine data at very high sample rate. That data is normally downsampled for regular logging and online display like the TripReplay, but if an alarm is tripped, the high resolution data before and after the alarm is saved for troubleshooting. That’s thoughtful!

Meanwhile, the cable going to the beige breakout box above apparently includes 8 digital inputs — 4 of which are dedicated to available GoFree entry, temp, shore power, and high water sensors — and 6 analog to digital inputs, as well as 5 digital outputs and a RS232 port. In other words, it seems like a GoFree Track module could be easily set up to collect a lot of useful boat data and also monitor a few basic security sensors, but it can be further customized with multiple sensors and relays. I’m not sure how an installer will access the Track’s setup software, but hopefully it can be done via app or browser and WiFi, and of course, it also seems possible that Simrad, B&G, and Lowrance multifunction displays will eventually get Track interfaces, the Navico effect.

Come to think of it, isn’t it possible that a boater with a Navico display and a Track system with the Iridium connection may eventually be able to message with friends, family, and support services from anywhere on the water, while also sharing track and other data with them via GoFree Vessel pages? And isn’t it possible that we’ll soon see something similar from Garmin since they acquired the excellent DeLorme inReach Iridium messaging system last February? But I should shut up for now, as the GoFree Connected Vessel system seems quite ambitious as is, and it’s just coming to market.

Siren Marine MTC

Siren_Marine_connected_boat_graphic_and_prototype_MTC_hardware_aPanbo.jpgThe details of Siren Marine’s several new MTC systems are less accessible — little is online yet except for this Siren blog entry and this Providence Journal business article — but I do know that Siren has already been providing cellular monitoring, tracking and control on many boats for many years (Panbo review here), and that means a lot. Just moving sensor data off the boat is a complex path strewn with potential points of failure, but a monitoring system should not only be reliable but easy to use. The devil is very much in details the average boater doesn’t really want to know about.

At any rate, the new Siren module shown above is 6 x 4 inches with both GPS and global cell antennas inside, and backup power. The bottom cover hides a prodigious set of terminals and ports including NMEA 2000 and Ethernet. There will be three models with the middle MTC scheduled to ship early next year, followed by the MTC-Pro and MT. Siren Founder/CEO Dan Harper shared some planned features:

  • Wireless sensors for all inputs
  • Full hardwired capability “if desired through the most convenient and installer friendly terminal interface achieved to-date through our proprietary enclosure design”
  • Multiple bilge, temperature, and sensor zones
  • Unlimited discrete wireless sensor possibilities
  • 3 relay control outputs, all of which can be easily mapped to sensor control with the simple click of a button on the app
  • Built-in Blue Sea remote battery switch control
  • Amperage! “Yes, advanced battery monitoring will be available, though at first only high charge and draw alerts will be the main use, along with amperage reporting and history.”
  • Multiple engine hour inputs, with 3 time counters: basic fluid and filter change, minor overhaul – belts and filters [400h or the like], more thorough overhaul
  • Video — both on-demand and device initiated by sensor input.
  • Satellite accessory if satellite connectivity is desired or required.
  • WiFi — “initially for local access to the device in the absence of cellular, but may eventually be a WiFi hotspot for software updates for other onboard devices and general internet access.”
  • “The most advanced and easy, plain English user rule set capabilities ever achieved in boat monitoring for each input and sensor.”

Siren_Marine_prototype_2nd_gen_MTC_app_screens_aPanbo.jpgDan is excited — me too — and concluded the MTC feature list thusly: “Essentially, for the past year and a half, we have been working like crazy to take everything we have learned from our years in the boat monitoring business to create the ultimate platform, which will still be price competitive with everything on the market.” I notice efforts to deal with some of the detail devils on the new MTC app screens above. For instance, offering a custom delay period for a low voltage alert means that a boater can better create an alert that’s based on real battery state instead of transient dips caused by startup loads like refrigeration (and I gather that the Rules tab may offer even slicker solutions). By contrast, I’ve had to set the low voltage alarm on Gizmo’s test Boat Command system quite low because I can not avoid false alerts otherwise. (Here’s Steve Mitchell’s BC review, and I still agree that it’s solid system and a great value.)

I look forward to learning more about both the GoFree and Siren connected vessel systems and hopefully testing them. In fact, Gizmo will stay in the water all this winter in Maine (and I’m hardly going to any fall shows) largely so I can deep dive into systems like these (and make some needed repairs). I’ve already begun testing the highly wireless Yacht Protector system — just DAME Design Award nominated under its European brand name Dokensip — and I’ve fallen surprisingly in love with the bilge centric Nautic Alert system. Yes, I can now text Gizmo and get back a bilge water level measurement accurate to 0.1 inch, and that’s just the icing on the cake. Full review coming soon.


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