During my transfer cruise of an Excess 11 catamaran from Les Sables to Le Havre we´ve had to make a stopover in Brest due to bad weather and a case of serious sea sickness within my crew. It was there when, on one day, wind was easing a bit for a tiny time frame of some 30 minutes and I was able to cast off from the fuel station where I found refuge (and a free berth) to land the cat vis-à-vis at a proper berth alongside, not blocking the fuel station anymore. When we got up the other day, looking out of the saloon windows, I saw a huge trimaran berthed right behind us. ARKEMA 4!
And it was not just limited to this one trimaran as over the day more and more of these racing machines began to dock alongside in Brest marina, which was fascinating and a great occasion to take a look at cutting edge sailing machinery. Now that I was acting captain of a multihull myself, doing my first miles on a twin-hulled boat, I found it very intriguing to see how far this concept can be pushed and where possible differences might be.
Meet ARKEMA 4, a 50 feet racing trimaran
After drinking my morning coffee and getting dressed finally, I swung out to the pontoon and strolled around the boat. There was buzzling activity as apparently the crew having arrived so late in the night left the boat and a new crew stored their luggage on the jetty to take over. It was a fascinating look.
The trimaran is very, very sleek. Measuring 50 feet in length, which is little more than 15 metres and a width of little less than 15 metres. A racing square. This cat has been built over a period of two full years which shows the determination and care that goes into a boat like this. ARKEMA 4 is skippered by Quentin Vlamynk, once the youngest skipper (28 years of age) in this sailing series, but a serious salt by himself. He is head of a pro-team consisting of a technical crew, staff, co-skippers and care takers as well as a media crew. ARKEMA 4 is part of the Ocean Fifty Pro-Sailing Series, formerly known as Multi50.
It´s a fascinating sight and so much to see. This is what I love about sailing in French waters: You can meet so many interesting people, see so many special boats and yachts and can start so exciting conversations with the guys sailing them. No matter if they are private circumnavigators doing their own business or the stars of sailing, like these guys. So I went over and asked if I could take pictures: “Be our guest!”, the boat captain told me and smiled. Now, let´s go!
Built for maximum speed
ARKEMA 4 is kind of a brand-new trimaran incorporating some nice new ideas which make it different to most of the other boats. What can be seen immediately are the two foils in the floats and a huge forward removable daggerboard. Both are retractable for reducing unwanted drag when necessary. I reckon these are made of carbon of course.
The ARKEMA 4 sports a classy rigging. I couldn´t spot any lines or blocks which would indicate a rotating mast-system but I guess a racing trimaran in this class would have one. Everything was faired in sleek, aerodynamic panels trying to even further reduce every bit of drag created by vortexes in high speed sailing mode. Look at the cockpit: It´s as low as possible to allow a low boom and increase mainsail area. Speaking of which this trimaran has plenty of.
I checked their website and there it is said that the cockpit glass is made of a new material, Shield up Flex PMMA glazing that can withstand even hardest pounding by hard hitting waves. Thinking back to the standard acrylic glazing of my old OLIVIA this is clearly is rocket science. The ARKEMA 4 also sports a quite interesting energy management system, which consists of photovoltaic modules allocated all over the trimaran and latest technology Lithium-Ion batteries, this boat can increase energy storage of up to 50% to a prior version making it self-sustainable and not emitting one gram of CO2.
High speed tri-racing: How is this feeling like?
That these behemoths are going fast like hell cannot just be seen by looking at the space-fighter design and sleek form of the boat. You can see the effects of high speed all over the boat: The foil covering the trimaran in their sponsor´s colors is peeling off at all frontal edges of the outrigger beams, large chunky of thick wrapping is simply torn off.
Well, no wonder: These trimarans go fast even in the slightest of puffs. High speed racing with up to 30 knots SOG are possible, at one occasion, as skipper Vlamynck tells, they clocked in at whopping 39 knots upwind (!) leaving Toulon. This is absolutely incredible! As generally speaking upwind performance in multihulls is considered being inferior to a mono, this figure is absolutely exciting showing the potential of such a boat.
Asking if I could come inside and take a few pics, the crew was very friendly, but refused. I knew that this answer would be coming before I asked, of course, as competition is tight and all crews want to protect their tiny secrets and tricks. It would have been very interesting to see the berths for the off-crew, the galley and the WC-arrangement as this is always very interesting. (You may browse this article on ILLBRUCK racing yacht and see how they did it back in the day)
Fighter-Jet technology meets Viking-sailing
Anyway, what fascinates me most is the fact that sailing itself is a very old, almost ancient, technology. Man has been on the seas since he came into being and seafaring was, still is, the motor of our civilization. In this, one can still see the old Papyros-rafts of the Egyptians, the Latin-sail of the Venetians or the sleek lines of the Clipper Ships even in a high tech carbon-monster like ARKEMA 4.
It is still a crew of dedicated men and women working with their bare hands, pulling lines and ropes, running through pulleys and blocks. Ancient technology beamed to the 21st century. Although I wasn´t allowed to get onboard and take pics from the inside, I managed to sneek into ARKEMA´s cockpit standing high up on the jetty (during falling tide). Thanks to the great zoom of my Huawei´s great camera I got a peak onto the large winches and the keyboard of the running rigging.
Amazing how I as a very, very ordinary sailor can almost instantly determine which line works which sail and where to pull and veer to trim the sails. Also something that fascinates me about sailing, this universal language, no words needed, just a look onto a rope, following its path up the mast to understand which function it has. In theory, anyone who can sail, would be sailing this trimaran too. Well … in theory. We all fly in planes regularly (well, not so much anymore apoparently …) but I reckon only a tiny percentage of us won´t be lost in the cockpit of an A350. Different in boats though.
We strolled over to the other trimarans of which the whole fleet was now mooring in Brest to try and spot some differences, like the steering positions which have sometimes been solved nicely (and quite protected from aggressive spray, sometimes not so much) and tried to figure out which of them trimarans would be our favourite.
Ocean Fifty Pro-Sailing Tour in Brest
Now back in Germany for some weeks I followed the Ocean Fifty Sailing Series and I am amazed seeing Skipper Vlamynck and his ARKEMA 4 team finishing the overall series in second place. Congratulations for that, quite a nice success for a young man like him, standing his ground in high seas high speed racing against a wolfpack of such names as Erwan Le Roux or Armel Tripon.
There is of course one name that turned out unbeatable, at last in this year´s edition of Ocean Fifty Pro Sailing Series and that is Sam Goodchild. The mastermind of LEYTON trimaran managed to outpace even ARKEMA 4 and is the overall winner. I had the pleasure of talking to Sam Goodchild some years ago about the Solitaire du Figaro, a fascinating legendary race and cradle of so many pro sailing stars in France and the world.
All of those seven teams I guess will now return to their sheds. Boats will be repaired, maintained and brought up to the next level with tweaks and new equipment to be ready for 2022 edition of the Ocean Fifty Pro Sailing Series. Now that I have seen these great machines with my own eyes, spoke to their crews (although just short, but nevertheless …) I will have an eye on this fascinating niche of the sailing sport for sure.
Thinking back to this encounter with the three-hulled Formula 1-racers of the oceans I can remember that they inspired me in sailing “my” own catamaran which I was taking from the Les Sables d´Olonne to Germany. The next day it seemed that weather would be good enough to get out into the English Channel with a cruising catamaran and so we decided to take off. Looking on this picture and remembering that fateful early morning, still dark, 14-17 knots wind in the marina, rain pouring down … gives me shiver still!
This manoeuvre was and still is the most exciting, the worst in terms of tension, the most complicated in terms of wind, pressure and drift of my whole sailing career. In front of me a trimaran, behind me a trimaran, next no me vis-à-vis boats moored in second row, further minimizing space to steer my boat through. I cannot imagine the catastrophe if I would have hit one of these …
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