Have you ever heard of Vannes? No? Well, me neither. But as I was looking for an interesting place to go in Northern France I spotted this small town because of some tempting names, Google Maps was offering: VPLP and Finot-Conq, two of the most prolific and renown French naval architect design bureaus and, as a matter of speaking, next door, another big name in the business: Multiplast.
Well, that sounds good, I thought, and some E-Mails later I´ve got my appointment with Managing Director of Multiplast, Yann Penfornis, who gladly took some time off his apparently over-stuffed calendar and welcomed me in his third-story office overlooking the inlet which through a multitude of small channels eventually leads into the big wide Atlantic Ocean: “What can I do for you?”, he asks. Well, there is so much!
Multiplast is the big name in yachting business when it comes to thoroughbred high tech racing machines. Specialty and unique selling point of this company is composite boat building, especially when it comes to carbon fibres. I sat down and rolled out a number of wishes: Could I see the big autoclaves? Is it possible to see a Volvo Ocean Racer (of which I heard some of them would be in refit here)? Can I see a mould of such a carbon sailing machine? Yann took a breath. Leaned back in his chair. And shook his head: “All secret”, he said.
World Epicentre of Carbon Yachting
Multiplast belongs to a conglomerate of five French composite companies, called the Groupe Carboman, which are leading the Nation in branches like boating, aeronautical and spatial products, both civil and defense engineering and renewable energy. Because of so many projects, of which the defense stuff of course is the most sensible, entrance to the “holy halls” of Multiplast is extremely restricted, he explains.
Eventually, after having a chat, Yann agrees to at least show me a tiny bit of their capacity. I follow him as we enter one of the halls – apparently the smallest. Quick is his pace as he wants to have me traverse the hall as fast as possible, his eyes on my camera as to make sure I do not take a picture here. It is not until we´ve entered a small room, when he calms down a bit: “This is one of our storage rooms”, he says. I am allowed to take a picture of a rack full of spools of different kinds of carbon fibre garments.
Out of these, Multiplast is laser-cutting the layers of mats needed to fill the moulds of all these fantastic racing boats which have left these halls. Like the GITANA 17 trimaran which is currently competing in Route du Rhum and a fascinating huge speed machine I have seen some weeks earlier in Lorient as she was there for sea trials. We leave the storage room, skelter through the big workshop into another hall. It´s empty.
“This is our paint shop”, Yann states. Apparently equipped with latest air-conditioning and paint-separation techniques, this hall is capable of doubling it´s capacity so that boats or boat parts bigger than 70 feet can fit in easily. Multiplast not just makes these boats, they can also paint them nicely to fit sponsor´s requirements.
The Who is Who of Professional Sailing
It truly has been – and continues so – to be the birthplace of so many of the world´s most famous racing boats in pro-sailing. The much cited GITANA 17 left these facilities only last year. As well as both ALINGHI racing yachts in 2001 and 2015, trimarans SPINDRIFT and VIRBAC in 2011 and 2013 and my most beloved CHARAL, a new Imoca 60- design which I much admire. Their focus may seem to relay on the huge trimarans, but there is more to it.
Some of the Volvo Ocean Race boats have been made here, such as DONGFENG or ABU DHABI in 2015. Yann says, as the yards which have divided the production of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet among themselves, some decisive parts made by Multiplast are to be found in each and every boat of the fleet: “In that sense, we will be always be winning the Volvo Ocean Race”, he says and laughs.
“I´ve shown you too much of it all already”, he says, when I am standing in the hall and peeking through a small opening of two huge doors into another portion of the hall: Underneath a thick black drape, people are working like bees. Yann shakes his head: “Confidential.” Not far from this portion of the hall, in another shed and equally masked by opaque plastic foil, a huge new racing trimaran is in the making. “Let´s move on!”, he says and half guides half pushes me out of the hall to the fresh air.
Later Yann tells me that the big project was the new SODEBO 5, a superfast trimaran for Ultim, but asks for my appreciation of the fact that any more information are subject of secrecy. I can fully understand of course: These multi-million Euro projects are the pinnacle of sailboat racing and those teams are – just like Formula 1 teams – fighting at the edge of what current technology can produce. They of course try to keep their designs and details secret up until the last moments.
A Story of … nothing
We leave the smallest of the big halls and I can just take a short grasp of the big hall – it´s there, where the magic happens and the real stuff is built, I am sure. I would have loved to see the big autoclaves, would have loved to crawl a – for my sake – dates Volvo Ocean Racer or at least take a look at the moulds. But, this is a matter of fact, my visit to Multiplast turned our to be a story of … nothing. In the best sense of the meaning.
As I drive away my car passes again the offices of VPLP yacht design and Finot-Conq. I know that Multiplast is making the foils of the Beneteau Figaro 3. So here it is, a vital part of France´s vividly beating heart that is the heart of sailing. It was a pleasure and honour meeting Mr. Penfornis who, as I go, admits: “Unfortunately you couldn´t meet the President of this company. He is currently underway …”
As it turns out, Mr. Dominique Dubois is sailing. Nothing less than the Route du Rhum in his 17 metre monohull GHEO. So much about passion for sailing …
Pictures of GITANA by Michel Jamoneau, Title shot of IDEC by Jean-Marie Liot, rest with permission of Multiplast
Interested in more Carbon and Pro-Sailing Stories? Try these:
Mark Mills talks the incredible Vismara V62 Design
Lizzy Foreman on solo-training on an Imoca 60 racing yacht
Focus point of sailing: “La Base” in Lorient