How did Harken France get involved with the Vendée Globe?
Patrick Rieupeyrout: A few crazy French sailors were already crossing oceans in the 1980s, but one day in 1989 a crazier Frenchman (Philippe Jeantot) proposed a new challenge—a singlehanded race around the world with no stops and no assistance! Our relationship with some of the Open 60 skippers started many years before the Vendée Globe, so we were their natural choice. Suddenly we realized we had to create winches and hardware that required virtually no maintenance!
It was obvious we had to become partners with the skippers, as we had little knowledge of what awaited our friends. Harken France quickly accepted this challenge with skippers like Titouan Lamazou, Philippe Poupon, Alain Gautier, and Philippe Jeantot.
Fleury Michon---Vendée Globe 1989-'90
Jacques Vapillon photo
Jean Martins: Harken already had a great reputation for racing hardware, so we had the opportunity to equip the main boats of the first event. This included Philippe Poupon’s Fleury Michon X, Titouan Lamazou’s Ecureuil d’Aquitaine II (the winner), Philippe Jeantot’s Crédit Agricole IV, and Alain Gautier’s Generali Concorde. So we moved ahead and after each event we won more and more of the sailors’ trust.
What are some of the newest rigging trends in the Open 60 class?
Of course, racers always want more power, control, efficiency, and speed with as little friction and weight as possible. The Open 60 class has really focused on reducing weight—the original boats had 17 winches but the latest use only 5! Most of the 2008-2009 race’s boats have two primaries (880STR or 990STR) and 1 pit winch (65.3STR), all driven by pedestal, as well as two 65.2STRs for the running backstays. Michel Desjoyaux only put two 880s and two 65.3STRs on Foncia 2.
880STR & 65STR Winches
Open 60s also recently incorporated a semicircular vang track, much like the one the Star class uses. This gives far better control over the roach of the mainsail when sail is let out on a downward run.
Perhaps one of the most critical focuses is on making all of the systems adjustable from the protected cockpit. It makes the Vendée much less dangerous for the skippers and puts them near the other controls.
What were the design challenges Harken confronted with the 2008-2009 Vendée?
JM: The main challenge wasn’t to increase the power, it was to manage the power and the increased loads. The 2004 Open 60s were 25% stiffer than their predecessors, and today’s Open 60s are 30% more powerful than the last generation. To face the loads, the boats needed larger winches and equipment with even better reliability and efficiency.
Although the boats are much stiffer and more powerful, the hardware is making them easier to sail. One example of this is the implementation of pedestals, something Open 60s have used since Ellen MacArthur’s Kingfisher five years ago. We’re always trying to use system design to simplify and refine maneuvers.
PR: As I mentioned, safety is the number one goal. Hardware must be reliable, and skippers must be able to manage everything safely and easily from the cockpit in almost any conditions. With our designs, there’s no need to struggle with inefficient blocks or travelers. We’ve also proposed a new carbon fiber pedestal that controls multiple winches and increases efficiency to limit the effort of grinding.
Do mainstream sailors benefit from the development of Open 60 equipment?
PR: Definitely. Racing, for Harken, is a synonym for R & D—we generally develop products for and with skippers in different fields, but we always have it in mind to “one day” use these on cruiser-racers and cruising boats. For example, 990STA, 65STA, and 50STA now equip many cruising yachts and catamarans around the world. Other than the pure development of new products, the reduction of winch and hardware maintenance is one of the first benefits we transfer to mainstream sailing.
In recent years the Open 60 class has been getting bigger and more competitive. Can we look forward to even more exciting boats in the years to come, or has the class reached its limits?
PR: I don’t feel this class is at its limits. As soon as a new generation of boats appears everybody thinks that it’s not possible to go further, but they’re like records—made to be beaten! I’ll concede it gets more challenging and requires more of our engineering resources every race, but it’s what makes Harken a good performer; we always go ahead and do what it takes to be better.
JM: There’s always room to improve existing equipment and develop new technologies. The rate of development could be sustainable, but the IMOCA (International Monohull Open Classes Association) does make some rules to control costs and make sure the boats are competitive with each other..