Smart Sailing: François Gabart’s Ultra-Fast Tech Lab

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New sports technology continues to enhance athlete performances, make equipment lighter and more efficient, and crush records once thought unbreakable.

Editor’s Update: Gabart won the historic Transat bakerly on May 10, 2016. He sailed into New York after navigating 4,634 nautical miles across the Atlantic in 8 days, 8 hours, 54 min, 39 seconds (just 25 minutes shy of breaking the world record). 

French yachtsman François Gabart’s 100-foot- long ‘Ultime’ class trimaran, sponsored by French insurance group MACIF, is one of the world’s fastest racing yachts. This high-tech sailboat hit the water last summer after an 18-month build that required 100,000 human-hours of work. As its name suggests, it is the ultimate sailing machine.

François Gabart, skipper of the Trimaran MACIF. ©Yann Riou/MACIF

François Gabart, skipper of the Trimaran MACIF. ©Yann Riou/MACIF

With a focus on performance, safety and comfort, the boat is equipped with curved foils that allow it to practically fly across the surface of the water.

The vessel’s first serious outing was the Transat Jacques Vabre ‘Match of Giants’ in November 2015. Co-skippered by Gabart and Pascal Bidégorry, they made the crossing from Le Havre to Brazil in just 12 days and 17 hours, leaving the second place boat 88 miles in their wake.

Gabart’s current challenge is even tougher. He recently embarked on the Transat bakerly 2016, a 3,500-mile single-handed race from Plymouth to New York.

Sir Francis Chichester won inaugural race took in 1960. The voyage took Chichester 40 days. The winner of the 2016 event is expected to do the journey in just seven.

macif-foils-flying.jpg

Flying at 50mph. Photo Jean Marie Liot / DPPI / MACIF

However, to do it in such a short amount of time pushes both boat and skipper to their physical limits. Often sailing into the wind, contestants can face mile after mile of stormy seas, battered by waves. They also have to contend with icebergs, freezing fog and the risk of collision with fishing boats, merchant ships and even whales.

Such a dangerous trip requires an extraordinary boat.

Biomechanical Machine

Perched on the waters of Plymouth Sound, the trimaran MACIF resembles a giant, cybernetic insect; a melding of man and machine, either component useless without the other.

Remove the skipper from the cockpit and the boat would veer aimlessly across the sea, eventually running aground on some distant shore. And by his own admission, Gabart could not control the vessel alone without the network of meters, sensors and computers that festoon the inner walls of its carbon fiber hull.

In the cabin, two IEI touchscreen panels connect to an Intel Core i7 PC. ©Yann Riou/MACIF

In the cabin, two IEI touchscreen panels connect to an Intel Core i7 PC. ©Yann Riou/MACIF

Intel’s involvement in the project began during the boat’s design phase, when the French naval architecture firm Van Peteghem Lauriot-Prévost (VPLP) and its digital simulation provider Hydrocean employed the Xeon computing clusters at Intel’s HPC lab in Swindon to find the most efficient design.

“You have the shape of the hull, and you’re just putting it in virtual water,” explains Gabart. “You try it at different speeds, then you have graphs that tell you that this hull is better for [these conditions]… You always have a balance to find between different shapes.”

Innovative Design

Using the clusters, the whole design and optimization process was reduced by three weeks, enabling the team to maintain a lightweight construction while refining the shape of the hulls.

The innovative design also incorporates a spacious cockpit, providing some protection from the elements, while giving Gabart access to the steering wheels, winches and travelers, from where he can perform 95 percent of adjustments to the sails.

The trimaran MACIF’s cockpit features two steering wheels. © Yann Riou/MACIF

The trimaran MACIF’s cockpit features two steering wheels. © Yann Riou/MACIF

Aft of this is the small cabin where the skipper can sit, eat and sleep. It also features the touchscreen monitor that provides access to the wealth of data generated by the equipment on board and corralled by a computer below deck.

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