The annual Tour de France à la Voile, a month-long yachting race around the coast of France, begins this year on June 26 in Dunkerque and ends (after a cross-country transit leg via truck) in the Mediterranean at La Seyne sur Mer on July 25. Open to amateur and professional sailors, the Tour is unique in that teams use monohull boats of identical design, putting the focus on sailing skill. Since the event's establishment in 1978, only six designs have been used. Thus, the stakes were high when race organizers and the French Sailing Federation solicited a seventh design in late 2008 — especially because the winning boat design would have to be sturdy enough for up to 10 years of racing.
Boatbuilder Archambault (Dange-Saint-Romain, France) bested two dozen competitors with its M34, 1m/3.3 ft longer than the current Tour design, the Farr 30, with a greater sail area/displacement ratio that will enable greater speed and, therefore, longer race legs. In collaboration with Archambault, yacht architect Joubert Nivelt Mercier Design (Saint-Xandre, France) and composite rudder manufacturer Isotop (Marans, France), SP-High Modulus, the marine business of Gurit (Newport, Isle of Wight, U.K.) is supplying materials and engineering expertise for the sandwich-construction hull and deck.
SP-High Modulus' technical team proposed a selection of materials: Gurit's trademarked Corecell M-Foam core, and a stitched, single-ply multiaxial carbon/E-glass hybrid fabric, wet out with an epoxy resin. Specially made for this project, the fabric combines biaxial glass at ±45° with 0° unidirectional carbon fibers. According to SP-High Modulus project design engineer Katia Merle, the 750 g/m2 hybrid solution's 40 percent carbon content provides exceptional stiffness within a single ply, yet still complies with the race rules for overall construction: “This fabric represents a clear gain in stiffness, compared to an all-glass laminate with uni carbon tapes added at key locations,” she explains, “and it results in a lower overall laminate weight.”
Aster Composite Co., Archambault's in-house fabricator, is vacuum infusing hulls and decks on glass/vinyl ester female tooling. Thirty M34s will be launched, the first this month, to meet the 2011 Tour schedule.