HomeNEWSBiotherm's Paul Meilhat relaxed about late launch

Biotherm’s Paul Meilhat relaxed about late launch

He may have less sailing with his team than the rest of the fleet, but Paul Meilhat is quietly confident ahead of leg one.

Two days before last weekend’s In-Port Race in Alicante, skipper Paul Meilhat had yet to sail with his entire crew on board Biotherm. Compare and contrast that with the three years of build-up to this race by Charlie Enright and 11th Hour Racing.

While the Biotherm skipper admits it’s not an ideal form of preparation, he fully accepts the position he is in with a shrug of his shoulders. “We decided really late to compete in The Ocean Race. My boat is the last to be launched, in September,” he smiles. “I have never trained with the crew. Never.”

Not that he seems fazed by the lack of crew practice. “I have chosen people who are very autonomous. They can sail the boat without me, they are co-skippers, very capable and very experienced with IMOCA sailing.”

© Pedro Martinez / Sailing Energy

This is where he draws the distinction between Biotherm and 11th Hour Racing. “They are very experienced with this race, it is what they have been building up to. But in our crew we have many, many thousands of miles of experience sailing the IMOCA. I think that will be important.”

Another big difference between all the IMOCAs is the design of the boats. In stark contrast with the strict one-design nature of the VO65s in the past two editions of the race, the IMOCA rule encourages thinking out of the box.

Over the years the IMOCA fleet has pioneered all kinds of advancements, such as water ballast and canting keel systems to increase the power-to-weight ratio of the boat. The past few years have seen huge hydrofoils start to protrude from either side of the hull. Once the breeze kicks up to more than about 8 knots, a foiling IMOCA is capable of starting to lift out of the water and begin accelerating to phenomenal speeds.

But it’s early days in the world of IMOCA foiling, and the learning curve is steep. One of the big discrepancies between the boats in The Ocean Race is the weight of the boats, although for Meilhat and other skippers the vital statistics are a closely guarded secret.

“I’m not going to tell you the weight of my boat,” smiles Meilhat, “but it’s one of the lighter ones in the fleet. You look at Malizia, and you would need to make two Biotherms to make one Malizia.”

While Boris Herrmann commissioned Malizia to be built with a high coachroof, providing plenty of space inside – by IMOCA standards anyway – Meilhat has been prepared to sacrifice living space and comfort for a lighter, lower profile hull.

The Biotherm skipper, who stands around 1.8m tall, says: “There is about 1.4m of height inside, so you have to crawl around a lot of the time. There’s only one small position in the boat where you can stand up, less than 1 square metre. It was a choice to get a light boat and keep things small. Righting moment in an IMOCA is really important, and keeping your centre of gravity down low is much better. I’m happy with my choices.”

Over the next six months we will see the trade-offs play out in real time on the race course.

– Andy Rice

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