Francois Gabart sits at a console in the aft cabin of Macif – his incredible 100 foot racing trimaran. He faces a glowing screen that provides weather, routing and instant communication with the outside world. He is in constant contact with his shore team, technical experts ready at a moments notice to diagnose and disposition any technical issue. They provide best angles and course to steer to maximize the miles covered and minimize the miles to go. A wave crashes over the deck and washes aft to foam and roar against the monocoque cabin in the back. Gabart barely looks up from his console, concentrating on flying. He smiles as 45 knots glows green on the display.
The big Ultime Trimarans have their own website and organization. It is worth a few minutes of your work day to surf thru www.ultimboat.com and the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/UltimBoat. The site and “class” are an homage to what can be accomplished with more.
It is spectacular without a doubt. Immense amounts of money are spent on the Ultimes – encompassing the active MOD 70’s, the giants (Macif, Sodebo, Spindrift 2, IDEC) and a few others (QuingDao, Tritium, Prince de Bretagne). The result of all this expenditure is technology of the highest order. Boats of amazing capability matched with crews of impeccable experience and credential zoom around race courses worldwide. It is impressive for sure. If money were no object and you wanted to race around the world, of course you would design and build a big ass trimaran too. Macif in particular is an incredible contrivance of high nautical, aerodynamic and electrical engineering science and illustrates what is possible with unlimited funds.
A nod to the skippers of the giants. They are the human face at the pointy end of ambitious and talented sailing teams supported by, and beholden to, huge corporate entities. They are amazing sailors with unassailable courage and skill. Gabart, Joyon, Guichard, Colville, Soldini are legends of offshore racing who have both sailing skill and the ability to build and maintain a sophisticated corporate support structure. Billionaire owner Lloyd Thornburg of Phaedo spent years bobbing around the Caribbean solo before becoming enamored with the thundering MOD 70. And tho he personally heads a gypsy tribe of world class sailors aboard the big tri, he is still the beneficiary of a multi-billion dollar financial empire – without which Phaedo is a dream.
Larger than life, do the Ultimes have any meaning for someone interested in what can be accomplished with less? It won’t be long before an Ultime sails break-neck around the world robotically, the skipper monitoring systems, pushing buttons, relaying data to shore teams. His grit, pluck and determination supplanted by high tech. Ah, but perhaps, effectively, they already do.
And that’s the issue, isn’t it? In a world where technology and corporatism buries the individual, does a program reliant on technology and corporatism inspire? I admire the Boeing 787, but a Super Cub in the wilderness inspires. I admire Spindrift 2, but Teams Alula and Sistership in R2AK inspire. I admire Macif, but Webb Chiles inspires.
I admire technological progress, but courageous human effort – raw, unassisted, and exposed – inspires.
I may never know what it is like to boom across the ocean at 45 knots for days on end. I am impressed by the technology that makes it so and the ability of the skippers and teams to marshall the corporate resources to pull it off. But, there is a niggling little voice in the back of my mind. Ultime’s are amazing sure, but they do not exist without the resources of large corporate entities. They are creations of the collective and survive at its pleasure.
And I am anything but that.