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Behind the Scenes: The winter refit

Offshore racing pushes both sailors and boats to their limits. The ocean environment, with its corrosive salt water, damaging UV rays and powerful waves, puts a strain on every part of the boat. Even a tiny, hairline crack invisible to the naked eye can have disastrous consequences.

This is why every IMOCA yacht undergoes a rigorous refit period at the end of each season. This process allows specialist engineers to service all moving parts and to meticulously assess the boat's structural integrity. Any weaknesses can be identified and addressed before they become problematic during a race.

In addition, the refit period provides an ideal opportunity for modifications and upgrades. With the Vendée Globe starting in November, several races remain on the calendar before the big event. These races serve as crucial testing grounds for any changes made to the boat, allowing the skipper to adapt and identify the need for further modifications if necessary.

Stripping Down and Building Anew

Our yacht, Gitana80, entered the shipyard in December 2023. The first phase is to meticulously strip the boat down. This thorough process, similar to the preparation stage of any successful DIY project, ensures a smooth and successful refit.

Once out of the water, the team removed literally everything: the mast, the keel, the solar panels, the winches, every fixture and fitting, and even the grip tape from the floor. Next came the not-so-glamorous task of sanding down both the interior and cockpit surfaces right back to the bare carbon. In some areas, the team even needed a plane to remove the layers of accumulated paint!

Key Modifications and Upgrades

One significant upgrade involves the coach roof. The team constructed a new one from scratch, using their expertise to lay up carbon cloth and foam core, before moulding them into the desired shape. These panels were then bonded together and permanently fixed to the boat. This new design, proposed by a local composite design office, is larger, wider and higher than the previous one. This will offer skipper Ollie Heer much greater protection from the wind and waves during his upcoming journey through the Southern Ocean, ensuring a slightly less unpleasant experience.

Another key area has been to redesign the pit area, where all the running lines enter the cockpit. This involves a new layout and new clutches, which will ultimately lead to less friction and improved rope organisation.

Additionally, the deck has been reinforced with unidirectional carbon fibre, particularly around the turning points on the cockpit sides. This will enhance the deck's strength and its ability to withstand the heavy loads placed upon it by the headsail sheets.

Technology Upgrades and Next Steps

Pixel Sur Mer, our local marine electrician contractor, will soon be onboard to install a new wiring layout, upgrade the solar panels, change the alternator and implement various other electrical modifications. We've also chosen to invest in a new Starlink satellite communication system, offering significantly faster data connectivity. While the installation is expensive, there are many long-term benefits. Data costs will be reduced during races and a more stable and reliable connection will allow Ollie to stay connected and share images and videos, no matter where in the world he sails.

Once the boat is repainted, all the fittings are re-installed, the keel re-attached, and the boat relaunched, Marine Rigging Services will re-assemble the mast after completing a comprehensive service.

Over the next few weeks, Ollie's schedule will be divided between overseeing the final stages of the refit and fulfilling his "corporate" duties as a skipper. This includes visiting sponsors and partners, delivering keynote speeches, attending events, and participating in pre-race press conferences.

"As a sailor," says Ollie, "launching the boat again marks a crucial first step in the new season. After months on land, I'm truly eager to return to the sea and begin sailing. With the upgraded and optimized Gitana80, I'm excited to test our mettle against the other IMOCA skippers in the upcoming Transat CIC race this spring."


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