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In 2005, the Gilles Ollier Design Team and Multiplast were awarded the small craft medal by the highly prestigious UK Royal Institution of Naval Architects. ďIn recognition of the design, development and construction of high performance composite multihulls.Ē

Founded in 1860, RINA is recognised worldwide. Its mission is to promote and develop the art and science of naval architecture on all levels, from pleasure yachts through to tankers and passenger liners

What are the main problems of building in composites?

The problem with composites is that they donít tolerate bad workmanship; you must be sure of your gluing, sure of your environment, sure of your air temperature, sure of your vacuum and sure of the heat you apply.

There are maybe 5 decent multihull manufacturers in carbon, but I donít know all. There are two in France that started about 15 years ago, at a stage where multihulls had still not progressed very far, and they are still where they were then; very artisanal and without any desire to go much further. I am very demanding, very perfectionist I am always going to do better next year.

We make parts for Airbus and Thales simulators. For these we have a very exigent system of quality control and we have applied it to boats. You have to have controls; on the

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entry of materials, during fabrication, after fabrication, just like the aircraft industry. We test the performance of all the composites, in the laboratory, to breaking point. We never just rely on theory .... never! Theorists are always over optimistic, we are pragmatic and we only work with what we can guarantee every day, thatís why we make viable boats. For every assembly operation, samples are checked after hardening for 12 hours, so if two successive checks do not give the same result you know you have a problem.

We are very serious, but the world of pleasure boat builders is full of dreamers, bricoleurs (d-i-y types) not really serious - for me that is not good enough. 

What do you make the moulds from?

Carbon fibre; the material of mould and piece must be the same. Carbon is not inert to temperature change, but it does not move a lot, but if you make a mould in glass fibre it could elongate 10 cms.

Suppose you make a mould in metal; the entire mould dilates as it is heated. The resin in the carbon is liquid up to 80į, at 120į it is hard. Then the mould cools down to 20į and, if it is metal, that mould retracts a lot and the carbon structure inside scarcely at all so it stops the mould retracting. That means in some cases it gets ejected, but if you have a boat with a vertical stem it cant jump out. With our sort of builds, where you have a skin, then a honeycomb then another skin and so on, there could be as many as 4 or 5 cookings, so having the same material for mould and boat is essential.

What part of the boat do you design first?

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A boat is series of coefficients, we design for all the forces and all the moments that exist in the boat at the same time . Everything is balanced, the effort at the foot of the mast, on the stem, the entire chain. That is experience and also technique and once you have this the construction is very simple, so long as you also have the correct the build technique.

You simply have to select the right materials for the required efforts and apply the safety coefficient required. Then you end up with a homogenous boat ; it is light, because you donít use more materials than you need and it is reliable, because it is capable of withstanding the forces that will be applied to it when navigating. So you have the lightest possible construction for the required strength, because you have used just the right amount of material and no more.

The other thing you need is creativity. I have been passionate about boats since I was15. As a young man, in the 60s, who wanted to be a naval architect, I began to collect all the works I could find on naval architecture. They told everything you need to know to build a boat, just like other boats, with designs going back to the 40ís. If you were a technician, you would simply follow the techniques of others and end up building a Colin Archer.

That is not how it works, you have to think in terms of the whole concept; stick a great sail plan on a bad boat and it will still be a bad boat. You need a total vision of the completed boat, you have to imagine it all at the same time. You cannot say today Iíll do the hull and tomorrow the sail plan; you must know exactly what direction you are going in. A boat is never an absolute, it is always a matter of compromise, according to its main purpose. One also has to take into account existing boats, now we have a 50 day circumnavigation boat we have to design and build a boat capable of better than 50 days. There is always a reference point and you have to produce a boat that is better than that reference point, so you have to develop everything at the same time, so that the boat is as coherent as possible. It is a combination of experience, technique and art.

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For me naval architecture is a lot more than that; it is about finding other solutions, better ones, which sometimes means rejecting established technique and using your opinion It can be difficult, because a boat is a very simple object, like a hammer. There are only a limited number of ways you can design a head and a shaft, hull - sail plan equals head - shaft. You must be creative, or you will only reproduce what others have done. Naval architecture and architecture are a mixture of art and technique and a true engineer creates, he doesnít just reproduce.

You mentioned safety coefficient; what is yours?

I canít tell you everything (laughing), but I can say that since 5 years ago we havenít changed it. We have experimented with materials, but never with the safety coefficient. A safety coefficient IS a safety coefficient and, if you donít respect that you will have a failure. If you want to save weight, you must do it by having the best workmanship and the best materials, not by changing the safety coefficient.

When we put the boat in the water it is insured for its total value. I think we are the only yard able to insure vessels for €10 to 15 million and say that, if the boat is written off during sea trials, the client will get paid in full. People can lose a lot of money if they use architects or yards that arenít insured in this way.

How did Orange I lead to Orange II?

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When we designed Club Med, we thought we had made a good choice but, at the end of a year or so, we felt we could do better. At the beginning, everyone said it would be a hard boat to handle, but the crew found it very easy, very quickly. It was not a difficult boat, a little bit physical, but easy to sail and it never got upper hand. So, we knew we could do better; it already seemed a little boat! 

PlayStation was much criticised by the press and other naval architects, but not by me for the simple reason that I am pragmatic. The boat could have been better looking, it could have been constructed better, but the thing that counts is that it did it Ė it took the records. Before you start criticising a boat, you should be able to design and build a better one.

So PlayStation pointed the way where size was concerned, but Orange II is, I think, more homogenous and more powerful than PlayStation and we also paid great attention to reliability, because a break down doesnít just mean lost time, it also makes the crew lose confidence.

With Orange II we did not go over the top on the weight game. People think that too much weight stops a boat going quickly, but there is more to it than that. If a boat is too light, the waves will act like a brake on it and then like an accelerator and a boat that is always accelerating and braking can never be correctly set up, it is also very fatiguing for the crew. What you want for Round the World is a long boat that is bit on the heavy side, so that it will not be stopped by the waves, but keep up a steady speed. Then the sail plan can be set up to be in balance and the boat will be less sensible to the sea state and more comfortable. On Orange II, you are very comfortable at 25 knots and at 20 knots you think you are stopped, there is, absolutely, no sensation of speed.

Which do you think is better, a cat or a tri?

You either have a lighter, smaller tri that is very wide, or longer, heavier cat that is not so wide and I donít think there is much in it, given same power.

Length is a factor in average speed and that is what we are interested in, we never talk about top speed. Orange II was designed to go round the world at an average speed of 22 knots and it did a bit better with 22.2 knots. For a Round the World record top speed doesnít matter. All the maxi multihulls will do 40 + knots in the right conditions, but what you want is a boat that keeps up a good average every day, whatever the weather. With that boat, if its rough you go quickly and if its smooth you go quickly, day in day out.

Personally, I prefer cats; they are simple boats. Trimarans

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are ďsuper machinesĒ, but look how many top sailors have lost one; Florence Arthaud; Laurent Bourguinon, Franck Cammas, Loick Peyron and the rest. Trimarans are very fast, but more dangerous, especially in following winds, or difficult sea conditions. Once a tri starts to nose dive, it is likely to flip, because it is so low on the water. Compare Orange II and Groupama 3, the latter must have a floater regularly under water.

In a Round the World event, you cannot always avoid running before in bad weather and that is what is extremely dangerous in a tri, because it balances and taps. It puts both feet in the water and tap-tap, tap-tap, constantly under the shock of tapping and the risk that an arm will break. To take the Round the World record, you must first have a boat capable of going under 50 days, which is not easy, and, above all, you must have a boat that will take care of the crew, as well as a crew take care of the boat; only then can you take the record.

Why do you think there have been so many canting keel problems in Round the World boats?

Monocoques with canting keels are really multihulls in disguise, so the are hign performance machines. There have been many failures quite simply because people have underestimated the forces involved. The forces are very high, just as in a multihull and people simply have to learn from experience.

Do you envisage carbon being increasingly used for cruising hulls?

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In general no, because it is very expensive and you cannot see that it is expensive, so the people who can afford it mostly would not want it.

Magicat is a cruising catamaran that we built for cultured clients; knowledgeable sailors with an understanding of technical matters. She is a very beautiful boat and she weighs only 20 tons, whilst most boats of her size weigh 50 tons.

Unfortunately, most people who buy expensive yachts are arrivistes, who really want a floating house, with all the furniture they would have on land. They have no idea that weight comes into it, because they have a stay in port culture, not a yachting culture. So those who just want a boat with the comfort of a house will not be buying Multiplast.