How long to build an America's Cup multihull?

Groupama3 and skipper Franck Cammas (FRA) who is working with BMW Oracle Racing on their Challenger, expected out of the shed in early May.

In light of the current dilemma regarding Alinghi and Oracle disagreement on a Match date, Sebastien Destremau decided to speak with one of the most successful maxi multihull builder/designer’s in the World, Gilles Ollier from Multiplast who openly insists 'It is impossible to build a 90 ft multihull in less than 8 months!'

Coincientally, Sail-World had the same discussion, on Tuesday, with a leading New Zealand boatbuilder who assurred us that it would be easily possible to build an America's Cup specification multihull in six months. By comparision the build time for an America's cup class yacht is five months.

It has not been announced when the Golden Gate Challenger will emerge from the building shed, however it is expected very soon (by May) and that will leave two months for work up in Valencia, which appears to be the likely venue for the 33rd America's Cup Match.

On 29 December, Golden Gate YC announced that they had stopped negotiating with Societe Nautique de Geneve for a multi-challenger, conventional America's Cup event and it can be assumed from this comment that they had got beyond the point of no return in their build program (just over three months ago). Allowing for design etc from 11 July 2007 the time scales would indicate they, too, were probably on a six month build program.

However read on:

Sebastien Destremau: Gilles, can I ask you to first introduce yourself and your experience in designing and building maxi multihull’s?

GO: I created Multiplast in 1981. The year Formula One cars started using the carbon fiber to build their vehicle. In 1982/1983 we built our first all carbon boat Credit Agricole. Our techniques were developed and in 1987/88 we started using 'the oven technology' and have never looked back ever since.

SD: So you have been building multihull for the last 25 years. What are the boats you have been building for the past, say, ten years?

GO: We have built several America’s Cup boats, the latest being in 2002 for the French team and some Orma 60 footers. As far as maxi multihulls are concerned, we’ve built the triplets for the Race 2000 (Club Med, etc,…) from design to construction. After these catamarans, we did Geronimo (VPLP design), Orange 2 (Ollier Design) and Groupama 3 (VPLP Design).

SD: I note that your designs are all catamarans whilst VLPL’s are trimarans. Can you elaborate on that?

GO: We believe catamarans are better for offshore racing and much simpler to design and build. You’ve got to remember that the program for these multi’s is generally to sail around the World so we look for safety as well as performance. There is no doubt that a Trimaran is much better suited for inshore racing or windward leeward type courses however they are trickier and take longer to build. They are also much more powerful as the ratio length/width is one for one as opposed to two for one for a cat.

SD: Trickier and longer to build?

GO: Yes. If you build a catamaran you can have one mould for both hulls and two crossbeams that can be of a similar design. Consequently you are saving a lot of time in the building process. The Tri’s are trickier because you obviously have to build three moulds, and you can have all the latest development features like foils, canting mast etc… and all of these consume a lot of productivity time in order to perform. Where as on a big Cat’s, these ‘features’ do not yet exist.

SD: How long did it take you to build some of your profile 'beasts'?

GO: You are always pressured by external concerns like late sponsors’s decisions or last minute changes from the skippers or the design team. It took us 18 months to build Groupama 3 keeping in mind that we were not the designers (VPLP) and this tends to extend the building process.

Orange 2 was completed in 14 months. We are very proud of this achievement but we needed to employ 50 peoples to work the 100 000 hours necessary to build her.

With our experience track record in delivering these boats, we are very confident in our technology and process. To give you an example: We test each bucket of resin used and keep a record of it. I could give you the test results of the resin used to build Groupama 3 aft cross beam if need be. We also test each boat in the yard during one month before their sea-trial.

SD: 14 months for Orange 2?

GO: Yes, from conception to delivery. Bear in mind that three months are required to build the tools and moulds. This period of time can be reduced, if you are extremely well organized and plan in advance.

Also, some parts of the construction can be outsourced but again this takes a fair bit of forward planning and project management. Outsourcing has never been easy in our business and I personally try to avoid it for quality control purposes.

SD: I believe that Team Dennis Conner built not one, but two cats in 6 months twenty years ago. How did he manage to do that then when it took you 14 months to build Orange 2?

GO: You are right. Firstly they were only 60 foot long and extremely simple in design. A bit like a Tornado: two hulls and two cross beams, period, done, finished. The only developments were in the sails with a soft and a rigid mainsail but these were outsourced. It is definitively not comparable with an Orange 2, Groupama or Geronimo!

SD: So if I was to provide you with a complete set of plan’s for a 90 x 90 ft multihull today and asked you to build my boat for the America’s Cup match. What would you say?

GO: I would be very pleased especially if money is not an issue! (laugh) More seriously, I wouldn’t be ready to start building tomorrow that’s for sure! I would have to study the design, talk to your people, have meetings, and develop the tools etc before I can even consider laying the first piece of wood to build the pre form. Think about the carbon’s supply? Four to six weeks minimum for such high tech Carbon. And it comes from Japan too!

So lets say that your design team is extremely well organized and they give me the best set of designs I’ve ever seen. I would hire a large group of technicians and organize them on two eight hours shifts within a 24hour period.

SD: Two shifts? Why not three and work around the clock?

GO: Three x eight hours is not an option for us. The carbon has to dry and cure from time to time!

SD: Ok two shifts. What then?

GO: It is absolutely impossible for me to build a boat like this in less than eight months. Six if I can outsource to already contracted boat builders. Eight months would be a major achievement to deliver a boat like this keeping in mind that she wouldn’t be ready to sail within this time frame.

SD: Six to eight months and she is not even ready to sail? So how long before I can have my boat ready to race then?

GO: Ok, you can have your boat in eight months. Sailing? Maybe add another few weeks if all goes well. Now if you are talking about racing then think twice. Your boat is not going to be race ready until several months later.

Trimarans are extremely powerful, super light and rigidity is key to performance in multihull’s. This equation is like dynamite and it is very common to have serious breakages with this kind of boat when they are first launched. Remember Groupama 3’s accident last month? Well, how long did it take for Franck and his boys to build and develop her? Years!

Let me put it this way. It is easy for me to build a nice piece of art inside eight months for you. HOWEVER it will be a boat for a show room and certainly not a boat ready to race!!

After a couple of weeks of sea trials, you’ll probably loose a part of the hull, or break a mast or destroy a foil or maybe all of these altogether. This will set you back another month or two… so on and so forth.

These boats are a nightmare compared to an America’s Cup boat. A Cup boat is so easy to engineer, to build; there is nothing inside them! But a 90 x 90 f