Caterham Composites: Protection and Performance
Caterham Composites: Protection and Performance
Caterham Composites designs Coach Roof using virtual development capabilities for Alex Thomson Racing’s IMOCA 60 yacht
Photo: C.Launay/Alex Thomson Racing/ HUGO BOSS
Our challenge was to design a bespoke sliding coach roof for Alex Thomson’s Open 60 ‘HUGO BOSS’, protect the sailor from the harsh conditions expected during the Vendée Globe, and to help Alex Thomson perform to his full potential.
We used a virtual development process with two-stage composite optimisation, carried out by Caterham Composites with the HyperWorks suite. Our team delivered a functional and safe sliding coach roof for the record breaking yacht, within the material, budget, and development time constraints.
Both the professional and leisure sailing industries provide a fascinating area from an engineering perspective. High performance sailing yachts in particular, used in the most challenging environments, are highly engineered when compared to leisure yachts. In the Open 60 class in particular, they are often one-of-a-kind customised products. Many of their components are individually designed and produced for a single boat and, since there is no series production, each yacht is a prototype. Using the designers’ experience of past boats to maximise its performance. To successfully design and build a yacht that will perform to the level required by Vendée Globe skipper Alex Thomson the designers and engineers have to get it right first time – there is no room or time for error.
The boat has to be both as light and as strong as possible, and obviously it has to be quick, at least as quick as its competition and, hopefully, faster. It has to be stable, stiff, and safe, and its design has to be as efficient as possible, to help its speed through the water.
To meet these exacting standards contemporary race boats are now almost exclusively constructed from composite materials which offer significant advantages in terms of weight, strength and adaptability. However, knowing how to utilise those composite materials most efficiently takes extensive knowledge and experience in the composites industry, skills that may have been honed over many years working in comparable markets such as motor racing.
To save time, stress and money, we use virtual development methods to design, analyse, optimise, and test the components before the yacht is built.
Photo: C.Launay/Alex Thomson Racing/HUGO BOSS
We lend our expertise to a number of areas on Alex’s IMOCA Open 60. Alex is the youngest skipper ever to win a round the world race, claiming victory in the 1998/99 Clipper Round the World Race, a record he still holds today. Alex then broke the world distance speed record in 2003 and with his current yacht, he has broken the transatlantic solo sailing record, crossing the ocean solo more than 24 hours faster than the previous record.
Our brief was the yacht’s sliding coach roof. The coach roof is designed to offer Alex protection from waves whilst still allowing him to sail the boat to its full potential. The design of the roof also allows it to slide into a forward position to maximise the cockpit area available for Alex to work in.
We had a limited budget, limited material options and a tight timeframe to fit into the overall refit and training schedule. Given those requirements we used the HyperWorks suite by Altair ProductDesign to handle the optimisation of the roof and its composite development capabilities.
We used readily available materials of intermediate modulus carbon fibres in various forms for the outer part of the coach roof. For the core of the product, we chose foam and Nomex. A key point of difference for this project was the production method, led by some time and budget limitations often common in the sailing industry, compared to motor racing. The tooling was made from plywood, which although accurate, cannot resist changes in temperature or pressure. As it could not be autoclaved, the lower volume fraction as well as lower mechanical properties of room temperature curing resin had to be taken into account - all of which was successfully integrated into the project in its final outcome.
One of the primary challenges was to create something light enough not to add excess weight to the yacht’s basic structure, but that would still be able to withstand the huge volumes of water across the deck as the boat powers through the world’s oceans. To meet the expected load requirements, we worked to the ABS and ISO standards for surface pressures and added appropriate safety factors where needed. In spite of all the challenges, we delivered an innovative roof on time and on budget. Alex used the new roof when he set the Transatlantic single-handed record in July. "The weather I faced in the Atlantic gave me ample opportunity push the adjustments that we made to the coach roof over the winter to the limit and I’m pleased to say it’s excellent.