The giant Lego set
A few minutes inside the workshop is enough to understand the intensity of the work being carried out. Installing the structure is now over and everyone is busying themselves, doubled up in the boat to assemble, stick and drill, in an environment coloured by noise and heat. “We have six nationalities in the team and everyone is getting on well with each other," explains Jean-Pierre Gosswiller, build team manager at Indiana Yachting, builders of the new Groupe Bel. "Even though the language problem is still there, when people know their job and are professionals, things go well. These boats have become extremely sophisticated and call upon some big teams,” he summarizes. Gosswiller previously worked at JMV boatyard in Cherbourg for eight years, where he built ten boats of this kind. “In the 1990s, an Open 60 footer took 8,500 man hours to build - now you need between 22 and 25,000.”
“There’s still a lot to do,” confides skipper Kito de Pavant. “We are in the phase of fitting out and equipping the boat, prior to painting which starts in a few days' time. Everything is 'custom' designed, thought-out and manufactured specially for Groupe Bel, and everything is now converging in a yard from all over Europe.”
Since the deck was put on mid-July, each component of this giant Lego set is being pieced together - the keel, daggerboards and the hydraulic systems manufactured in Milan, the winches in England, parts of the rig in Spain, sails and rudders in La Trinité-sur-Mer, and finally the mast in Montpellier. “It's really colossal. With all the suppliers, there are several hundred people involved in the project today,” presses the skipper who is eager to sheet in the sails "to see how our choices shape up.”
The canting keel is unquestionably one of the keys to an IMOCA 60 so for the manufacture of this essential element of Groupe Bel, de Pavant and the architects have selected two state-of-the-art Italian companies, Re-Fraschini and Cariboni, both well versed in Formula 1 and aeronautics methods. The technicians work in a 'white room' with gloves, masks and immaculate overalls. “These are implementation processes that you can't find anywhere else and we wanted this standard of quality for Groupe Bel,” says the skipper. “With Guillaume Verdier’s knowledge, combined with that of Vincent Lauriot Prévost’s team and Mick Kermarec, who has also contributed, despite other work with the America’s Cup (for BMW Oracle Racing), I think we have a very high performance association. However, these parts are extremely complicated so we're not counting our chickens just yet…”
The mast is another crucial element. Built by the Black Flag yard in France, it successfully has passed the flexing test and is at the desired weight. The spar is expected in Italy at the end of August, as are the sails, manufactured by North Sails. “We all went back to our childhood" confides Isabelle whose team has hand-painted a 13 metre high Vache qui rit® (Laughing Cow) the internationally famous Groupe Bel logo! A perilous exercise with a thousand and one details and numerous shades which have to be respected to the letter. Mission accomplished! To be discovered very soon...