Vendee Globe co-skipper

Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI / Vendee Globe
Autopilot developments are part of the reason the IMOCA 60s are achieving their massive daily runs
IMOCA 60s may be a little faster or have specialist sails for certain conditions, but one reason why we have seen the monster 24 hour runs in this Vendee Globe is due to the marked improvement in the skill of the helmsman. By this we mean not the skipper, but the autopilot. Since the 2008-9 Vendee Globe, B&G has taken the lion’s share of the autopilot market in the IMOCA 60 fleet. While last time there was an equal split between B&G and French manufacturer NKE, this time B&G pilots were fitted on 16 of the 20 boats that set out just over a month ago from Les Sables d’Olonne. This has largely come about following the significant development work B&G did on their pilots going into the last Vendee. “Six months before that race we had this dawning realisation that our pilot wasn’t working well,” admits Miles Seddon, B&G’s Business Development Manager. “They’d jumped to this new generation of designs with hard chines, masthead chutes, slightly different keels and more performance and it meant that the forces on the boat were different, so the pilot was really, really struggling. Even in 15 knots of breeze with an A2 up, you couldn’t control the boat under pilot. You’d feel a broach about to happen and the rudder would just stay there as the heel increased. It wasn’t doing anything that as a sailor you were willing it to do...” To address this problem they took their autopilot engineer out sailing on an IMOCA 60. They also spoke to several of the skippers – in particular Alex Thomson, Brian Thompson and Seb Josse - and acquired much performance data from the boats to investigate the issues. They then set about resolving them. “To get it to sail a bit more like a human would