I: THE GENESIS
1969 Éric Tabarly crosses the route of the first offshore hydrofoil
It all began in California at the end of the 60s: aboard Pen Duick IV, Éric Tabarly sailed alongside a strange boat that moved above the water, supported by hydrofoils. This sailboat is Williwaw: built by the American David Kieper, and designed more for ocean voyages, it is the first known transoceanic hydrofoil. With its heavy weight and overcrowded crew, Williwaw is not a thunderbolt... But something clicked in Éric Tabarly's head when he saw this boat fly. As someone who is always on the lookout for innovation, he instinctively understood the advantage of the foil: to free himself from some of the water's resistance by rising above it. He wants foils on his next multihull...
1974 The Tabarly-Dassault Aviation meeting
Dassault Aviation, the French manufacturer of fighter jets and business jets, has innovative know-how in the use of aeronautical aluminum panels and is looking to diversify. Within the company, the idea was raised that these skills could be applied to ocean racing vessels, a booming sector. It was only natural that Alain de Bergh, the Dassault engineer in charge of structural calculations, contacted Eric Tabarly, THE ocean racing specialist. The invitation to visit the Dassault factories was launched and when Alain de Bergh asked Éric Tabarly what possible uses there might be for him, he naturally replied that this could be applied to the new racing trimaran project he had in mind, a multihull that would use foils. Not to fly, because the slowness of Williwaw, due to its weight and its inexperienced crew, has not yet led it down this path, but simply to relieve the bows and generate performance gains.
1976 Éric Tabarly and Alain de Bergh imagine a multihull with foils
Although Tabarly had a clear vision of what he wanted, he had no plans. So it was that Alain de Bergh began to draw up a project for a hydrofoil trimaran based on his knowledge of aeronautics. The first drawings came out with small foils, in line with Tabarly's wishes. It was the unexpected arrival of Pierre Perrier, the engineer in charge of aerodynamic calculations at Dassault Aviation, that changed all that during a work session: seeing the plans, he suggested that the boat could fly, and quickly calculated new, larger foils that would enable this to happen. Tabarly liked the idea, but had to demonstrate its feasibility. The construction of a 1/3 scale prototype was launched, and in the summer of 1976, Éric Tabarly tried out a flying trimaran prototype built around a Tornado hull by a team from the Civil Engineering Department of the IUT in La Rochelle, led by Jean Garnault, based on calculations made by Professor Li Fang Tsen of the University of Poitiers, which completed the initial project designed by Dassault.
1979 The birth of the Paul Ricard hydrofoil trimaran
The 1/3 size prototype flies well, which confirms the viability of the project. In 1979, the realization of a full-scale trimaran is launched thanks to the arrival of the Paul Ricard company, which will sponsor the project and give its name to the boat to take the start of the Le Point-Europe 1 double-handed transatlantic race which takes place during the year. But the lack of time, the limited budget and the weight of the aluminum, which turns out to be too important compared to the expected level of resistance, will lead to the abandonment of the idea of obtaining a boat which flies and the resumption of the initial concept of relief of the bows. Launched only a few days before the start of the race, the Paul Ricard was not perfected: it finished second in the transatlantic race, just over 5 minutes behind the winner. But it was in 1980, on the way back to France, that he became a legend: he smashed the record for crossing the Atlantic under sail, held for 75 years by skipper Charlie Barr on the schooner Atlantic. For Tabarly, it was confirmation that his intuition was right: foils are an avenue to explore for designing high-performance racing boats.
II: BIRTH AND LIFE OF L'HYDROPTÈRE
1984 The Éric Tabarly - Alain Thébault meeting
In 1984, Éric Tabarly met a young sailor, Alain Thébault. The latter was very interested in the idea of flying a racing boat. Éric Tabarly obtains Alain Thébault's attachment during his military service and the two men begin to work with Alain de Bergh, starting again from the flying option that had to be abandoned for the Paul Ricard. At first, towed models, made by Alain de Bergh's son, Christian, were tested in the grand canal of the Château de Versailles. Then came the radio-controlled models.
1992 French industry mobilizes
In 1987, thanks to financing from Dassault Aviation, a 1/3 scale model in composite materials, including carbon, is built. It took Alain Thébault 4 years, depending on the funding, to perfect it and obtain a stable flight in as many gaits as possible. In June 1991, the 1/3 scale model is exhibited at the Paris Air Show and generates a lot of interest. In August 1992, Eric Tabarly gathered a committee of industrialists and decision-makers at his home in Bénodet and convinced them to embark on the adventure. Dassault Aviation, DCN (Naval Group), Matra, CNES, Dassault Electronique, Chantiers de l'Atlantique, Brochier SA (Hexcel Composites), the Pays de la Loire region and the French Ministry of Research and many others all joined forces to build L'Hydroptère.
1994 The first flight of L'Hydroptère
In September 1994, L'Hydroptère is launched in Saint Nazaire and on October 1st, the first flight is made offshore of Saint Nazaire. She flies well and she flies fast! Too fast, perhaps, compared to the dimensioning of her structure... The more the speed increases, the more the crossbeams and the foils are solicited. The efforts are huge, way beyond our expectations. The first breaks quickly appeared: the rear foil at the end of 1994, then a lateral beam a year later.
2005 Reliability and first record
Aerospatiale (Airbus) joins in the adventure, producing new crossbeams based on the new carbon structural beams used on the A340. New carbon foils on titanium frames are produced. All aluminum fittings are replaced by titanium. In 2004, this system will be completed by force limiters, a kind of shock absorber, derived from the Rafale Marine's landing gear: installed on the strut that holds the lateral foils at 45°C in relation to the crossbeams, they can withstand forces up to 60 tons, thus limiting the risk of breakage. The addition of these aeronautical technologies to L'Hydroptère, which is now even closer to an airplane, enabled it to accelerate and begin to show its potential: on February 9th, 2005, it beat the record for crossing the English Channel in 34 minutes 24 seconds, faster than Blériot and his airplane.
2005 L'Hydroptère saved by a Swiss patron
June 2005, in the middle of a record attempt between Cadiz in Spain and San Salvador in the Bahamas, L'Hydroptère hit a unidentified submerged object (USO) off the Canaries. While the ship was being built in Lanzarote, a major storm hit the Canaries. The storm was so severe that L'Hydroptère, although solidly lashed, broke out of her bows and crashed onto the quay and the rocks, sounding the premature end of the adventure.
While all seemed lost, thousands of kilometers away, in Switzerland, Thierry Lombard, the director of the investment bank Lombard-Odier, decided to save the project and offered help to Alain Thébault and his team. L'Hydroptère was then repatriated to France and a renovation and optimization project was launched.
2006-2011 Hunting for records
In 2006, she is back on the water and the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) proceeds to the hydrodynamic optimization of her foils, which marks the starting point of a series of records:
On April 4, 2007, L'Hydroptère led by Alain Thébault and his crew broke the absolute sailing speed record with an average speed of 44.81 knots over 500 m and 41.96 knots over 1 nautical mile (1852 m).
In September 2009, L'Hydroptère broke the mythical 50-knot barrier - the equivalent of breaking the sound barrier in aeronautics. Two months later, on November 8th, L'Hydroptère confirmed its status as the world's fastest flying trimaran, with 51.36 knots over 500 m, 50.17 knots over 1 nautical mile and a top speed of 55.5 knots (102.8 km/h).
2012-15 The American Misadventure
In July 2012, L'Hydroptère was transported to California in order to attempt the Los Angeles-Honolulu record, which had been held since 2005 by Olivier de Kersauson on board Geronimo. The attempt will finally take place in June 2015 but the weather window is not good: the record will not be broken. For lack of sponsors and funding, L'Hydroptère will be abandoned in Hawaii shortly after her arrival.
CHRIS WELSH L'ESPRIT D'AVENTURE
Juin 2019 : la mise aux enchères par l’état d’Hawaii Alors que l’Hydroptère est abandonné au mouillage dans le port de Keehi, une marina à la mauvaise réputation à côté de l’aéroport d’Honolulu, l’état d’Hawaï, qui souhaite faire le ménage dans ses ports, fini par le saisir et le mettre aux enchères. La date de la vente est fixée au 28 juin 2019. Cette vente, c’est la dernière chance de la dizaine de bateaux présents au catalogue avant une destruction certaine. Relayé par le monde de la course au large, l’avis d’enchère de l’Hydroptère fait le tour d’internet. 2 passionnés de voile et de technologies, l’un californien, l’autre français, vont entendre ce que l’on peut considérer comme le dernier SOS de l’Hydroptère.