The skipper from Charente went to court to be able to participate in the famous Transat at the helm of his new boat, deemed non-compliant by the Ultim Class.
From Breton pontoons to Parisian courts. The dispute between François Gabart and the Ultim Class knew, this Thursday, an important stage in view of the next Route du Rhum. A mythical race in which the 39-year-old skipper remains at the door for the moment because of a boat denounced as non-compliant by his competitors, Thomas Coville (Sodebo), Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire), Charles Caudrelier ( Edmond de Rothschild), Yves Le Blévec (Actual) and Arthur Le Vaillant (Brest Ultim Sailing).
Faced with the urgency of the calendar – the start of the Transat is scheduled for November 6 – Gabart’s sponsor, the Kresk group, has seized the Paris court to be able to obtain the measurement certificate which will allow the maxi-trimaran SVR Lazartigue to cast off in Saint-Malo. Justice should not decide on the merits of the conflict but on the form.
At the heart of the debates, a protocol signed on February 16 by the Gabart clan and the owners of the Ultim class which allowed the Charentais to participate in the Rhum if the International Sailing Federation (World Sailing) returned its conclusions on the subject at the latest. March 4. Kresk’s lawyers pointed out that the latter communicated its interpretation, unfavorable to Gabart, on March 7. The Ultim Class, for its part, highlights the fact that the document is dated March 4 and that a first negative opinion had been published on the World Sailing website on February 23.
It had been removed from the site the next day after Gabart and the architectural firm VPLP, designer of the boat, had denounced the use of incomplete and non-compliant plans for this decision. After the pleadings, the judgment was reserved for July 21. Present in court on Thursday, the skipper has already indicated his intention to appeal in the event of an unfavorable judgment.
Even before its launch, in July 2021, François Gabart’s new flying boat had raised questions and skepticism among his playmates. For the latter, the winner of the 2013 Vendée Globe and VPLP designed a boat that does not respect not one of the international offshore racing rules OSR (Offshore Special Regulations). Specifically point 3.11 stipulating that, for safety reasons, the sailor operating on the sheet winches, the winches used to stiffen the ropes, cannot be located under the deck of the boat.
For the Ultim class, this is the case on SVR Lazartigue whose cockpit, where the famous winches are located, is installed, according to her, below deck. Backed by architectural plans, lawyers for Gabart’s team argued in court that World Sailing had been “deceived” by the Ultim Class with a design “coarse-featuredwhich is not that of SVR Lazartigue. For the designers’ lawyer, the cockpit of the blue trimaran is indeed a “wet area as evidenced by its small holes to evacuate water“. According to him, it is an integral part of the bridge and therefore respects the gauge. The Ultim class responds that it was not authorized by SVR Lazartigue and its architect to transmit the “official” plans and is surprised that the opposing party is now denouncing “a breach of confidentiality» on a drawing that she considers non-compliant.
After claiminginadmissibilityof the legal action by Kresk and François Gabart for administrative reasons, the defense considered that the “principles of sports safety and fairness” were “flouted“. She recalls that as early as May 2019, a measurer had expressed reservations about “the ability to have peripheral vision to maneuver safelyafter a site visit. SVR Lazartigue would not provide “360 degree visionlike its competing boats (Sodebo, Edmond de Rothschild) whose photos were also presented to the judge for comparison.
In terms of sporting fairness, the layout denounced by the competition gives Gabart an undeniable advantage in aerodynamic terms. On Sodebo or Edmond de Rothschild, the cockpit is located on the deck for less optimal air flow. “The biggest aerodynamic drag is the cockpitrecently explained Charles Caudrelier, skipper of Edmond de Rothschild. And that of François is a big gain in the matter and also allows to center the weights and to lower the center of gravity. But you have to be above the bridge to see ahead. François does not have the same interpretation as us of this safety rule which applies to all boats. So you need a referee. And you have to respect the referee’s decision.».
Before the conflict broke out, experts mandated by the Ultim class had examined SVR Lazartigue and its plans without expressing any reservations. “There is debate between the experts and differences of point of view, including among the skippers», specifies Samuel Tual, president of the Actual group and owner of the trimaran helmed by Francis Le Blévec (Actual Ultim 3). Last fall, Gabart and his co-skipper Tom Laperche obtained an exemption to participate in the Transat Jacques Vabre (2e). In return, his competitors expected him to do the work to “compliance» with a view to the next races (Route du Rhum, Brest Oceans).
The class cannot offer sports with cheaters.
The Ultim Class Advocate
«We built our boat in the most transparent way possible, the Ultim class measurer and the representative of the French sailing federation checked our boat during its construction and considered it compliant afterwards, and again after additional expertise requested by the class itself. Our competitors do not follow these expert reports, which we do not find fair“explained Gabart to Figaro at the end of March. The latter denounceda relentlessness to push us aside.”
«The class deeply regrets this dispute, concluded Thursday the lawyer of the Ultim Class. Its vocation is to follow the ships to organize races and offer a beautiful spectacle. She is sorry that this contentious spectacle is offered to the public, but her primary concern is to ensure the safety of the organized races. The class cannot offer sports with cheaters.” Gabart and his sponsor are claiming 18.5 million euros in damages for image damage.
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