Vendée Globe Sails Roundup

North Sails dominated the last Vendée Globe. They provided sails for 22 out of 29 boats taking part in the race; 12 out of 29 competitors were using North Sails exclusively , including the winner Armel Le Cléach. But Doyle and Incidences are determined to wrest the Vendée Globe crown from North; both have developed technologies that are viable alternatives to North’s 3Di. Second placed, Alex Thomson was using sails made by Doyle out of laminate sailcloth. French sailmaker Incidences has also put in place the seeds of a come back to the forefront of the Vendée with its own new laminate sailcloth…

North Sails

In the 2012 edition, North sails were used by the winner Francois Gabart , second place Armel Le Cléach and five of the top six boats (third placed Alex Thompson was using Doyle sails). This success led to their 3Di sails being used by three quarters of the boats taking part in the 2016 race. North made made 100 new sails for this edition. The sails are manufactured at North’s 3di facility in Nevada and assembled by the North sail loft in Vannes. North’s 3Di technology is continuously improved to make the sails lighter, more durable and more shape stable.

Skippers using  a 100% North Sails inventory and using a partial North Sails Inventory in the 2016 Vendée Globe

However great sail technology is not the only reason for North’s success. North has really commited to the race. For top teams like Banque Popullaire or Gitana Team (Edmond de Rothschild ), North offers collaboration with its sail designers. Each project being run independantly with a chinese wall. Sail design is integrated with velocity prediction programs and different sail combinations are modelled over the whole course to influence final design choices. Sail inventory decisions are central to tactical planning for the race. For competitors, new to the race and with tight budgets – North uses its experience to advise them on a sail inventory that will make the best use of their budget and which will allow them to finish the race…


Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss, used Doyle Stratis ICE sails. He did extremely well in the race – he was in the lead for a large percentage, broke three race records and in the end finished second just 16 hours behind race winner Armel Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire. Hungarian sailor Nandor Fa on Spirit of Hungary, also used a Doyle STRATIS inventory.

Making Stratis membrane

Made by Bainbridge ICE is an entirely new and unique UHMWPE (Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethelene) fibre. It is exclusively licenced to Doyle for marine use, it exhibits similar properties to high modulus carbon, and is a derivative of Spectra. The Doyle Stratis team have used it to create a creep free and highly durable sail membrane. “ I would be very surprised if anyone has anything as light and as durable, “ said Alex Thomson concerning his sails, “ if you want something different, something fast, if you want an edge, it is best not follow the crowd.” His performance in the Vendée Globe and recent results by boats using Stratis sails in the RORC Caribbean 600 clearly indicate that Doyle Stratis is a viable alternative to North’s 3Di.


French sailmakers Incidences has traditionally dominated the Vendée Globe. Their sails won the Vendée in 2008 with Michel Desjoyeaux on Foncia and in 2004 with Vincent Rioux on PRB 3. North Sails has usurped their position but Incidences is fighting back. To ward off, North’s technological superior 3Di technology, Incidences created a new subsiadirary in 2013 called Incidence Technologies ; based on the acquisition of D4 Technology, a company that was previously owned by the German sailcloth manufacturer Dimension Polyant. They have developed D4’s technology into a new filament based laminate called Dfi based on an aramid and Dyneema mix. Like for Doyle’s Stratis, the orientation and density of the fibres is optimised for each sail by computer aided design and manufacturing techniques.

Machine laying filament to make a laminate sail

Unfortunately, the two high profile competitors that were using Incidences sails - the foiling SAFRAN, and SMA, both retired; as did Bertrand de Broc on MACSF. Consequently the true potential of Incidences’s Dfi was not fully demonstrated in this edition of the Vendée. Nevertheless with Éric Bellion on COMMEUNSEULHOMME and Arnaud Boissières on La Mie Câline, Incidences demonstrated the durability of their new sail material. It will be interesting to see which teams choose to partner with the French sailmaker for the 2020 race.