Home > From the tavern: Innovation stories and opinions > Old polynesian design now dominates ocean races

Old polynesian design now dominates ocean races

In a modest way, I connected two dots. First, I went to Saint-Malo and saw the great racing trimarans waiting for the start of the 2010 Route du Rhum transatlantic race. Then I visited the temporary exhibition ‘Tous les bateaux du monde’ at the Paris Maritime Museum and got a powerful reminder that if multihull racing boats rose to prominence in the  late 1960s, the first trimarans were built by indigenous Polynesians almost 4,000 years ago. As a matter of fact, much of the current terminology that describes the main components of trimarans (vaka = the main hull, ama = the outrigger, aka = the structure connecting the two) is inherited from the traditional Malay and Micronesian language group. 

But, of course, someone had connected those two dots in a big way long before me, when I was only a few years old. In a classic case of making new with old, legend has it that ocean racing giant Eric Tabarly and naval architect André Allègre first got inspiration from the traditional multihulled pirogues when they designed in 1968 the then-revolutionary Pen Duick IV. On board the great trimaran nicknamed ‘aluminium octopus’ Eric Tabarly and then Alain Colas smashed record after record and went on to win some of the most prestigious ocean races.

Today, in the Route du Rhum and most ocean races, monohulls, which are based on a design that dominated naval architecture in Europe for 2,000 years, compete in a separate class, for they’re no match for the kings of the ocean, the great trimarans whose ancestors first sailed the Pacific and Indian oceans 4,000 years ago.

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