VELA is a project that Francois Gabart just started. The start-up, which brings together four other entrepreneurs, intends to breathe new life into the field of maritime cargo transportation with cargo ships that will connect Europe to the United States. From the transportation of goods to the power of the wind alone, which will be based on offshore racing technologies.
Often, projects are born out of a meeting. Pierre-Arnaud Vallon and François Gabart’s common object is their passion for the ocean. They met during a small intercompany competition. The captain from Finistère still competes under Macif colors while running DRUST, an automotive intelligence platform startup that has attracted the attention of an entrepreneurial insurance group, particularly in the area of road risk. prevention for young people.
So much for Genesis. Since then, the startup has changed hands. But Pierre-Arnaud Vallon kept in mind the project of building sailing boats for the transportation of goods. He has been thinking about this for a long time.
We choose to act positively on the planet by offering a low-carbon and responsible alternative to conventional freight.”Pierre-Arnaud Vallon
Co-founder of VELA
With the two co-founders of DRUST, Michaël Fernandez-Ferri and Pascal Galacteros, he founded VELA, a company for the design and installation of cargo sailboats. He started François Gabart Adventure and MerConcept, a marine racing team based in Concarno, Finistère.
Marine mobility, which is more respectful of the environment, is another theme that brings the two people together. “The climate emergency is a reality, Pierre-Arnaud Vallon explains. Freight transport accounts for 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With 90% of cargo moving across the oceans, we choose to act positively on the planet by offering a low-carbon and responsible alternative to conventional freight.”.
With a rotation rate of 7-9 per year, VELA’s cargo ships are initially intended to dominate the Europe-US transatlantic axis. They will be able to carry between 300 and 500 tons, based on secondary ports and as close as possible to warehouses.
Carbon-free transport, “100% under sail and without compromiseFrançois Gabart highlights. It is not easy, it is a challenge, but there will be no hybridization. We will only use the engine to leave the port, as is done in offshore races. Then we will move forward”.
The first route test was carried out at the end of 2022 on the cargo ship Grain de Sail between Dunkirk and New York.
Advances in ocean racing open up a realm of possibilitiesFrancois Gabart
Skipper and founder of MerConcept
In a world where everything has to go quickly, even very quickly, the issue of deadlines comes up clearly. “We will be faster than regular freight, Pierre-Arnaud Vallon assures. We expect less than 15 days, including loading, transit, unloading. Normal traffic fluctuates between 15 and 18 days because the waiting time upstream and downstream is longer.”
François Gabart breaks the record for crewed Atlantic crossing between New York and Cape Lizard. “3 days 15 hours 25 minutes! A number that makes you dream, the navigator smiled. Advances in ocean racing open up a realm of possibilities and we are working with VELA on these technology transfers.”.
Apart from containers, there are no pallets on board cargo ships, which eases the loading-unloading infrastructure. And thus saves time. “We are inspired by what is available in air transport and will look for the best elsewhere to build the project.”.
And the weather factor that left more than one person at the start of the race? Pierre-Arnaud Vallon remains a philosopher. “I expect a better parting, he said. “It is not because we wait a day or two at the port that we are delayed a day or two when we arrive.”.
Especially since VELA can rely on MerConcept’s air routing skills, the procedure used especially in offshore races allows finding the optimal route, taking into account weather forecasts and currents.
According to François Gabart, the transportation of goods by sail, “On a technical level, it’s not that complicated. The principle is even as old as the world. It’s the mentality that needs to change. That’s the challenge. What we’re proposing is a new approach to maritime transport and reducing its impact on the environment as much as possible.”
Flexible and easy to maneuver, according to its designers, the first ship of VELA should be launched by 2025. Crew from the merchant navy will be trained in sailing by François Gabart and MerConcept.
Pierre-Arnaud Vallon relies on French know-how to build this futuristic cargo sailboat. Tender announcements will be launched during the official presentation of the project next spring.
The company already has a commitment of customers willing to sail on both sides of the Atlantic “their high value-added products” but waiting for others “Finish restocking”. It remains to convince investors.