Launched from La Rochelle in December 2008, the Fleur Australe is a nearly 20-meter sailboat designed by Philippe Poupon himself and built at the Meta shipyard in Lyon based on plans by Michel Joubert. The boat left France in February 2009 for its first 8-month expedition through the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific Oceans. Its second journey is now underway, this time a 3-year voyage that will take it from the North to the South Pole.
A trustworthy, high-performance sailboat
Philippe Poupon designed the Fleur Australe after several years sailing the southern and Antarctic seas in his original 12-meter boat. The new boat is designed for sailing and maritime observation in all latitudes. With its reinforced aluminum hull, watertight bulkheads, two heating systems and enclosed cockpit, the prototype is custom designed for a trip through the ice. It can even withstand "growlers," chunks of ice that form as icebergs melt. With its drop keel lifted by a hydraulic jack and its shallow draft, it can easily navigate rivers and safely run aground.
After his initial outings and his first expedition, Philippe Poupon expressed complete satisfaction with the boat's performance:
"It's a good boat, and has worked well and effectively since it was launched. It's a real pleasure to sail, and with the enclosed cockpit, you feel like you're driving in a big slipper! What a dream! We made some good choices, and I have no regrets about the decisions we made. We had a good team that applied all its expertise and experience toward achieving the objectives we had set, and what an excellent result! A big THANK YOU to the entire team and to Lulu, who managed the land-based side of the project."
The Fleur Australe is a ketch rig with a guyless carbon fiber mizzenmast, and its aft deck has space for two dinghies specially equipped for more advanced sample taking and observations.
Philippe Poupon's feedback on the Fleur Australe's sailing performance :
- The sailboat remains balanced at every speed and stable before the wind at slower speeds, especially for a drop-keel boat that has to solve the sticky equation of rudder size and efficiency.
- No problems with the sails, there's a good balance, each sail is the right size, and the gennaker is perfect in terms of cut and recovery (it is a little strained and a little fragile, we'll go easy on it so it lasts). Running before the wind, its large booms make it easy to use and replace a spinnaker that would require more delicate maneuvering.
- The two masts are perfect. The main mast is simple and robust, and the two well blocked, vertical booms do not cause any problems maneuvering. The mast steps in the shrouds and the crow's nest were helpful several times in detecting shoals. The carbon fiber after mast does an excellent job as derrick, and is sufficiently stiff at sea.
- The cockpit and the rigging for the sheets, rollers, boom preventers and runners work perfectly, and the electric winch for the gennaker rollers and furling system is ideal.
- Running before the wind, with a tailwind of 25/30 knots, the boat moves quickly and the rudder does not stall.
- The autopilot reacts efficiently. Both cylinders were used, and the little Lecombe and Schmit is enough. The rudder is well offset and its modest size makes it highly effective. A self-cleaning propeller improves the rear water flow and drag.
-No problems with the various foils, motorized rudder or skeg in front of the main rudder.
-The keel functions perfectly. Running aground on several sand banks and the ice field gave us a chance to test its usefulness. Between the thruster and the rudder, we had no difficulty floating off.
-The opening created when the keel is down in the centerboard housing bubbles slightly in certain ocean conditions with swell. We felt the jolts from the bottom of the well deck. This didn't seem to affect speed, since the boat surfs well before the wind. We kept up good speeds of 10 knots, with peaks up to 13 knots, before a 25-30 knot wind.
-The motorized rudder is effective under certain strong wind conditions when we need to pivot the boat to leave a mooring.
-When mooring, the hydraulic anchor windlass controlled from the cockpit is a marvel, and the chain counter completes the system perfectly.
-The aft boarding ladders are amazing and more effective than I had even hoped. Berthing the dinghy aft, getting into and out of the dinghy, everything can be done in complete security. The handrails, the dive ladder, all of it works perfectly.
-The aft decks for the dinghy, with the mizzenmast as a derrick, are very practical.
A boat designed for onboard living
Thanks to its excellent insulation, the Fleur Australe provides a great deal of food and energy reserve autonomy. Most power is supplied by solar panels and a wind turbine. Fuel oil is used only for heating and to run the generator that is still required in certain extreme conditions.
The boat's enclosed cockpit makes life on board considerably more comfortable. The versatile space can be used for sleeping, eating or even working (keeping watch, taking the helm or navigating) thanks to its panoramic view.
The large kitchen is optimally laid out for cooking just like at home, including a stovetop and oven. These features make the Fleur Australe a comfortable living space even for long missions.
The Fleur Australe, which can house a crew of up to eight, carries all the necessary safety equipment including exposure suits for each crew member, distress beacons, radar, satellite communications, and weather forecasts. Still, having children on board required a few additional features, such as nets installed between the guard lines and custom life vests.