Freeths successfully represents leading composite component manufacturer in case against Alex Thomson Racing

The Sheffield dispute management team of Freeths successfully represented Global Technologies Racing (GTR), a leading composite components manufacturer who build high performance parts, from F1 chassis to ballistic resistant vehicles, in a six-figure contractual claim against Alex Thomson Racing, one of the world’s foremost offshore racing teams, who took part in this year’s Vendée Globe race.

The case concerned GTR’s cutting-edge, carbon composite hydrofoils – large wings deployed on either side of a boat to lift the hull out of the water – manufactured for Alex Thomson. During a training run in the Solent in 2016, a hydrofoil aboard Thomson’s famous yacht, Hugo Boss, snapped.

Thomson’s team refused to pay GTR for the goods, alleging defects in the manufacturing process. While unable to pinpoint an exact cause of failure, the High Court exonerated GTR at the trial in July 2020, finding there was no manufacturing error which could have caused the failure of the hydrofoil. As such, judgment for a six-figure sum in damages was awarded in favour of GTR.

The decision comes at a germane moment in yacht racing and construction. In this year’s Vendée Globe, several of the retirements pose questions about the design, manufacture and materials of the yachts. Alex Thomson was forced to retire after suffering from a rudder failure and fracturing the carbon fibre longitudinal beam on his new Hugo Boss yacht, and fellow British skipper, Samantha Davies, also suffered damage to a longitudinal beam on Initiatives-Coeur. Other retirees include Sébastian Simon on ARKEA PAPREC, whose carbon fibre hydrofoil was destroyed, and Nicolas Troussel on CORUM L’Épargne, who was dismasted in the Atlantic Ocean. Kevin Escoffier, aboard PRB, encountered the most dramatic rescue when his boat broke in two, and was rescued by fellow racer, Jean Le Cam, after an all-night search and rescue mission.

With the fleet back on dry land, there will be investigations into how and why these various failures occurred, and questions asked of designers, manufacturers and racing teams as yachtsmen continue to tread the fine line between performance, safety and reliability of their boats.

The case was led by James Berry, dispute management partner at Freeths, who has extensive experience of disputes includes acting for and against specialist manufacturers, and Ciaran Dearden, a managing associate with similar manufacturing credentials, as well as experience of sailing and yacht racing. Freeths instructed Adam Griffiths of Queen Square Chambers, himself a former professional racing yachtsman.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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