Blogpost #1 2022 - Rafale ets Montreal

Final Miles and New Beginnings

The return to in-person classes sparked a new generation of sustainable boatbuilding enthusiasts, driving the team full speed towards the completion of its prototype. Rookies and veterans are eager to see Rafale 3 hit the waters of Lake Garda for the 2022 SuMoth Challenge. The team is now formed of 25 members with varying degrees of implication. Not all are sailors, but many are keen to learn new skills in boat building and ship design.

Summer 2021 Wrap-Up

The team round up the 2021 SuMoth Challenge podium in 3rd place alongside PoliMi Sailing Team in 2nd and PoliTo Sailing Team in 1st. We had an enjoyable and fruitful experience despite our online-only participation. Many judges gave valuable feedback about design choices and manufacturing methods which will be of tremendous help for the team’s future prototypes. The excitement of the competition pushed the remaining three members Simon, Lazare and Noah to complete the manufacturing of the hull before the end of summer. This journey was intense and challenging. After closing the hull shells around mid-august, the team took a well needed break, ready to restart in September.

Fall Recruitment

With student’s return to campus, the priority shifted from manufacturing to recruiting. Lead by communications director Donovan Djeddi, we held booths on activities day and organized info sessions to promote the team and its mission. It seamed that presenting a half-built prototype encouraged people to get involve and actively contribute to the completion of the boat. A total of 23 new students joined, strengthening its base and outlook for the future.

Technical Innovation

Daggerboard manufacturing: an unexpected Innovation

Initially designed by the design team of Rafale 2, the daggerboard had to be made up of a foam core developed by our partner Gurit especially for nautical manufacturing. Waterproof, ultra-light (400 grams) and very adaptable geometrically, it had to be inserted into two prepreg carbon fabric skins, also tailor-made for the new moth.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for the amateurs of challenge), an error during the preparation of the skins made impossible the initial manufacturing plan based on foam and custom-made skins. Constrained by time, the challenge here was to achieve a reliable daggerboard, corresponding to the dimensions of the hull and just as light as the previous one. We took the opportunity to take an ecological and economical approach by recycling an old daggerboard of Rafale 2, the class C catamaran. Much too heavy, too big and with delamination defects, the new “old” daggerboard has been completely reworked. After a loss of nearly one kilograms of carbon, an adaptation of the 3D-printed honeycomb core and the development of a new “millefeuille” bonding technique, the team will present its prototype of recycled daggerboard during the competition. This unexpected innovation will serve as a test bench by comparing the two types of cores used but also to test the new composite manufacturing techniques used.

When “having style” rhymes with “ecology”

For its first Moth-type boat, Rafale 3 wants to make an impression with its technical skills but also with its investment in sustainability, including its image and its style! Therefore, the team opted for a wrapping process to dress the hull in the colors of Rafale and ETS. This technique is based on perfect preparation of the surface of the hull (sanding is now a national sport for Rafale members). On the other hand, it does not require the application of products that are particularly harmful to the environment, such as paints and other protective liquid layer. In addition, its durability has been proven and its removal and recycling are simplified by the polymer that makes up the film deposited on the hull. This method also allows more design! Each member participated with great enthusiasm to the design choices by communicating his wishes, advice, sources of inspiration and numerous debates and votes did animate our virtual or in-person meetings. See you next June for the curtain raising on the new colors of Rafale 3!

You can never be too careful with composites

One of the iconic and critical parts of Moth-type boats is the foil. An essential element for the elevation of the boat, this part is made from a carbon blank composed of 150 unidirectional carbon plies strongly compacted and infused with resin. However, this simple manufacturing method has drawbacks for an essential and very constrained part like this one. To detect manufacturing defects that could be amplified by the machining of the blank, the team mobilized the technical skills of the members and of its industrial network to carry out a double check of the composite part for the first time in the history of Rafale. A first ultrasonic inspection (CND US) made it possible to map the part’s defects in 360 manually controlled points and utilized a MATLAB script. Then, the club called on its new partner, the Aerospace Technology Center to carry out an automated measurement of the part to correlate our methods and confirm our skills. This event and our desire to create a sustainable boat allowed the club to strengthen its network, its skills but also to train members in specialized methods of the industry.

Solving the recyclability problem

Conventional thermoset resins used in the shipbuilding industry are non-recyclable and can result in large amounts of waste when the boat’s end of life is reached. The team opted to use the recently developed Elium resin for its hull. Its thermoplastic nature allows it to be reshaped into new parts when old ones are thrown out. It is specifically designed for room temperature infusion, making it ideal for student design teams and small enterprises which cannot afford the high temperature equipment typically required for manufacturing thermoplastic composites. Although this resin is infused much like a conventional thermoset resin, it is highly sensitive to environmental conditions. The team noted significant porosity and uneven cure in many of its parts. To better understand these issues, a series of experiments was carried out. It was found that the resin’s sensitivity to vacuum was much higher than anticipated and could cause the resin to boil during cure if improperly regulated. Other parameters such as fibre type, sizing and humidity were also found to influence resin behaviour. Overall, these tests gave the team precious information to manufacture composite structures that are both recyclable and high-quality. 

Communication and Partnerships, the New Strategy

Promoting parity

With the new type of boat but also the new health and social context in which the team must evolve, RAFALE wanted at the start of the 2021 winter session to breathe new life into its communicative approach to the development of its partnerships. With an already developed technical network and knowing that sustainable development and performance does not only pass-through ecology but also through social sustainability and a change of mentality, Rafale scored an early victory by joining forces with the club Les Ingénieuses (Ingenious Women). Les Ingénieuses focus on promoting engineering and female talents in industrial, scientific, sport fields etc. Aware that the (small?) world of the competitive sailing is very masculine, RAFALE therefore saw an opportunity for collaboration here. The first inter-club university partnership of the ETS allows RAFALE to promote women in engineering, participate in events organized by Les Ingénieuses but also to fight and raise awareness against discrimination against women. In return, the ingenious women promote Rafale’s activities to their female population to motivate more women to join RAFALE in management, technical or sport positions. Finally, the club wishes to train at least 2 women to become the future skippers of RAFALE 3 and intends to meet female celebrities from the nautical competition to also make Les Ingénieuses benefit from their experiences.

Recycling made in Montreal

Back in 2019, the team had chosen pinewood as the material for its hull mould to minimize its environmental impact and have the option of recycling it down the road. Montreal-based recycling company Kruger was instrumental in making this plan a reality. Having accumulated cracks from two hull shell infusions and exposure to ambient humidity for two years, the mould was in no condition to produce another Moth. This path was also chosen to allow the new team to design a new and improved geometry. 

The kids that rock

Once again, RAFALE opens its communication to new horizons. In search of visibility but also of partners able of giving members of the club and its partners moments of conviviality and fun, the communication and marketing teams have signed a partnership contract with “Les Enfants du Rock”, a Montreal bar but also… from La Rochelle! Indeed, this bar is also present on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in the city of La Rochelle. This first international communication partnership is also historic since it strengthens the links with one of the main cities of departure of the French to Canada, 5 centuries earlier. In addition to a generous financial contribution, Les Enfants du Rocks offered many advantages to RAFALE for the organization of events, with “Les Ingénieuses” . Back from Italy, it is also planned that the members of RAFALE, exhausted by the competition, will go and recharge their batteries with their sponsor in La Rochelle, thus opening the door to new sponsors from La Rochelle, France or even Europe!

Additive innovation

Through a collaboration with Hutchinson, a Montreal aerospace company, the team was able to quickly manufacture Rafale 3’s most complex parts by industrial-grade fused filament fabrication (FFF). The parts served as a proof-of-concept for using 3D printed cores for more complex wet layups and infusions. This innovation helped Hutchinson strengthen its own partnerships with material suppliers and demonstrate their expertise to their customers.

Local manufacturing of world-class products

The team chose to work with Gurit Corecell™ M foam for the manufacture of the rudder and daggerboard components. Thanks to the unique formulation and properties, Corecell™ M Foam was the perfect choice to achieve the manufacturing and operating performance required for submerged components. As well as materials supply, the Magog-based Gurit team provided technical support, providing the team with access to CNC equipment to enable the rapid machining of complex and precise shapes for the integration of internal components and the realization of 3D surface shapes. 

Onboard electronics and data collection.

Since this last fall, under the supervision of the co-captain and embedded system’s manager Christophe-André Gassmann, we have finally recruited a small but proper team around our electronics and data collection project for the boat. We have thus started properly working on developing an embedded system that should run in a limited capacity on Rafale3, the boat we are finishing up for this summer 2022.

This embedded system has been thought out to provide support for developing our future moths. As such, on it’s first iteration, it will collect most standard sailing data: position, speed, boat heel and such. On the next iteration we will add the option to put strain and pressure gages on the boat at multiple places and gather the data from them to be able to better analyse the behavior of our hull and rigging. And lastly, we have had plans since the beginning of the electronics team, to work on controlling the altitude of flight from the embedded system, but we still lack the expertise, and a lot of data, to be able to start on that project, so it is planned for either Rafale 4 or 5.

Using ready made parts for a faster prototyping

For Rafale 3’s system, since we have a small and pretty inexperienced electronics team, we have elected to use ready made parts for most of the devices and sensors to allow for focusing our efforts on making a system that works and to build the expertise to allow for better embedded systems in the next editions. We use a Raspberry Pi as the main physical component, which allows us to program our system in python, which is easier to learn and faster to get something working with that lower level “traditional” languages such as C/C++. We also decided on mostly premade sensor packages that hook up either on the Pi directly, or to some small Wi-Fi enabled Arduino MKR 1010 boards for sensors that must be far from the main box.

A modular approach to sensors and data collection

To allow for the flexibility that is required of an expandable system like ours, we have had to approach sensor design and the whole system’s architecture in a very modular way. As such, every sensor is a node on an ethernet network onboard. Every node registers itself with a central hub that deal with collecting, aggregating, and sending of the navigation data to a server for archiving. This network is built around the Wi-Fi capabilities of our hub device, the Raspberry Pi. This device acts as a Wi-Fi access point for all the “remote” sensors, which connect to it to talk to the hub software. The sensors that are physically driven by the hub device still use the ethernet connection to loop back to talk to the hub software to streamline sensor module development.

Shore connection and data visualisation

To archive all this navigation data that we are collecting we have elected to establish a link from the boat to a shore station. This link is made through a pair of LoRa modules which will allow us long range connection while reducing our data bandwidth which should not be a problem as the amount of data that we are transmitting is not that big. The LoRa module on shore is driven by a laptop and a piece of software that sends the data through regular internet to our archive server. 

Then, since the data is passing through a laptop on shore anyway, we have decided to build the software that runs on this laptop to allow for real time and historical race data visualisation. In other words, we will be able to display the position, speed, and direction of the boat, as well as all the other data from our onboard sensors in near to real time to our team on shore. We will also be able to use this software to load up old races from our archive and replay them to study the boat’s behavior and learn from it.


Driven by team growth, innovation, partnerships and an all-new onboard electronics system, Rafale is in the final miles of its road to the 2022 SuMoth Challenge. Drawing from this experience, the team is keen to draw up the lines of its next prototype Rafale 4 in the coming months. What makes the strength of Rafale is the friendliness and cohesion that permeates the team’s daily life. There is a natural camaraderie amongst members, making workshop and meeting hours a breeze. In the words of lifecycle analyst Marius Remy:

“I joined Rafale for the Rafale 3 project… And I haven’t regretted it one second!

If I had to summarize Rafale in a few words, I would say that it’s a close and united team, motivated by the creation and innovation needed to shape a common project like this one. Sailing enthusiast, technical expert, or simply motivated student: whatever the knowledge you have, the tasks are easy to grasp and everyone if free to learn, to evolve and to share their own know how to others.”

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