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Pulling G’s with Beneteau – Pt II

by John Curnow on 31 Aug 2017
Figaro Beneteau 3 Beneteau
Just a little while ago we pulled some Gs with Beneteau’s Mr Product, aka G3. You can go back and read Part One of the story of Gianguido Girotti, as and when you may like. However, for now we’ll push on with the incredible semi-foiler Figaro 3, and the new Oceanis 51.1, along with what they represent for the brand as a whole. It is a very interesting tale, especially as Beneteau will continue to hold true to its mantra of making the best ideas affordable further down the product chain. After all, this is the Beneteau mantra - that the inaccessible becomes accessible.

So stepping straight back into it then, G3 comments on a few key, specific design elements, “Yes. When you see the Oceanis 51.1, it’s the first boat in the cruiser segment, with set standing pedestals and all the halyards lead to the back, with proper rope bags and all of that. We aimed to combine the functionality of a sleeker looking boat, and the typical deck/hull the layout of bigger boats, of higher end boats, but without compromising the ergonomics and the workflow around it, because it still has to be enjoyable to trim and to work around it.”

“At the same time, the idea was to keep the cockpit area and the side beds next to the companionway completely clear and free, in order to make sure that all your guests were simply enjoying their time on board. We feel that there are two types of experience, every time you are on a board of a sailboat. You have the drivers, and the guests. The latter are like when you are in a car - you’re sitting on the back and on a sailboat you are actually sitting in the cockpit.”

“One of the most annoying things is that when you have a guest on board and you start to say sorry as you walk over them. So it’s all about an experience, and ensuring your guests don’t feel like useless, or in the middle of something that they cannot control, which is scary. I think it will all help a lot with people enjoying their time on board this yacht, much, much more.”

Overall, you could think of it a lot like larger craft that have a central cockpit for the owner and guests, and then the crew were out aft. Perini Navi or old J Class come to mind, and G3 simply says, “It certainly has that kind of feel, for it separates the manoeuvring aspect from the enjoying part. We created a more distinct definition, in order to avoid to crossing each other.”

The creation of the First Line, defined by taller black sticks, deeper keels and longer bowsprits does indicate a change in the Beneteau DNA. It is the first model line to be offered with these packages, and it is important to note here that this is all very much part of a plan ratified by the board. Those changes are both conceptual and visual, with the freer cockpit and more performance oriented hull forms being the clues.

“This is about evolution, in the form of steps. It is all about performance and behaviour, with the ultimate goal being a better sail area to displacement ratio. Many manufacturers achieve performance by having huge sail area, which becomes more complicated to handle. It’s like designing a powerboat and instead of working around an optimisation, you add an extra or bigger engine. Then the bigger engine brings more weight, more consumption, more fuel capacity, more of this and more of that.”

“So for me the exercise is the other way around, because the faster you sail, the better you will get out of rough conditions, and your stability will also improve, even the behaviour at anchor will be a lot better. There are a number of elements that are all part of the customer experience, I would say, that are going to be to be massively improved in the next five to ten years, but it is a journey, and these are all preparations for that.”

G3 then added, “This is why I think that even the Figaro 3 was an excellent exercise. We get to test some of the advantages to righting moment, and lift generated by the foil. We are also starting some elements like the DSS in order to improve probably the performance from the engine, and the stability underway. So, in rough seas when you’re rolling around a lot, what is the advantage? The overall perspective is that we have to take the entire customer experience, and not just the one-hour spent sailing, and to improve it through 360 degrees. This is where we have to concentrate, and weight is certainly part to that.”

“We touched on this partially with my first project at Beneteau, which was the 41.1, where we started by redesigning the interior, and saved 400 kilos from simply the way we were building the wooden parts. I’m also very glad to see that the 51.1 is floating exactly the way we wanted, which for a production boat with two pages of options, is not always that easy. Another highlight is that the ballast ratio is better than the boat before, and the displacement is the same as the Oceanis 48, which means that we did a bigger and stiffer boat, with less mass.”

So a lot of it all may seem intangible when the boats are lying next to each other at a boat show, but G3 is clear that it is al about the experience being different, and then that leads to word of mouth comments from professionals to prospective owners during sea trials like, ‘This is much better!’ G3 is also clear that this is about the persistent determination of making sure that your boat is always better, and not just nicer by accident.

Of itself, that’s a pretty hand segue into the new Figaro 3, which not only looked very different with it’s scow-esque bow and downward facing foils, it represents a lot of the elements G3 has been describing here, like weight and cost saving, in addition to experience and performance.

As the interview was conducted in Sydney, Australia, the obvious opening question had to be whether there was going to a Figaro 3 seen Downunder? G3 simply said, “I hope more!” That would have to be considered great news for anyone looking to do short-handed passage making with a smile permanently attached to their face. The new Figaro 3 is also set to ignite some serious considerations in the Olympic and Volvo Ocean Race worlds, but it is best to let G3 explain all of that.

“I think that the Figaro 3 doesn’t have to be considered as a French centred project. It’s the best and ideal project to do double-handed racing, which is one of the fastest growing segments in the racing world today. Everyone is enjoying going back to the sea a bit more, going probably for longer regattas that are less demanding in terms of ultimate fine tuning, or super expenses, but are more down to confronting yourself with the natural elements, which is what we all enjoy at the end of the day - staying out in the sea for longer.”

“We think that the overall development of the class in general would be much bigger and broader for a double-handed purpose than for a single-handed, even if the class is still single-handed at the moment. However, the class is thinking about expanding towards double-handed, and both World Sailing and the Olympic Federation have contacted us in order to eventually discuss of the opportunity of a test event at Tokyo for double-handed sailing in the Olympic Games.”

So this could be quite a development! The current thinking is for a 150nm event, with male/female crew, live, on board coverage, trackers, and some specific gates to follow. I think that it would engage a lot more people, because of what they would encounter in terms of weather conditions, or tide, and then the arrival all at the same time after two days of races would be incredibly interesting. Naturally, this would really create a super interest in, behind, and around the double-handed sailing for 150, 200, or 300nm.”

“We have also talked several times with Mark Turner (VOR), because Volvo is going for a kind of a IMOCA, and the Figaro 3 is a mini IMOCA. The Volvo is One Design, and so are we. Yet it is Dongfeng that is the best surprise with sort of a cheap budget, but even more so because it was heavily based on Figaro skippers. They have the experience of one design, and also doing long distance races where they fight for everything. They have to keep the level super high, which I think why the Figaro 3 could be an ideal partner to grow a sort of an academy for the VOR, and find the next generation of skippers.”

The Figaro 3 is also more approachable, at well within the 200,000 Euro mark, which includes everything - sails, electronics, cradle, the lot, all ready to go campaigning. Note that if Beneteau were still building the Figaro 2 today, it would be out at 210k. “So it means that even if we added two sets of full carbon foils, which are worth 32 to 33,000 Euros, and we take that lump, then compare it with the Figaro 2, we are still cheaper than what the earlier boat would be when you account for inflation. So this is again another best example of the Beneteau DNA, because we have made it far more accessible, the boat is available to the masses”, said G3.

You also get the impression that Figaro 3 is not the only OD boat inside the pipeline as part of the Beneteau DNA. There are plans afoot, for sure, but rather than be drawn into speculation, G3 prefers to talk about the cards as laid on the table, “We hope that we can grab one of these opportunities that we just discussed about, because that would be a booster in expanding the next steps, and going to an even wider crowd. At the moment it is all possible, but nothing is set in concrete.”

G3 is also quick to point out that the bow of the Figaro 3 “…is not a scow like the Mini Transats, it’s just a fuller bow in order to extend to the waterline to the maximum level and it’s twice the volume of a normal yacht. The L-shaped keel over a T was a specific demand of the class. The Figaro is a very complicated regatta. They really go to the extreme, especially in high tides and current, and they also go super shallow. This is why they wanted to have a keel that if you ground, you pop up, whereas if you have a T-keel and you ground, you stay grounded.”

“So to a certain extent it’s a lot more forgiving for the skipper, and at the same time, once you’ve balanced your centre of gravity, there is not a big difference between an L-keel and a T-keel. This is even more so because we have the foils, so the centre of buoyancy, lateral effort of the sails, and the foils is very well balanced.”

So as for the position of that foil, which appears to be well for’ard, G3 explains that it is probably more optical illusion due to the size of the boat, for they are in the same relative position as an IMOCA 60. The big difference is that the Figaro 3 travels much slower, so the foils reduce displacement by 15%, not the 30% their larger cousins generate.

“It is different to the canard of a canting keel, and that’s not what we’re doing here. The canard is replacing the keel, whilst we have a keel and we generate more righting moment through an additional foil, so it’s very much a different exercise. Secondly, what you want to do is you want to position your foil in a place where you can lift up your boat, because if you put your foil aft, it would simply generate more instability and twist”, explained G3.

“If you see the boats in reality, you get the feeling that they are quite similar. What you see often on any IMOCA is that they don’t sail with a jib, but they sail with a drifter, so you have the impression that it’s much further aft, because you don’t consider any more the bow as the finishing point of your boat, but it’s the bowsprit. If you look at the Figaro 3 with a bowsprit and a Code Zero it compensate this notion we have been talking about.”

So having talked a lot about design and DNA, but it is now good to look at commercialisation and success. Beneteau have sold 60 Oceanis 51.1s off the plan, which is a tremendous effort in anybody’s language. G3 simply says, “I think that it’s probably by far the most sold 50 footer in the world today”, and then there is also great success with the Oceanis Yacht 62, which was European Yacht of the Year in 2016, and both the Figaro 3 and the Oceanis 51 are nominated this year.

It would seem that there is more to come from the Oceanis Yacht product line, with many a production builder now into the 60’s and even larger. However, stepping into the 60-80 feet category also comes with the understanding that it is a much smaller segment, by volume. So then, how does the Beneteau DNA of making things more approachable work, and secondly, what aspects of the Oceanis Yacht line will filter back into the other products?

“The Oceanis Yacht 62 was the first boat to enter into this league. What we will keep on doing is more radical than where we are with Oceanis today, but this is in terms of the feeling. They must be a sailing yacht before being an Oceanis. This means we are working extensively on raising the bar through the naval architecture standards, so that behaviour, the feeling of the boat is as a true yacht. End of story. So, that’s ballast ratio, performance, and then the absolute feeling through the waves is another level over and above the Oceanis.”

“It’s like when you go and buy an Audi A8 and you’re coming from an A4. You understand that the A8, even if it’s the same brand is another thing, and this is exactly what we want to do. So there is much more of an effort in trying to distinguish clearly what are you getting if you’re buying a yacht tomorrow, rather than what are you getting if you’re buying an Oceanis tomorrow. The next generation will be much more evolved, mostly in the area of numerous architectural elements.”

Seeing as Gianguido Girotti has instilled a rapid kind of product development cycle inside Beneteau, those next generations will not be too far away. G3 smiles and just says in his laconic and friendly way, “It will be closer than expected. I think inside the next 12 months.”

So that all means we will see plenty of G’s being pulled by Beneteau in the next little while. Speaking of which, thee is a whole other side to consider. Should you be interested, there will soon be the world’s largest boatbuilder’s take on the boats that use screws, not wind, as their driving motivation. You’ll be able to read that that version of ‘Pulling G’s with Beneteau’ with Gianguido Girotti over on our sister site, Powerboat World, very soon.

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