Sam Fortescue meets François Perus, the up-and-coming designer responsible for a broad range of new, fast multihulls
With dreadnought bows and low-slung coachroof, the ITA 14.99 captured attention from all quarters when she made her debut at the Cannes Boat Show last September. Designed to be the kind of catamaran that even dyed-in-the-wool monohull sailors would enjoy, she has a powerful rig and serious helm stations perched on the aft quarter. So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that the naval architect behind the boat grew up sailing and racing monohulls in that most nautical corner of France, Brittany.
François Perus doesn’t mince his words: “I think sitting up on the bulkhead looks stupid,” he tells me.
“I like sitting on the edge in the wind with the tiller in my hand. I think most of the world is designing floating apartments for charter holidays.”
After such an opening salvo, you might think that Perus favours the sort of extreme designs that barely concede a pipe cot below and frown upon any kind of shelter on deck. But you’d be wrong. The first cat he built after completing his engineering studies at Ensta Bretagne was a fast 8.5m dayboat called the Pandora 8.50, in honour of his grandfather’s 9m wooden boat.
“The concept of the Pandora 8.50 has been articulated around the idea of drawing a balanced boat,” he explains. “We listened to the wishes of potential sailors, then removed the extreme options – nice on paper, but difficult to use for most sailors.”
He began drawing the boat while completing his course as an intern at Berret Racoupeau, had it built as a prototype in Turkey, and it is still one of his favourite designs. He says it will comfortably manage one-and-a-half times windspeed, making a 50-mile daytrip with a picnic from his family home on the Golfe du Morbihan to Belle Ile and back a possibility. “We can be home in time for aperitifs,” he grins.
The Pandora 8.50 never went into series production, but all that may be about to change. “We started to make tooling but we lacked a proper partner to do sales and marketing. It’s in discussion. We will see.” He’s also hoping to find a buyer for a bigger version of the boat, the 13.50, still with tiller steering but with more accommodation and a large, open cockpit.
After spending a further year studying architecture in Paris, Perus joined Australian multihull pioneer Tony Grainger in Thailand. “I was used to multihulls that were either big floating caravans or crazy racing machines. I found a way in-between where we could mix the potential for speed and comfort.”
Grainger was designing cats with broader beam, longer decks in front of the mast and, thanks to lighter construction techniques, were capable of faster passages.
Back to France
The collaboration came to an end when Grainger declined to set up a European office. Perus moved back to France and in 2013 got his first real commission with the Slyder 47 – a design of which he is proud, although the German-Italian parent company slipped into administration in 2016. The boat was well reviewed by the sailing press and went on to sell a reported five units before the company went under.
“The brief was a bluewater family cruiser with good seaworthiness and sailing abilities, and a good look,” he says. Though there was good feedback from owners, he regrets that the boat was heavier than it should have been, so not as fast. “I gained experience: you have to be sure to adapt the design to the builder.”
The brand has since been resuscitated by a new owner and a new 49-footer launched. Just as the Slyder 47 project was getting going, Perus was commissioned to design the Pulse 600 for the folding trimaran builder Corsair. At 20ft LOA, this is the smallest of the brand’s trailable trimarans and has floats that fold up tight against the hull. It is designed unashamedly for fast, wet, fun sailing. “She had to be fast – the record I heard from the Hawaiian dealer was 26 knots sustained – and dinghy-sized. She’s light and the crew account for a lot of the righting moment, so it’s proportionally possible to have way more square metres of sail per tonne of boat than a bigger cruising multi.”
He designed the boat to blend stability and speed. But she was not designed for racing and there is a compromise: the bows are a little fuller to prevent nosediving and the rig could have been bigger to squeeze more from light winds.
Riding high from the public success of the Slyder, Perus was commissioned to design an even bigger and much more radical catamaran, the North Wind 55, which he says is a major step-up in the complexity of the design work. Drawn but not yet built for a niche Spanish yard, the boat aims to incorporate the latest technology, so can have a full carbon hull alongside T-foil rudders, Z-foils for stability and lift, and photovoltaic windows. “When we started I thought the foils would mainly improve speeds but in the end we came to the conclusion that they also brought seaworthiness, stability and safety.”
The ITA 14.99 is indicative of Perus’ design thinking, combining sleek good looks with strong performance and comfort for bluewater passagemaking. But he is still looking to the future. When I ask him about design trends he points to 3D printing, eco-friendly materials and production technologies and foils – both above and below the waterline. He also thinks that the growth of boatsharing is going to be a factor in design.
In a manner of speaking, he is involved in his own ‘boatshare’ through the Yacht Design Collective he co-founded with Romain Scolari. “The interest for us is the crossover of ideas and skills, and it helps to make us look bigger and stronger,” he explains.
At his own initiative, he is working on an eco-trimaran project, codenamed ‘Kanka’, with a wooden hull. “I am trying to make a homage to the traditional craft of Polynesia, but bringing it into the 21st century with Dyneema, low-friction loops and so on.” Measuring just 4m, she is also meant to be affordable and very portable. “You can carry the parts to the beach, put it together and go sailing,” he explains.
Now, I can’t wait to take that for a spin.
Report by Sam Fortescue