In the new Figaro 3, Groupe Beneteau is producing the first series-built production monohull with foils. It is a strong message that is sure to have a knock-on effect, both for racing and yacht production.
For those in any doubt as to whether foiling will make it into mainstream sailing, news that Beneteau is to produce a radical new one-design Figaro 3 fleet with foils should put this question to rest.
Beneteau unveiled renderings of the Figaro 3, the first production-built monohull with foils at the Paris Boatshow in December. Leading French design firm VPLP has drawn a contemporary looking race boat, but it is the parts sticking out of the sides like spiders’ legs that are causing a real stir.
These novel looking foils are designed to replace the traditional weighty ballast tanks used on past Figaro models. Described as ‘asymmetric tip foils’ they work by creating side force to supplement the skinny keel and reduce leeway while causing minimal drag. An important factor is also that they are able to retract within the boat’s maximum beam.
In short foils can herald a step-change – a Figaro 3 with foils working is expected to be up to 15 per cent faster than its predecessor.
The Figaro has been a reasonably conventional and durable one-design class that has served as the training and proving platform for aspiring solo offshore racing sailors, many of whom have then moved up to the IMOCA 60 fleet. Those 60s with foils are currently showing an unmatchable speed advantage on the Vendee Globe – see why here
The Figaro 3 will replace its predecessor when the Solitaire, the championship of the solo Figaro circuit, marks its 50th anniversary in 2019. Do not presume however that Beneteau might solely be doing such a project for the typically 40-strong Solitaire fleet. The new Figaro 3 is a Category A ocean-rated boat and we can envisage worldwide appeal, particularly in the burgeoning shorthanded offshore racing scene.
“We think we can go more international with this boat,” said,” said Bénéteau’s sailboat marketing director Guinguido Girotti, who coordinated the project for Beneteau and heads its new racing division. Think distance races and short-handed offshore racing worldwide and the potential for this Figaro looks exciting.
“I think there is also potential for this boat to attract buyers outside the Figaro fleet,” our shorthanded sailing expert Pip Hare agreed. “For crewed offshore racing it could be a lot of fun. And yes I would absolutely love to sail one solo!”
Looking at where Beneteau’s first foil project could lead, Girotti replies, “We are fully industrialising a system… I think we have a technological advantage over anyone else. It [foils] could become mainstream for First or SunFast models from here on – with a fast implementation. This is not a prototype.”
Clever thinking behind the Figaro 3 design
Obviously to be able to generate enough lift for a sailing yacht to foil, the boat has to be kept very light. The target displacement of the Figaro 3 is 2,900kg – 200 kilos less than the Figaro 2. The Figaro 3 is slightly smaller than the Figaro 2, yet a look at the polars shows she will potentially be between five to 10 per cent faster on most sail points and only slower in full downwind mode.
The foils are not designed to lift the boat out of the water, but to eliminate the need for water ballast tanks by creating side force to help the keel. “More righting moment for less weight means that in general you have a much more powerful boat,” Girotti told me.
It is reliability that comes first for this class however. Crucial to the design is that the foils retract to within the max beam of the boat and that they do so well above the waterline to maintain structural and watertight integrity in the case of impact.
It’s one thing to use foils to improve righting moment and performance when sailing at full speed in plenty of water. But I wonder how practical foils will be for a tight-knit class that predominantly races in variable winds, strong tides and rocky shores of Normandy, Brittany and the south coast of the UK.
The potential for these foils to strike another boat or an unidentified floating object is a concern. The brief for the Figaro 3 therefore, which will be adopted by the Figaro class from 2019, was to be as reliable as her predecessor. VPLP designer Vincent Lauriot-Prévost affirms that if a foil were to break in a collision, it wouldn’t damage the boat’s structure.
The Figaro 3 has a modern, high performance hullshape and sail plan that includes fixed bowsprit for flying furling asymmetric sails. Our February 2017 issue, which comes out in early January, has a full feature about the design of the boat, how the foils work and reaction from some notable shorthanded sailors.
The first prototype will be trialled in summer 2017. A first batch of 50 Figaro 3s will then be produced for the end of 2018. Any Figaro class member can buy a boat and hull numbers will be drawn in lots to keep the one design element strict.
Beneteau is currently finalising the pricing of the boat with the class.
What does a Figaro 3 with foils mean for this popular class? Here is the reaction from some expert shorthanded sailors.
“To have a chance to be competitive it is best to come in at this time as everyone is new and learning so there is no advantage,” says Dee Caffari, “whereas now the old timers are so advanced at sailing the Figaro 2 that it really is a tough call to race the circuit. I think this may open the class up again with some fresh and new faces, maybe even mine!”
Pip Hare addressed it another way. “At the moment it is possible for someone with less skill and a lower budget to get into the fleet, learn with others and still take part in the events. Until the second hand boats come through initially the class will become incredibly elite which will be an exciting thing – I wonder whether the differential between the front and the back of the fleet will grow.
“Judging by the reports from the Vendee it is hard work to keep these boats on the pace all of the time – this type of sailing is becoming more and more physically demanding it really is hard core.”
Conrad Humphreys, who has raced in both Class 40s and IMOCA 60s, wonders how much budget may affect the new class. “The question will be if the racing remains as close/tight as its been and of course the budget required to purchase/run a campaign,” “You might well see the bigger teams purchasing two boats and chartering one, which happened with the Figaro 2. Last time around the purchase price was very competitive and those that could buy two boats did very well on the charter income (10+years €30,000/year).
“Assuming strict one design, I think they will be close and the top guys will learn quickly how to use the foil. This is an important transition, as after this Vendee Globe, they’ll be no going back. If anything foils are going to improve further.”
For Figaro and MOD70 sailor Henry Bomby the design change is an exciting one. “The only weakness of the Figaro class for me was that the boat didn’t help you develop skills that you could transfer onto other boats. It’s really exciting to see the class updated with square top mains, foils and asymmetrical downwind and reaching sails. I can’t wait to get out on one!”
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