Friday, October 13, 2017

THE BOAT THAT MADE SOLO RACING POPULAR: BENETEAU FIGARO


Everybody knows that the best solo sailors are French (with very few exceptions) as well as almost all big solo races even if now many other Europeans participate in them. Solo and duo racing has become big and the Beneteau Figaro played a big role on that picture.

Everybody knows the Vendee Globe and many think that is where solo sail racing begun. In fact it started way before: the first Vendee Globe edition was in 1989 and solo racing started with the British in the 60's, not with the French. It really only became popular in France when the French started beating the British.

 The first big offshore solo race was a transat, the OSTAR, an English race ( Plymouth - New York). The first edition was raced in 1960 and dominated  by the British, the 2nd edition was won by a French, the 3rd edition was won by a British, the 4th, in 1972, was the first completely dominated by the French that made the 3 first places and with the exception of the 1980 race (won by an American), where the French chose not to participate racing another Transat (La route du Rhum), the French won all races till the race was split in several categories (2000) and lost importance.

Solo racing started in UK but it was in France that it became big. While in UK solo racing was seen like an adventure and was made by few in France it became a sport made by many, amateurs and professionals alike. That was what created the sailors that would dominate the solo racing for decades. The race that allowed many amateurs to participate was the one that later became the Solitaire du Figaro. Initially was promoted by another newspaper and was called "Course de L' Aurore" (created in 1970).

In 1990 "La Solitaire du Figaro" was raced for the first time on a monotype created expressly for solo racing. It was an offshore boat but a small one (33ft) and relatively inexpensive to allow many to participate on the race. The boat, like all the Figaros after, it is made by Beneteau. The first design was  by Finot and Jean Barret (Figaro I), the second by Marc Lombard (Figaro II- 2003) and the third, Figaro III by VPLP.

The Figaro it is not only used on the "Solitaire du Figaro", it is also the boat used for the French solo offshore championship that includes more solo races. Because those races are offshore ones, but not Transats, contrary to the boats designed for Transats or circumnavigation races (IMOCA, Class40), they are not maximized for downwind sailing and have a more balanced compromise between upwind and downwind performance.

All the Figaro designs where at the time state of the art, very advanced designs in their own time and they were influential designs, namely on cruising boats. The Figaro 1 hull was even used on four Beneteau cruisers, the First 310, the First 31.7 and the Oceanis 300 and the Oceanis 310. About 1300 sailboats share that hull!!!

That has not happened with the Figaro II but we can see many cruising designs from Marc Lombard and other NAs that are influenced by that hull, that today still looks contemporary. The Figaro 2 had water ballasts and if we compare its hull with the one of the Figaro 1 we can see many diferences, all over the hull, from the bow sections to the transom design not to mention the twin rudders and the keel that becomes almost a foil with a ballast. Just amazing the design evolution in 13 years!!!

But more amazing, because the Figaro II still looks modern, are the big diferences between its hull and the one from the new Figaro and I am not talking about the foils. Basically I would say that most of the diferences have to do with the direction sail design took on the last 40 years: the boats were designed to sail deep in the water and now they are designed to sail on top of the water and what is really surprising is that, contrary to what many would think, this brought not less seaworthy boats but certainly faster boats.

The new Figaro has managed to substitute successfully the righting moment of the water ballasts by RM created by a foil, that is not designed to fly the boat but to increase stability. Also very important is that the foil design allows it to be used on cruising boats: when the foils are taken in they just stay against the hull, following its shape.

Due to being nominated for the European Yacht of the Year contest the Figaro is being extensively tested by test sailors from all over Europe. I am very curious regarding those tests. I have no doubt about the increased easiness to sail downwind and on a beam reach, where it should be way faster than the previous model, but I will have some doubts regarding being better upwind.

 I am not sure if the answer will come from these tests, since many of those sailors have not a big knowledge regarding the previous boat, but will be answered when the boat starts to compete on the Figaro circuit, by the "Figaristes"(that's how the French call the ones that compete with that boat).

Regarding the Figaro and  the "Figaristes" let me remind you that from the all the editions of the Vendee Globe, all races except the first, were won by French sailors that raced extensively on Figaro and from those five won the Solitaire du Figaro (some as much as 3 times) and another (Fran├žois Gabart) even if only 2nd on the Solitaire, was French solo offshore champion racing that boat.

This obviously is not a coincidence and tells about the importance of the Beneteau Figaro on the French solo sailing panorama, the more important boat ever in what regards solo sailing, a boat that has been fundamental in what regards solo sailor formation but that is by itself a challenge since it has always been a very difficult boat to sail in a sense that it is very sensible to sail trimming and it has the means to have an extensive control over the sails.

Many of those that won the Vendee and are solo sailing stars that race hugely bigger and more powerful solo boats (IMOCA class or big multihulls) but many of them come to sail the solitaire on the little Figaro, competing with young talents and many times winning. The Solitaire du Figaro and that boat are much more than a learning stage, they are at the top of solo sailing as well as the big IMOCA and Ultimate class multihulls. The "Solitaire" is a race where all have equal arms and not very expensive ones, Figaro racers.
It is good to remember that the Figaro II is still a great sailboat and that starting next year they will lose much of their value and will start to be sold at interesting prices. The boat is good not only for racing as it can be the basis of a relatively inexpensive fast cruiser, for those that like and have the skills to improve the interior.

 The boat is fast and seaworthy: between the two previous models they have crossed the Atlantic 40 times and I don't recall any serious problem. I remember also that one of the Figaro I was bought by a Canadian (long ago) and circumnavigated.

I like Figaro 2 so much that I made a post about the possibility of having one relatively cheap: 96 Figaro II were produced, an impressive number for a solo racing boat only used in French races. On the post some great movies that show the boat potencial and seaworthiness:

The drawings from the Figaros are from Fran├žois Chevalier that has in his blog a very interesting article about the Figaro, one that deserves to be read:
For information regarding the technical characteristics of the three Figaro models, nothing better than the Beneteau page about them: http://www.beneteau.com/en/figaro-beneteau-3

1 comment:

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