Sunday, October 29, 2017

GRAND SOLEIL 34, SOMETHING DIFFERENT...AND VERY NICE


More than a lovely boat the GS34 is for Grand Soleil a return to its origins. They are now making more and more expensive boats, luxury fast boats and luxury main market cruisers but their origins lay on small and not very expensive cruiser racers, fast boats that were used for racing and cruising.
Grand Soleil success history started 45 years ago with a 34ft boat designed by Finot, a great little boat, good on the racing field and on the cruising grounds. It was not made only in Italy but also in Japan (under license) and more than 300 boats were built during 11 years.

The new GS34 aims to be a modern version of the same concept: “The project is aimed at owners who love fun, sportive cruising and offshore racing, and was inspired by the open ocean boats. Great attention was put in the design and naval architecture process in order to create an offshore racing boat that is easy to sail at maximum performance but at the same time a very comfortable fast cruiser”. 

When they talk about the GS34 being inspired by open racing boats we would think of other fast boats that come directly from that line of development, namely Pogo, the ones that are truly inspired by that concept, but this hull is very different sharing with those boats mostly the transom design, with all the beam pulled back, but that happens with many other types of racing boats, for instance the TP52, that would be a better reference in what regards inspiration.

Just to make clear to you the difference, a Pogo 30 has 3.7m beam, a Pogo 36 has 4m and the GS 34 has a beam of only 3.6m. The hull is close to the one of a JPK 1080 or a Sunfast 3600, not close to the ones of open solo racers (like Pogo is).

This is a very different type of hull and while Pogos are maximized for downwind sailing this one, like the Sunfast or the JPK , is a much more balanced boat in what regards the upwind/downwind compromise. This is a boat that aims to win the Transquadra but also one that will be successful on the Middle sea race, on the Fastnet or even on the Sydney Hobart (like the JPK 1080 was) and that will be competitive on traditional coastal regattas.

It is also a boat that being able to perform well while racing is also a nice boat for cruising, having a modern and very nice interior, much better than the one on the Sunfast. It is as good as the one of JPK even if with a more contemporary design, a very nice design, I would say.

Regarding this size, the JPK 1080 is the best performing sailing boat with this type of hulls (in what regards racing). So let’s compare it with the GS 34 to see the similarities and the differences (first the dimensions from the JPK, in meters and kg) ): LOA – 10.80/10.70; LWL Beam – 3.64/3.60; Draft – 2.20/2.18; B/D (with same type of keel) – 45.3%/44.9%; Displacement – 4750/4900; Sail area upwind – 73/ 71; Sail area downwind – 160/150.

Two very similar sailboats, the JPK being slightly more powerful. The JPK is designed by a very experienced and successful French designer, Jacques Valer an autodidact that designs all JPK. Valer designs have won almost everything that there was to be won. The GS 34 is designed by a team (Skyros), fresh from Spezia, the Italian School of naval design (Genova) with limited but innovative design experience, mainly on a Mini racer. 

Nice to see a big company betting on an innovative but inexperienced team composed by very young NAs, some of them very good sailors! I really hope this design turns out really well on the racing field. New blood on boat design is always a desirable thing.

Both boats are very well built using vinylester resins and a sandwich foam core but while GS uses a structural matrix that includes the basic “furniture”, laminated to the hull, the JPK uses vacuum infusion and the boat structure is not laminated but part of the hull. The superior built technology of the JPK probably explains why the boat weights 150kg less and I bet it is not less strong, probably more.

The two have IRC maximized keels, meaning lead keels without a bulb and both can have, if the client wishes so, torpedo keels. It is sad that the IRC still gives advantage to less efficient keels while this is already solved on ORC rating, where torpedo keels are the norm.

The GS34 looks just great and I believe it will be a success, or not, mostly depending on the price. In regarding fast cruising there would not be any significant difference between the two boats, except in what regards the interior, that have a different style.

Regarding prices I suppose, that like on JPK, they will vary hugely depending whether the boat is intended to race on top races (and win) or if it is just a fast cruising version or something in-between. A JPK can go from a bit over 164 000 euro to close to 300 000, depending on sail wardrobe and equipment. A basic GS 34 would cost about 139 000 euro, all prices without VAT.

In what price is concerned the comparison between the two boats, with the data I have,  it is not really possible to make, since it will be depending on the equipment each boat has for a given price, but at a first look they seem not to  have a very different price.... and the GS 34 should cost less than the JPK. I have some doubts if in what regards price and concept a comparison can be made with the original old GS 34, that was not an expensive boat.
That price is about the same as for instance the one of an Oceanis 38 and it shows why main market cruiser boats are built the way they are, including a very basic sail hardware: If they would be built like these two, they would cost a fortune. 

It explains also why Beneteau has finished (at least for now) with the First line that was on the origin of its proper existence: the built is too expensive for a boat with a considerable share of the market.

 There are not enough cruisers liking sportive sailing while cruising to generate a decent profit for a boat built in large numbers, the racing market is too small and has the competition of faster small series boats. A  pity! Praise to Hanse, the only one among the big mass production builders that maintain a line of fast cruisers, the Dehler line…even if I doubt that for much longer (I hope not).


Friday, October 27, 2017

PERFORMANCE: POGO 50 VERSUS XP44 AND IRC CRUISER RACERS


On the Middle sea race I was particularly interested on the Pogo 50 performance (photo above). The boat was well crewed and always faster than a Class 40 that was also racing. My interest has to do with confirming one more time (or not) that this type of hull is not the best option on the med in what regards performance and to look at the comparative behavior with IRC based cruiser racers.

XP 44
To make an evaluation, the conditions on this race were very interesting since we had strong upwind winds, where the Pogo type of hull would be penalized and even more time sailing downwind with strong winds, where the Pogo would have an advantage. We had also very light winds at the beginning, so not a complete picture but a comprehensive one.

The Pogo 50 (Eros) has done a great race and among the production cruiser racers it was the 4th to arrive, after Caro, the 65ft, Music, a Swan 53 and a Xp44 (XP-Act). Behind, on another group at some distance, an Elan 350!!!(Rosaton), a J122 (Anita), a M37 (Herbe V), a Salona 41 (Rossko), a Swan 44 (Triple Lindy) a Sunfast 3600 (Bora Fast), another JPK 1080 (Sunrise) and an IMX 45 all going fast too.

Elan 350
Let’s look at the different weather conditions on the race and see how the Pogo 50 behaved compared to the boats it was fighting with at the end of the race and also with the two that finished ahead, the Swan 53 and the XP44.

At the beginning of the race, from Malta to the passage of Messina strait, upwind and with very light winds, the first to clear the strait was the Xp44(XP-Act) followed by the Swan 57  then the First 45 (Elusive 2), a Nautatec 40 and the JPK 10.80. Of course, in so light conditions tactical routing is very important but the point here is that traditional shaped IRC cruiser racer (smaller) were faster than the Pogo 50, but not much and that the JPK 1080 passed the strait at a considerable distance, behind the Pogo 50.

JPK 1080
After the strait they continued upwind, tacking till the end of Sicily’s North coast, but now with strong winds and waves of considerable size (4m). The first to turn around Sicily was the Swan 57 with the XP44 on its tails, then the First 45, the JPK 45, the Nautatec 40 and then the Pogo 50.

 The Pogo lost a lot to all these boats, not only in speed but in VMG due to a lower pointing ability not compensated by speed.

At this point the Pogo was very far away from the Fisrt 45 (that sailed ahead) and had been overtaken by the little JPK 1080 that went away. Note that upwind with light winds the Pogo 50 is not disadvantaged but with strong wind, normally, it is. That has not to do really with the wind but with the waves that normally appear with the wind. Without waves the Pogo, because it is very light and has a small wet surface, it is not significantly disadvantaged, but with waves the boat is enveloped by the wave and has therefore a much bigger wave drag than the narrower boats and that slows it down.
Swan 53

When we look at a Pogo polar speed we can see a very good upwind performance all the way from weak to strong winds, but that, of course, is in flat water.

After turning around Sicily, going South and till the finish in Malta, it was all downwind, the bigger distance on the race course constituted by two downwind legs, in two different directions, first to Panteleria and then to Malta.

Passing Pantelleria the Pogo had already overtaken the Nautatec 40, had come close to the JPK 1080 and was diminishing the distance to the First 45 and a bit to the Swan 53 and the Xp44. From all those boats the Pogo 50 was now the fastest but the difference in speed, even for the little JPK 1080, was far from what most would have expected, including me.
First 45

After passing Lampedusa, the Swan 53 and the XP 44 still maintained a big advance. Then passed the JPK 1080 that had been fighting side by side with the Pogo for a considerable time and resisting!!!

I took some measurements of the speeds of the three boats at the same time on three different points on the last downwind leg and that can give an idea of the difference in speed on those conditions:  Pogo 50 - 9.8/10.4/10.3, First 45 - 9/9.6/9.4 and the JPK 1080 - 9.3/9.8/9.5

The Swan 53 and the Xp44, even if they had seen their advance slightly diminished, still arrived well ahead of the Pogo 50 that very near Malta had finally managed to catch the JPK 1080 and the First 45. The three boats passed the line almost at the same time.

M37
 Notice that the Pogo had started 40 minutes after the JPK and 20 after the First 45 so it made the race in less time (and arrived ahead). 

But it is not the race that I am more interested in but on the performance analysis and in what regards that the JPK 1080 passed the Messina strait way after the Pogo so, regarding medium/strong wind, upwind and downwind, if we consider the starting point the Messina strait, then the JPK 1080 was faster!!! Till Messina strait was all very light winds and luck and strategic routing took a big importance in what regards performance. After that it was all about boat and crew performance.

You can play back the router and take a look at the performance of the different boats. http://www.rolexmiddlesearace.com/tracker/#pt

Jeanneau Sunfast 3600
Once more we can see that the much generalized idea that the Pogo is faster than more traditional designed performance boats of the same size, following the IRC development trend, is not true. It is faster or slower depending on the conditions and points of sail. No doubt it would be faster on a Transat, on the med, on average it is slower, but always depending on the conditions. Its strong and weak points are just different.

But being slower does not mean that with a solo skipper it is not easier to sail downwind and therefore able to go much faster, specially with a not very good skipper (and that includes me LOL). Fact is that on this race where there is a duo racing classification, I have seen a lot of Class 40 being beaten by traditional IRC performance cruisers (and the class 40 is a racing boat).

J122
It has happened this year where the victory went to a J122, (stellar racing team) that made a stellar race. They were not only the ones in the category to have managed to finish the race as they have done it fast (they were turning around Lampedusa when the Pogo 50 was turning around Malta and they had stopped for repairs).

The Class 40 that was their major opponent on the duo class (Green Challenge) was always 2nd till the moment that the J122 had to stop in Filicudi island for repairs. The J122 was recovering fast when the class 40 was forced to retire on the North coast of Sicily.

Green Challenge BM class 40
Taking about retired boats, they were almost 50% of all participants, including the only multihull, a small racing catamaran that was making a great race on the light stuff but that on the strong upwind conditions had to retire not far from Filicudi.

And regarding boats that have impressed me, among performance cruisers, well, no doubt the JPK 1080 but also the Elan 350 (Rosatom) that has made a truly incredible race, the XP44 that is a favorite of mine and one of the best performance cruisers around and the Swan 53.

Salona 41
There was a Swan 42 making an even more impressive performance, faster than the XP44 and the Swan 53, till the moment it had problems and had to retire, at the middle of Sicily's North coast. Very good also the performance of the First 45, the Salona 41 and the one of the J122, all great performance cruisers.

And by the way, congratulations to the Russian Bogatyr crew (JPK 1080) that won the race on compensated time. More and more Russians sailing on the med and now winning races!!! Welcome to the top racing scene where the more, the better.

Some more information about the JPK 1080:
http://interestingsailboats.blogspot.pt/2014/11/jpk-1080-cruising-interior.html
http://interestingsailboats.blogspot.pt/2014/11/great-jpk-1080-video.html
http://interestingsailboats.blogspot.pt/2015/02/transquadra-jpk-big-victory.html
http://interestingsailboats.blogspot.pt/2014/03/jpk-10.html

Monday, October 23, 2017

NASTY WEATHER ON THE 2017 MIDDLE SEA RACE


The Middle Sea Race is my favorite med race for several reasons, one of them being the variable conditions the boats are subject to, very typical in what regards the med conditions. Being raced at the end of October gives it the probability of having some nasty weather and that happened before on a number of occasions and also this year.

On the first phase of the leg, from Malta to the Messina strait, they got very light upwind winds to the point that they struggled to pass the strait, going against the current, making in most cases 2 or 3k. Then on the second phase, in the North coast of Sicily they got 33k winds gusting 45. On the West coast of Sicily they had on the beam 25k gusting 35k and finally going to Malta they had again winds over 30, gusting 40k or more.

Going against the wind here with 4 to 5 meters waves is not the same thing as on the Atlantic where that does not pose any particular difficulty. On the med the waves are much steeper and with a shorter period. Very nasty to say the least and difficult, a lot of power needed to make way. 


So you get the picture, great race to see how different types of hulls behave on different conditions and on this race, besides pure racing boats there are a huge number of recent performance cruisers racing, among them a Pogo 50, several Xp44, several J122, 2 JPK 1080, a Sunfast 3600, a First 45 a Salona 41 and many other recent production boats. 

Of course many of them threw the towel, given the conditions, but we can take lots of information regarding the performance of those boats. Starting with the race boats, great race from Hugo Boss, a Imoca 60ft boat, designed for solo sailing and maximized for downwind sailing that proved here that is not so bad upwind (amazing), losing just a bit, having to go to a higher latitude before coming down but then faster than anybody else, including Rambler, catching and overtaking the Maxi racer CQS (98ft) and closing on Leopard, another Maxi racer (100ft).


Near Pantelleria Island Hugo Boss was just on Leopard’s tail but then the different sails, asymmetric Spinnaker on Hugo Boss and symmetric on Leopard allowed the last one to sail at a higher wind angle downwind and therefore make better way. Anyway, great race for Hugo Boss that sails in third place (in real time). It may not be maximized to sail upwind but it is certainly maximized to sail in strong winds and the conditions on the last part of the race have suit it well. Right now is the fastest on the fleet, Rambler included.

Among the racing boats the other one that really is impressing me is a little 35ft, that even on these conditions is 10th on the fleet, a boat from the other side of the world (NZ), Crusader an Elliot 35. What a race!!! What a boat!!! 


On the group ahead of that little racer there are other boats making a great race, namely Caro, a very special (and beautiful) 65fter, the first of the cruiser racers, sailing in 5th place, a Botin design made by  Knierim.

Next, at about the same distance Caro is from CQS, come two racers, an older one, a Cookson 50, Kukka 3 and a 46ft state of the art racer featuring DSS, Maverick, a Infiniti 46R designed by Hugh Welbourn, the father of DSS.



You can follow the race here: http://www.rolexmiddlesearace.com/tracker/#pt
Rambler has arrived, all the others are still racing. I will leave for tomorrow the post about production boats, the ones I find more interesting.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

VOR 2017, A VERY INTERESTING 2nd RATE RACE


Ok, the title is provocative and expresses my disillusion with what has become this race; 2nd rate why? A first rate race is raced with state of the art machines and with the best racers in the world. We can take a parallel with the F1 when last year cars are outdated and not competitive and where all pilots, even the slowest are the best in car racing and are really the cream among top pilots.

The VOR is raced on monotypes that are far from being state of the art, designed by the loser (among NA) of the last edition raced with prototypes and the boats are slower than the fastest VOR of that edition, 7 years ago!!!

Among the sailors that race the VOR there are some top racers but the majority are far from being the best world’s offshore sailors and we reached a point where the rules are bended allowing an advantage in having women instead of men. Top racing is done with the best of the best, being them men or women, not giving some advantage in having women among the crew.

The race started and started well with many showing a big surprise (even among the TV commentators) for the Chinese  boat being ahead. Don’t understand why, they have by far the best crew and even if not all top sailors they have 4 of them, including the skipper more three good ones (including a woman) and only two less competitive sailors. Sure, Mapfre won the in port race but the Chinese team was close behind, after some mistakes and a good recovery.

If the best team has only 4 top offshore sailors and the others have less how can we call this a 1st rate race? Compare with the Vendee globe where almost all top solo offshore sailors are there and the boats are state of the art to the point of making impossible a last edition boat to win the race. Put the Groupama, the VOR that won two editions ago, competing on this VOR edition and he would win the race!!! So much for the state of the art sailboats!

Another ridiculous thing about this race is the boat nationalities, for instance they say: “Team AkzoNobel is a brand-new Dutch ocean racing team....continuing the remarkable legacy of Dutch teams competing in the race.” and they only have a Dutch among the crew !!!! A long way from the whitebread spirit where nations felt that they had boats representing them.

There is even a boat from the United Nations! Or an American/Danish boat without any Dane on it! If we consider (as it would be normal) that a boat to represent a country has to have at least the skipper plus more than half the crew from that country only Mapfre qualifies itself as representing a nation: Spain.

About this race: great start with the “Chinese” team showing already supremacy and with Mapfre showing that it can put a good fight and win some in port races or even legs. Or maybe I am wrong and the Spanish can fight in equal terms. You can follow this race, now on its first leg between Alicante and Lisboa here:


Thursday, October 19, 2017

DIVA 34SC WHAT A BEAUTY!


I had already posted about this boat when it was just a project. I called it a gorgeous design. Well it has become a gorgeous sailboat! Not all projects turn out so well in what regards reality:

http://interestingsailboats.blogspot.pt/2016/10/diva-34sc-gorgeous-little-boat.html

For many the name Diva means nothing but it is one of the oldest Swedish yacht brands, made by Fabola Shipyard, that has been making beautiful yachts for the last six decades.
I will not repeat here what I said on the previous post (link above) that has important information to understand why this boat is so special (light and strong) and not only beautiful.

The Diva 34SC has been tested by several boat magazines from the North of Europe and Germany and all have been impressed with the boat, with the way it sails, with the quality of finish and even with the price (147 000 euros), not excessive for a boat with this built quality and finish.

To understand better the enthusiasm that this boat is raising, some quotes from magazine boat testers: on the German "Yacht de" they say - "An extremely exciting combination, which was also convincing in the test run in the Swedish archipelago" and on the Norwegian "Seil" - "Bernt "Lindquist has found the right mix...many have tried to create a combination of cruising boat and regatta boat but few have been so successful.."

Fabola shipyard deserves congratulations as well as its designer, Bernt Linquist, that is designing Diva yachts for the last 34 years and has succeeded in keeping updated regarding contemporary boat design, I mean state of the art. The 34SC is about 1000kg lighter and stiffer than most performance cruisers of that size. It has also a surprisingly big interior due to the integration of the chart table on the saloon table.

The table is very well designed, with space for maps, opening like all chart tables and the innovation doesn't stop here and extends itself to the galley that has a design that is mostly used on bigger cruisers, subdivided in two blocks allowing a good body support no matter the tack the boat is sailing.

Also on the version with two cabins and a storage space, the one that makes more sense, they found a way to have a separate shower!!!

The Diva is beautiful with only a transom that looks a bit odd, not an open one neither a closed one, but probably that is just on the prototype since we can see on the drawings that a big swimming platform will close that transom when it is raised. I am quite sure it will look a lot better that way.

I really hope this boat will have the success it deserves. The problem regarding sales has to do with the size of the sectorial market that points to the ones that like as much sailing as cruising and are willing to pay more for a better and more enjoyable sailboat, not a big one unfortunately. A pity for all that like elegant well built and fast boats.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A DINGHY GARAGE ON A 37ft FAST CRUISER: MALANGO/MOJITO 1088


I had already talked here about the boats from IBDMarine, the Malango and the Mojito, both sharing the same hull but with a different cabin. These boats are a mix between a Pogo and an RM having a unique feature, unheard on cruisers of this size: they have a dinghy garage.

If you are like me, you never take the dinghy on tow, but it is always a bit of a drag to put the dinghy in and  to tie it properly. Besides, a beautiful boat is not beautiful anymore with a dinghy on the deck and to have it on davits is only suitable for bigger boats and even that solution comes with its own set of problems.

On really small boats, less than 36ft, the problems are even bigger because a dinghy on the deck makes difficult the passage forward and even dangerous in nasty weather...and the bigger boat from IBDMarine is this one, a 36ft. All of them have a dinghy garage.

I love the concept and it is truly amazing how they found space for a dinghy garage on a 29ft boat and still have a nice cruising interior, specially on the Mojito version. I have done two post about the Mojito 888, that is a very interesting boat and one that for such a small niche market has been a comercial success: http://interestingsailboats.blogspot.pt/2014/10/mojito-888-voile-magazine-boat-of-year.html http://interestingsailboats.blogspot.pt/2014/10/malango-888-new-test-and-new-videos.html

All these boats are designed by the same NA, Pierre Rolland, that has begun his career designing mini racers and racing them on the mini transat. He is a specialist on small offshore solo boats and his experience makes him the right man to design this line of small fast offshore cruising boats.

Like the Pogo 36 this boat is suited for long range cruising on a spartan way and it is more adapted than the Pogo for Coastal cruising due to the boat's garage. A Pogo 36 displaces 3800kg, the Malango 4000, the beam is the same (4.0m), they both come with a similar lifting keel with the ballast on the keel, the Pogo has a draft of 1.18/2.95m, the Malango 1.1/2.8,  the Pogo has a B/D of 28,7% the Malango 37.5% and that is a big difference that the small difference in draft (10cm) will not compensate. This makes the Malango a stiffer boat but most of all a boat with a better final (safety) stability.

The Pogo has a sail area upwind of 84m2, the Malango has 74, downwind the Pogo flies 165 and the Malango 157m2. This means that on most situations the Pogo will be a faster boat but the Malango is a more steady boat (stiffer), will need to reef later and with medium/ strong winds will be certainly faster upwind.

That kind of explains the Malango 37 beating a J105 upwind (on the video). Hard to believe and a very good performance on a boat of this type even if that will only happen in almost flat water. With waves the J105 will easily outsail the Malango upwind and even more a Pogo 36.

Mojito 888
The Malango 1088 is in what regards sailing potential and speed closer to the Pogo 36 than to the RM 1070. The three boats have the same beam and the same type of hull but the RM displaces more 900kg than the Malango and 1100kg more than the Pogo, having a sail area similar to the one on Malango. The RM has a swing keel similar to the ones of the two other boats, with a draft close to the Pogo and a B/D that will be closer to the one of the Pogo than to the one of the Malango.

They don't give the RM1070 ballast and I can only find the ballast on the version twin keel with 1.72m draft (1800kg). That gives a B/D of 36.7% that on the swing keel configuration, with a lower CG (2.92m draft), will probably have a B/D similar or lower than the one of Pogo.
The Malango is, by far, the stiffer boat, the one able to carry more sail before reefing and the one that will sail better upwind where on similar hulls and keels the stiffness (that means power) will make all the diference.

Regarding tankage the Malango has the bigger water tankage with 370 liters!!!! compared with 190 on the RM and 200 on the Pogo. The Pogo has a 18hp engine while the other two have 30hp engines. The RM has the biggest diesel tankage with 80 liters and the other two have 60. Certainly all tese tankages can be increased if the owner wants to.

It may seem to many that the tankage is really small but these are fast sailboats with an auxiliary engine and need much less diesel tankage than an heavier boat simply because they will sail a lot more time. To put this in perspective my sailboat, that is also fast (faster upwind, slower downwind and on a beam reach) has a tankage of 400 liters of water and 150 liters of diesel and while cruising I need to go for water about each 15 days (two aboard) while I normally only need fuel once a month (or less).

RM 1070
 I sail almost everyday and most of the time upwind.The Malango would be absolutely perfect if it had an interior as good as the one on RM but unfortunately it is not the case. I find it even worse than the one on the Pogo and it has all to do with design. That has not to do with functionality but with beauty and comfort. 

It is not a question of weight but one of creativity, imagination and good taste. Light materials like textured paper wall and good chromatic schemes don't make the boat heavier but will make it a lot more comfortable and nicer inside.

Malango 1045
They should do as Pogo and contract a good interior design cabinet to take care of that. Anyway I find for long range cruising the Mojito cabin (the other version on the same hull) much more interesting, specially if it has a raised chart table that allows a view to the outside, much more spacious too in what regards living aboard.

The three cabin set up of the first boat (owners choice) does not make much sense and the storage space is not much even if reasonable, considering the dinghy garage. They talk about other version (without pictures) with two cabins and a technical/storage  space on the place of one of the aft cabins, a bit like on the RM, and with that configuration the boat will offer the needed storage for long range cruising.

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