A history of the Figaro class yacht designs
Single-handed racing in France 1966–2017
By François Chevalier
We express our gratitude to Donan Raven for the translation of this text (French to English)
Class rules often prevent more than they allow innovation. They are continuously created and adjusted to avoid rulebeaters that would obsolete the existing yachts in a racing fleet. Those yacht designers that would have established themselves in a given fleet but had least success in establishing their latest ideas are sometimes the first to limit the rise of new trends in the class where they have achieved popularity. History gives us plenty of ideas which seem new, whilst they are in fact more often the result of a greater freedom allowed by the class rules that have the fewest limitations.
The race was first named la Course de l’Aurore, after the French newspaper for which the founders of the race, Jean-Michel Barrault and Jean-Louis Guillemard, worked.
The guidelines of the competition were very simple and achieved immediate success in her first edition in 1970. It was an offshore race, raced in single-handed 9 metre yachts on elapsed time only. On August 6th of that year, twelve series production yachts took the start in Brest (France), and eight completed all three legs, with Joan de Kat winning the overall event on a Super Challenger, ahead of runner-up Michel Malinovsky.
From 1977 onwards, the race used either Half Ton cup yachts, series production yachts, or custom International Offshore Rule (IOR 21.7 raters) with an overall length of about 9 metres. Gilles Gahinet won the event on Rally, designed by New Zealander Ron Holland. In 1980, French newspaper Le Figaro became the title sponsor of the event, when Michel Barrault was a news correspondent for the company. That year, Gilles Gahinet won the race on Port de Pornic, his own design.
Young French yacht designers won all the races from from 1978 to 1990: one victory each for Jean Berret, Jean-Marie Finot, Gilles Gahinet and Jacques Fauroux, five victories for Michel Joubert and his partner Bernard Nivelt, and three victories for Daniel Andrieu. However, the sophistication of Half-Ton Cuppers had become a real problem, with team budgets skyrocketing and the IOR rule coming to an end.
Laurent Cordelle was the first winner on this Bénéteau one-design, of which the hull developed into a few of the designers’ most successful production yachts at the Bénéteau shipyard like the First 310, the First 31.7, the Océanis 310 and the Océanis 311.
In 2003, the race organisers proposed a new design competition to produce a larger and more modern series, destined to last a decade. The proposal of French designer Marc Lombard met their requirements and became the Figaro-Bénéteau 2.
The new yacht took after the Vendée Globe 60 footers and featured a wide hull, a narrow waterline, twin rudders, liquid ballast tanks and a bulb keel, making her a production boat that was easy to handle even in heavy weather.
More than 10 years have now gone by since the launch of the Figaro 2 and we will have to wait for the race’s fiftieth anniversary in 2019 for the Figaro 3 to make her appearance as the new single-handed one-design for the race.
After consulting with yacht design teams Finot-Conq and Samuel Menard, VPLP as well as Mer Forte (headed by Michel Desjoyeaux), the project proposed by VPLP was retained and refined by the Bénéteau shipyard for feasibility, control of reliability and of production cost.
The hull inherits directly from the designers’ experience in the latest generation of 60ft IMOCA yachts, with a fine bow, but with a convex shaped bilge on the chine. Astonishingly the waterline at rest resembles that of the the Figaro 2. However, the waterlines differ entirely when underway or in a heel. The yacht features a slightly rounded chine, a flat cutwater followed by deep forward sections, and extremely sleek after sections that compare with those of Comanche, the 100ft IRC supermaxi designed by the same team in 2014. The keel has similarities with those developed by Farr Yacht Design a few years ago, of which the chief benefit is to avoid gathering algae when passing over shoals.
By using foils inverted from the previous generation, the lateral resistance loads increase with heel; According to estimates, 400 to 450 litres of reduction in displaced water can be achieved from 15 knots of windspeed. Considering that the lift of a foil is relative to the speed squared, the Figaro 3 is expected to exit displacement mode entirely (full hydrofoiling flight) between 25 and 30 knots of windspeed in flat waters. The end-to-end distance between the tips of the retracted foils do not exceed the beam of the yacht, but once deployed this distance extends to 5.25 metres.
The rig, which has been moved aft, features a mast with a strong rake and a square top mainsail, producing a larger sail area than that of the Figaro 2, despite a shorter air draught. The backstay is designed to stay the mast only when carrying the asymmetric spinnaker to ease handling in downwind conditions. In order to reduce cost, the keel is fixed and the rudders are not of the lifting type. We will have to wait another ten years before they become a part of the Figaro 4, with, who knows, perhaps a scow bow!
When I studied the project of a 100ft Maxi Scow in 2012 I had sought to reduce bow slamming by creating an open V-shaped pram bow, visible in the body plan and the sheer plan (horizontal and vertical planes). In view of the benefits of the design, I subsequently drew a design proposal for the Volvo Open 70ft class, the IMOCA open 60ft class and a 30ft fast cruiser.
Shortly after however, the Volvo Race transitioned from an open box rule to a 65ft strict one-design from Farr Yacht Design, and the IMOCA 60ft class adopted new cost/quality control standards which included a bow radius limit with a 1.12m maximum on the 1m section from the bow. Displeased with so many design constraints, I decided to put my unfinished draughts on hold.
But in March 2016, the editor at the Voiles & Voiliers magazine asked me if I would be capable of submitting a project for the Figaro 3, in parallel to the competition held between the three other yacht designers. I was delighted to improve on the 30ft fast cruiser, adding an extra foot of hull length and foils similar to those of the IMOCA 60 footers...
Yacht designer: André Mauric
Shipyard: Chantiers Polo, Chantier Quéré, A.C.N.A.M.
First launched: 1966
Displacement (Lightship): 2,200 kg
Displacement (SWL): 2,850 kg
Air draught: 11m
Upwind sail area: 29 sqm
Fixed Ballast: 1,200 kg
Water Ballasts: 2×200L
Mainsail area: 15.65 sqm
Jib area: 13.35sqm
Yacht designer: Groupe Finot, Jean Berret
First launched: 1989
Displacement (lightship): 2,400 kg
Fixed ballast: 900 kg
Water ballasts: 2×200L
Mainsail area: 25 sqm
Genoa area: 30,50 sqm
Spinnaker area: 73 sqm
Yacht designer: Marc Lombard
First launched: 2003
Displacement (lightship): 3,050 kg
Fixed ballast: 1,100 kg
Water ballasts: 2×220L
Mainsail area: 38 sqm
Genoa area: 30 sqm
Spinnaker area: 85 sqm
Figaro Bénéteau 3
Yacht designer: VPLP
First launched: 2017 (ahead of the first race to be held in 2019)
Beam (extreme): 5.25m
Displacement (lightship): 2,900 kg
Fixed ballast: 1100 kg
Water ballasts: 2×220L
Mainsail area: 39.5 sqm
Genoa area: 30.5 sqm
Spinnaker area: 105 sqm
Figaro 3 proposal (Finot-Conq)
Yacht designer: Finot-Conq / Samuel Manuard
Displacement (lightship): 2,780 kg
Water ballast : 300L
Upwind sail area: 72 sqm
Large spinnaker area: 120 sqm
Small spinnaker area: 92 sqm
Code 0 area: 56 sqm
Figaro 3 proposal (Mer Forte)
Yacht designer: Mer Forte
Length Over All: 9.75m
Displacement (lightship): 2,655 kg
Displacement (typical transatlantic load): 2,890 kg
Fixed ballast: 785 kg
Canting keel: 28°
Lifting rudders with interchangeable port and starboard quadrants
Air draught: 15.55m
Mainsail area: 39 sqm
J1 area: 31 sqm
J2 area: 20 sqm
Large spinnaker area: 115 sqm
Small spinnaker area: 85 sqm
Code 0 area: 45 sqm
Figaro 3 proposal (FcH)
Yacht designer: François Chevalier
Displacement (lightship): 2,250 kg
Canting ballast: 750 kg
Water ballast: 500L
Air draught: 14.60m
Mainsail area: 35.40 sqm
Upwind sail area: 67 sqm
Downwind sail area: 140 sqm