NEXT YEAR sees the famous French based Figaro circuit move, in its 50th year, en masse to the Beneteau Figaro 3. Trialling and testing is finished on the new VPLP design, the first ever production yacht to be equipped with foils.

The arrival of the new, updated design is overdue in adopting the technology which is prevalent in the ocean racing events for which the one design offshore class is very much the training ground. Except for the first winner of the Vendée Globe, all of the subsequent winners are past Figaro champions, writes Yachting Life racing editor Andi Robertson.

The adoption of the new design is bringing back many of the past champions to the class, Michel Desjoyeaux, Jeremie Beyou, Yann Elies, Alain Gautier as 2019 and onwards will see a ‘champion of champions’ showdown.

All that being said, the new Figaro is not strictly a ‘foiler’. The foils are different to those on the IMOCA yachts for example, in that they are mounted above the waterline but they are all about producing righting moment and stability more than lift. In fact the foils are upside down compared to the IMOCA foils.

The foils replace the 300 kilos of water ballast which the Figaro 2 could carry. The new design is a much lighter displacement than its predecessor, powered by a modern reaching oriented sailplan, powerful square top main, asymmetric kites set to a fixed bowsprit and a furling jib.  Solo sailors will sail with a jib, a 24sq.m Solent genoa and 105sq.m masthead kite and a smaller 65sq.m Code 5 gennaker.

The new VPLP designed Figaro 3 is actually slightly smaller, 9.75m versus the Figaro 2s 10.15m but the new boat is wider and more powerful. At 2.9 tonnes she is 100 kilos lighter than the Figaro 2. The keel is slimmer and deeper. The mast is set further back in the boat and the new Figaro is built in polyester glass sandwich over a foam core.

Some of the Figaro 2s sailed the equivalent of seven times around the world and are still rock solid.

Following on the same race circuit the Figaro 3s will be sailed solo and two handed across the Atlantic and so they need to be bullet proof, super strong and rigid. There are four substantial longitudinals and, because living space is not a priority, no fewer than six bulkheads or partial bulkheads.

Yachting Life took the chance to sail the new Figaro 3 during the annual Beneteau Press Test in Spain in October and of course got little wind for our efforts!

That said, there was a certain satisfaction in being the only media man to enjoy a late afternoon breeze into double figures. Considering there was more demand to sail the FB3 than any of the other yachts available for test, this was a good omen!

All of the controls are easily reached from the helm, of course for a tweaky single-hander, it is all about minimising movement and maximising concentration. The most immediate realisation is that the helm is very light but still positively responsive. This is to minimise the power consumption when the boat is under pilot, which is for a minimum period when the skipper takes the necessary rest.

Upwind the seas were billiard table smooth so there was no chance to feel any dampening effect. In 10kts of breeze we were making about 6.7 to 7.2kts upwind with a narrow angle. The motion was smooth and the acceleration noticeable as we powered up. It felt moderately stiff and rather than increase in heel, it did seem to firm up. The groove is slim, rewarding good helming and fine tuning of the big main.

Reaching was where you really did feel the boat light up, if you could call it that in 10kts of wind, but what was obvious was how smooth and light it felt, creating little drag with a smooth speed curve, that is to say it did not hit a modest speed and then need a hump in power to keep getting faster. In 10kts of wind we were achieving just less than windspeed, definitely sailing in fast asymmetric mode which will really open up the playing field on the longer legs and the short, close quarters racing.

The ergonomics are great. The foot rest for the skipper can be set to any angle. The seating position keeps everything to hand. The foils go out and in on two crossed controls, that is to say from the other side than the foil being activated, likewise most of the key speed and power controls come to the weather side.

The tack line is on the outside of the sidedeck lines, then there are the controls for the foils, in and out. The foil angle is set at six degrees fore and aft and you can control the rake. Inboard by the edge of the coachroof are three clutches, spinnaker halyard, mainsail halyard and reef. There is a Barber and tweaker for the spinnaker.

The jib sheet has infinite control via the two floating eyes. One is sheeted to a short lateral track and the other comes conventionally across the coachroof to bring the sheeting angle right in. On the opposite side is the kicker (closest inboard at the companionway). The Cunningham and outhaul come to swivelling blocks and cleats aft of the mast base so that they can be controlled from either side of the boat. The mainsheet has a coarse and fine tune through swivelling blocks and cleats to the central pod at the helm’s feet. The 32:1 fine tune is double ended, just under the coarse tune.

The twin masthead running backstays are purely for tuning the rig. According to those who have sailed the boat so far you can gybe the boat safely in 25kts of breeze with the runners off.

The boat is especially potent downwind between 90deg and 140deg TWA, but with the foils it is good upwind. The foil does not only add stability, but it helps reduce slamming upwind. The ballast before was 300 kilos of water, but now with the foils the boat is that much lighter. However the faster you go the more the lift and stability increases. At full speed it is said the foils will be adding about 30% righting moment.

The Figaro is a specific craft for one real purpose. There will be private owners in due course and, in fact, they will always represent a good investment as a race charter machine. In France there will be the race ‘Ecurie’s or stables which will buy one or two and charter them for events, or season by season. So while the FB3 is never going to rate competitively under IRC there may just be the singular owner who fancies one as a personal toy, to fast adventure cruise or race, or charter commercially.

On the cost equation, Simon Limb of Beneteau dealer, Sunbird International based at Clyde Marina, Ardrossan, confirms that Beneteau have now released Figaro’s Foil’s commercial terms:

‘The initial build of 50 boats are all committed to the Figaro association and will be built throughout this year and handed over in January 2019 by a process of the skippers and teams drawing lots for the individual boats.

‘Skippers wishing to become part of the initial 50 boat Figaro batch must apply to the Figaro association. Deliveries beyond this for spring 2019 and onwards will be available to the general market through Beneteau dealers and the anticipated price will be €175,000 plus VAT, and including sails and electronics.

For details contact Sunbird at Clyde Marina. ‘Can we hope to see a foiling Figaro tearing up the Clyde in 2019?’ asks Simon.