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The Catman

by John Curnow, Global Editor, SailWorldCruising.com 29 Jun 06:53 BST
Cutting her way gracefully - Lagoon 55 © Lagoon

Well more precisely Group Beneteau’s sailing cat man, actually. We have spoken a lot with and about Bruno Belmont in relation to Excess the brand, and also the first of the models we have directly tested, which would be the Excess 12. Now whilst he is certainly the father of Excess, he’s also had a fair hand in Lagoon for sometime now.

So following on from the fairly recent launch of Lagoon 55, and its World Tour kicking off in the Med this Summer, it all seemed like a very good idea to get his thoughts on the brand and this new model taking them boldly into this new world we find ourselves living in.

Now all of that then means the first question for Bruno amongst many about Lagoon the brand, and also the new and very different Lagoon 55 would be, Just how long have you been part of the Lagoon scene? “I joined JTA, the racing division of Jeanneau, that was producing Lagoon 55 N°3 on January 1st 1989. I took over responsibility of the Lagoon brand in 1995”, said Belmont.

As the father of Excess, just how do you differentiate between Lagoon and Excess both mentally, and from a time point of view? “Sailing catamarans take my focus everyday: I would find it difficult to evaluate the split between both brands since it depends very much on the development plan of each model.”

“Let’s say that since Hervé Piveteau has taken over the marketing of Excess, and since there are more models under current development at Lagoon, the share is probably in favour of Lagoon; but this can change quickly!”

With such a long history inside the group, and rich collection of experiences to draw upon you can certainly see that Belmont is the best-placed individual to look after both brands to ensure there is both demarcation, and economies of scale where you can. So is this his main mission? “Yes. I also work on proposing trends or innovation on the brand that seems the best to receive, and I spend quite some time analysing the market and our competitors.”

The brand

As the biggest production cat brand, with something like 50% market share, and say 400+units per annum (pre-COVID), how critical is it both get it right, and not rest on ones laurels, less some of the opposition take you by surprise? Just how far can you take both the dedicated owners and all those charter fleet operators on a journey with you?

“I do not see a charter boat as a special product: I find it too restrictive, and not in line with the reality of the sales. When someone invests in a catamaran, he might be tempted to reduce the cost of this investment through some kind of management system, but most of the times there is also a sailing project behind it all. Therefore, a good catamaran must address both usages, and this is why we are now designing the forward cabin to be just as appealing as the rear ones, for example”, said Belmont.

“Having a large market share induces a lot of pressure: can we try something new? If we surprise he market, will it follow? History shows that it is always better to try than to sit and relax!”

The newbie

Equally, the new Lagoon 55 has plumb bows, is not quite as heavy as predecessors, and has the mast stepped pretty well aft, with a decent foretriangle as a result. Accordingly, does it all mean that she coming way too close to Excess territory as a result, both in appearance (notwithstanding the flying bridge and also needing the optional square top main), and potential performance?

“VPLP and Patrick le Quément did an amazing job to slim the lines of the Lagoon 55: remember that this takes the name of the first Lagoon, so we were all totally determined to ensure that the boat would look great!”

“Realistically, the Lagoon 55 is a big boat with many amenities, and the displacement is in line with this positioning, leaving space for great sailing sensations to the Excess 15. Excellent average cruise speed is the target of the Lagoon 55.”

Now certainly there is a very clear visual difference to all the other Lagoon models that have preceded her, so you can bet this new theme will be applied universally moving forward. Specifically, these new to Lagoon design elements are: -

• Levitating coach roof – There’s almost an upward swooping tick, ala Nike ‘swoosh’, to the trailing edge after the pillar. This increases light into the area, and no doubt also adds to the sense of spaciousness in the cockpit.

• Integrated handrails – “We are more referring to the moulded in handrail around the coachroof that allows for safe circulation forward even in rough seas.”

• Overemphasis of the sculptural elements of the bows – There is a noticeable chamfer (curve from topsides to deck), and a significant step for volume in accommodations within. So to Bruno and the team it all means that, “The bow is a very visible signature of the overall style of the boat. Chamfer, sharp lines, and the voluminous bow express the power of the brand. It’s also a clear statement of positioning highlighting the comfort and modernity of the brand.”

• On-water terrace – It’s easy to see the new transom steps heading inboard to direct traffic into the heart of the action. On the port side there is the BBQ/Plancha so that smoke does not go into the cockpit.

Regarding the transom and the tender platform, yes, clearly this is our will to offer a super large entertaining space!

• Private cocoon up for’ard – “There are 4 possibilities: no sun protection, stainless steel and canvas cabriolet, sun awning with carbon poles, or large canopy sun awnings: it’s up to each customer to decide.”

• Overhead windows in the saloon – These are very nice, bound to add a lot of light, and sculptural as well, with shades to draw if the sun is too hot.

In terms of accommodations, in the four-cabin version the Master is starboard and aft. As for the five-cabin configuration this reverts to port and aft with rear access for starboard aft cabin, and then you repeat the same in the port for the six-cabin version, which would be the charter pack.

The new 55 replaces the 52 and really bridges the divide between the standard offerings and the ginormous Sixty5 and Seventy7. “Yes. The latter two stand apart, with a tremendous amount of customisation possibilities. Lagoon 55 will benefit from our Premium Service to offer a real treat throughout the purchase journey, and will allow for some adaptation to customer requests, but not to the same extent: a sort of link between the pure production series and semi-custom yachts.”

To market. To market.

44 to 77 feet has been taken up with private buyers, whilst charter sales were slow. Has this trend continued? “Yes, some owners will allow for restricted charter use, but most boats remain fully private.”

“20 of the original Lagoon 55 first seen in 1987 are still going.” Well yes, they were one of the first cruising cats to create the market that is now so big, and still seems to be the favourite in many a region around the globe.

Most of the people doing training are often both new to sailing and new to cats! Is this what you are seeing globally too? “This has been going on from day one: the owner of Lagoon 55 N°6 had never been sailing at all before he purchased his Lagoon 55! We see many families preparing themselves for an Atlantic crossing with very little experience: it is sometime scary, and I very often push them to hire a captain to train them and to contact a weather routing expert to safely cross the ocean…”

Where to from here?

Safety and comfort are still the roots of Lagoon design, which remains as always with the renowned Naval Architects, VPLP. So just how do you brief them now for this design and others to come, with all of their performance credentials that have risen to the fore, especially since the first Lagoon from back in 1987?

“We used last year’s confinement to run several different hull shapes through VPLP’s top of the line Computational Fluid Dynamics software. This helped us to make our minds in term of the Prismatic coefficient (effectively this is looking at the size and shape of the hole the hulls make in the water), but not only this, for we tested the benefit of adding more draft, the optimal keel surface, and looked at the benefit of placing the rudder in front of the propellers, and so on. When the next Excess will come out, you will clearly see how far we went!”

Equally, and just as with Excess, car designer Patrick le Quément looked after the overall aesthetic externally. So this is proportions and lines, and bridges functions and design. Does this not sound all very Excess, for it does to me?

“Lagoon is mineral. Excess is animal. The same designer can shape a stick in many ways: what we love with Patrick is that he does not design a le Quément’s boat. On the contrary, he works like a blotter, or a sponge, interpreting the very DNA of the brand he works for into the design. I find more of a link between Outremer and Excess, than I can find between Lagoon and Excess.”

There have been something just over 6000 Lagoons built now, which is impressive for less than 35 years, and equates to an average of over 170 per annum, and belies the fact that it was 400pa pre-COVID. The plan is to maintain that? Increase it?

“COVID-19 has seen the charter market being replaced by sailing projects. We do not see sailing projects going down, and we’re already seeing the charter market start to recover. So we expect the big numbers to continue; the question is more difficult for a very small boatyard that might have been damaged deeply through this crisis, and the production boatyard that have put all their eggs in the same basket, thereby possibly suffering longer before recovering.”

Sales of the new 55 would appear to be running hot, as per all other sectors of the market, with most order books looking at late 2022 and then 2023 delivery? “Yes. Lagoon 55 has made an excellent start, and looking at the very limited list of modifications required, we can say that she seems to be very well born!”

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