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Figaro Beneteau 3 – Quintessentially French

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail-World AUS 21 Sep 03:55 BST

She’s quite happy to slap you back and forth across your face, or go off and sulk at a corner table with an espresso martini and deliver you scorchingly deathly stares. Equally, she can fill you with such joie de vivre as to leave you in raptures, and that really is it all wrapped up in the opening stanza. Now much closer to four years ago than three, I might have fallen in love. Short though that party may have been, it was memorable. Now it could have been a crush, but after a full day out and about with her once more, I am convinced it was love at first sight.

When you boil it all down, it’s the Figaro Beneteau 3 that probably got me going on the new version of the short-handed thing, when I look back at the articles we have written over that time. Yeah I’d done a bit of short-handed stuff, but really not much. So thank you to Beneteau and specifically Thomas Cardrin in Spain. It was an eye-opener, and I’m still aware!

Now FB3 has a lot of strings, literally and metaphorically, and a fair bit of work is involved in the programme. You may well have every sail in the wardrobe up if are working your way through a lot of transitional breeze in a passage race. After the race that I took these images at, Flagstaff Marine’s Shane Crookshanks, who had been the for’ard hand on board, made some valuable observations.

“There are four different controls for the headsail, lots of little things to pull; foils, raking, halyards and so on. It’s a tweaker’s dream, so if you have CTD (compulsive tweaker’s disorder) you are in your in element. Also, if you’re not fit, this boat will completely test you in under an hour”, said Crookshanks.

“She will light up in the breeze, which is over 15 knots. You effectively have five extra souls on the rail with the foils, and you can rake them forward for some extra lift to help get the scow bow out. So under your Zero or A2, and at 15 knots of boat speed, you’ll hear the hoots no matter where you are.”

“At those sorts of speeds, and at just three tonnes for the whole boat, she will jump waves as she goes over one and on to the next”, concluded Crookshanks. My initial affair with Hull #1 of FB3 back in 2017 was in those very sorts of conditions, and I can say that it is both addictive for the joy she delivers, and the ease of helming her to do so, due to balance, and having the stick so far aft.

If not one, then the other…

My turn in the light and fiddly would come the very day after I took the images at the Beneteau Cup, and not once was I bored, for there was always something to feel and learn, and she did put whatever effort you made to give her power to good use. I don’t know of anyone who does not prefer to be at anything at or past outboard sheeted, or the equivalent, but in order to get to that, first you have to make the haul.

FB3 is simply an amazing way to have a serious amount of fun: All day, everyday. So very responsive, even from nothing she will eventually let you get her sorted, and the time for that is directly related to your application. Then you’re away and in four and five knots of breeze you’ll be doing fours and fives, and once it’s blowing seven you’ll be into six.

The avid mariner

Now FB3 might not be the cheapest 34-footer going around, and she does not really just want to go for a cruise. You can see that, much like a McLaren wandering along the boulevard in a low gear is not really doing what it was designed for. So then, with the first 100 going off to La Solitaire du Figaro, just how does one end up in Australia in private hands?

Well his name is Marc Depret, and yes, he hails form France, but has been living here for 26 years now. He started sailing at about 12 years of age until he was in his 20s, and then like many a soul, life got in the way. You know, studies, work, and moving here too. “In 2013 I stopped working, and then I restarted about four years ago, full-time, and quite intensively.”

“So in the first period I sailed mostly dinghies, catamarans, and windsurfing – that was really the main thing. I went through the learning process and I became a sailing instructor for Hobie Cat 16’s, 470’s, and 420’s just participating in local races a bit, but pretty much mostly training and having lots of fun.”

“Then here in Australia it was mostly keel boats. I did my Yacht Master on Sydney Harbour, which took me a while, and then I started racing at Royal Prince Alfred on Pittwater. The thing was, I really, really liked racing, even if I had not known it before. I did more and more of it, and it got me to start looking into boats, as I’m mostly attracted to shorthanded racing.”

“It’s an interesting question as to what got me so inspired about the Figaro Beneteau 3 in particular. When I started investigating there were definitely three or four kinds of boats in this sector, but the first time I looked at the Figaro, I actually got scared. It was looking like a bit of a handful, and for a few months I stopped looking and put it aside.”

“Then I started to talk to people and eventually made contact with Graham Raspass. He didn’t do anything specific to convince me that FB3 was the right thing, but just in talking with him I felt that I could get all the help I would need”, added Depret.

“So then I started to really look again to the Figaro, and it kind of revealed itself as a far superior choice for me. I mean it is definitely a big step up for where I come from, but with a bit of help it feels like it’s absolutely accessible. The one thing that I found attractive about it is there’s nothing down below, which means it would be less trouble. We’re not going to have problems with heads or anything. All the electricity is accessible; all the mechanics are accessible, and that’s a big plus for me.”

“Obviously it’s a competent racing machine, and it delivers the goods. It’s not one of these boats where it’s like oh yeah, it’s really made for racing, but we’re going to a bit of cruising amenity on board, just in case. So I put my hand up, with no looking back, you just go full on, and I’m not disappointed. No second thoughts.”

Like everyone I have come across, FB3 was definitely putting a very big smile on his face, to which he responded, “Oh yes. Absolutely!” When we sailed, Depret was just a few weeks into his ownership of Intiy, and offered this, “I don’t think I’ve really sailed her yet. I think of all these little things we’ve done, and it’s just giving you little hints of what can actually happen. You know, we put the Code 0 today into a little bit of wind and you can feel it going. Going up to Port Stephens we were in 20 knots with just two sails, nothing fancy, and we were just flying around. So you just have to imagine when you are going to combine the two what’s going to be possible. Add a bit of swell to this in the right direction and it’s going to be absolutely magical I think. So she probably bites back as well as she kisses, but it’s okay.”

Depret receives all the support from Beneteau that he needs, as he sets about his journey of discovery. “The visible horizon is four to five years, and then I’ll reassess where I am. It’s mostly based on the fact that I’ve got a fourteen-year-old son, so by then he’ll be eighteen and we might then reconsider where we go. However, in this first stage I would really like to engage into what I think of as serious ocean racing, based here the eastern coast of Australia. Maybe Hobart and Auckland: this sort of thing, which is our medium to long-term goal.”

Opportunity knocks

“I know that I have to carefully work my way through to that level. I’m not going tomorrow, and say ‘That’s it. I’ve got a boat, and I’ve got a life jacket. Let’s go!’ I want to be really familiar with the boat, and then we can look at longer distance coastal racing, perhaps even Hamilton Island in 2022. I think it’s all quite reasonable.”

“As a lot of the programme is double handed racing I need to find a partner; somebody who’s got the same perspective as me. Yes serious I guess. It’s also fun, so I guess it’s a serious fun sort of thing.” Well I can say to that one is four years down the track from when I first drove it I’m still smiling as well. So to anybody who might be interested, do make contact with Marc, that’s for sure.

“Also, this kind of boat that can give you a great amount of pleasure pretty quickly, but if you put in the effort to work with it, then you’ll get heaps more real pleasure. I remember it was the same with the Hobie 16. Ultimately, the amount of pleasure you can have on it is far greater than what you do just by pulling the rope and going fast sort of thing.” “So if you know how to navigate well, and do the right thing with FB3 it can be really amazing. I really think so.”

Moving to right here, right now and Marc has had Intiy for nearly six months. “I am just loving the boat more and more as I venture further in stronger winds. Records seem to indicate we have been hit by a 45-knot gust this Saturday, and reached a maximum speed of 13.5 knots later on under reefed main and A5 in 30 knots. This was more like survival, but a lot of fun, and most importantly we just felt safe all along (except for the big continent on the left).”

“I’m also starting to discover settings, how they relate to numbers, and the feel of the boat for a particular task. Outlining my own polars is now on my critical path. Reliability during execution of manoeuvres needs improvement, particularly kite work in heavier air (surprise, surprise…)”

As for his COVID adjusted programme, his horizon has lowered to the 2022 Sydney Hobart as a mixed double-handed crew. It also means the door is still open for the other soul, which he promptly said to me, “Cecile, if you are reading this.... :-)”

So. In short, I just can’t get enough of Intiy. My only question is, why aren't there more of these boats around???” Seems like there may even be a few other sailors seeing your point if I have heard correctly, Marc…

The Pro

Distinguished offshore sailor and former La Figaro du Solitaire participant, Cecile Laguette, is also a naval architect by trade. Qualifying from the renowned University of Southampton, she would eventually be involved with Emirates Team New Zealand for the 2011 America’s Cup cycle, but went to sea after watching all the sailors have the fun on the boats.

Given her background it is no surprise that analysis is a key part of her life in sailing, with weather, routing, and navigating being her area of speciality in the sailing world. As the world-famous regatta is currently underway, it is of no surprise that each day that the skipper downloads the hi-res GRIB files and routes a few boats from the leading pack. “I like to see which comes out on top the next day. There is heaps of current to deal with as well, so it is very interesting. You could say I am doing a shore race this time, so still very much in it.”

But what of the boat itself, and her involvement in Marc’s FB3? “I moved back to New Zealand in 2020, and Beneteau reached out to me for some consulting ahead of her arrival and commissioning. There has also been some preliminary advice and training, and we’ve also had a look at how to set up the guidelines for a fleet, as racing OD is pretty cool.” “Due to COVID it has continually evolved, and also taken longer in parts than we would have liked, but is gaining momentum once more. To do some racing soon would be really good”, added Laguette.

A very animated skipper also accurately and passionately describes her time with FB3, commenting, “You’re lower down than a VO65, so at 25 knots of pressure with the A2 up, it is certainly time for the goggles. 25+ is another gear with FB3, just like it is at 15+. The 34-footer has 200m2 comprised of J2 as the staysail, mainsail and the 120m2 kite, so heaps of power. Only the fit need apply at that point.”

Newer versus older

Cecile is quite tall at 1.8m, and is quick to point out that FB3 is more physical than her predecessor, FB2. “You can handle it as long as you are prepared to put in. It’s a bit uncomfortable, definitely wet, and you will have heaps of water in your face. We have to wear helmets when it is really rough, and your knees and head get a beating, especially below. This is absolutely 100% a racing boat!”

“FB2 only had symmetrical kite, and J2, so you felt like you could only stay with the pack, and not take an angle. FB3 opened up routing, especially with Code Zero and A2/A4. Now it was game on. You definitely planned your sleep time, and concentrated fiercely on you polars. Passing lanes were now available.”

“You are able to make a big difference with driving, as the boat really accelerates, and surfing is the name of the game. So managing yourself, so that you can be at the top of your game when the conditions allow became really crucial. You do feel the foils providing lift above 16 knots with code zero, and it is the same uphill. You can crank it on up high and go a bit slower. Or change the angle of attack of the foils, come down and slip off a bit to suit the conditions and course.”

There is also a fair amount of versatility on offer, and Laguette highlighted how she had helped a much smaller athlete work out how she could best conquer her FB3.

In concluding I asked Laguette ‘What did she most love about FB3?’ The reply was simple. “I still do! There is more power than FB2, and it’s more fun in general; a proper race yacht. Because I came from crewed yachts I think it helped, because you are able to get going fast very quickly. There is definitely heaps to do. You need to treat FB3 as a big boat, and sail her that way as well. You have all the big end kit, but it is all on a 34-footer.”

“Nothing goes on the jammer; it’s all on the winch, just like a big boat. Be aggressive with her; the more you work at it, the faster she’ll go…”

Upshot?

Whether you’re a mug journalist, avid mariner, or pro sailor, Beneteau Figaro 3 will delight. So, yes. Do I love her? Undeniably. Just tell me what time to meet you on the quay, and we’ll slip the lines for another instalment of this grand love affair. You bring the boat. I’ll bring the Prednisolone… Salut. Au revoir. Bonne chance.

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