Offshore Yachting : February March 2013
TACK & GYBE 045 next challenge for Eric and the team is to maintain the supremacy of the larger Firsts, which have won many of the major races around the world, including numerous Admiral's Cups and, of course, Rolex Sydney Hobarts -- take Darryl Hodgkinson's special edition First 45 Victoire, which won its division in the 2012 Hobart, as well as Audi Hamilton Island Race week. "The big challenge for the Firsts is to continue to be competitive across the world -- to race in only three knots in Dubai, maybe 0--30 knots in the Med, and then cope with very strong conditions in Scandinavia, while also adhering to CE and ISO build standards," says Eric. He points out constraints such as stability measurements -- something that was only introduced six years ago for IOR classes -- which for production yachts must now include angles of vanishing stability, VPP and a host of other measurements -- a situation now further complicated by the varying new international handicapping systems. "Individual countries also have their own national handicaps, so nowadays it's too difficult for Beneteau to achieve all this with only one boat. Many of our previous boats such as the 40.7, 44.7 and 47.7 were designed for the IMS rule and the First 40.7 was particularly successful in Australia because of its high wind capabilities under this rule, but now these boats are being penalised," explained Eric. Responding to the emergence of the IRC rule that took over from IMS in 2007, Eric's team launched their injection-moulded boats -- the First 35, First 40 and the First 45 -- characterised by having more rounded hulls and less wetted surface area with plumb ends. But the controversy about the secret nature of IRC has always been in the background, even if the form factor has largely been determined over the ensuing years by designs coalescing into familiar shapes. "I'd say that today the IRC is run by designers rather than owners because there's reduced development in the America's Cup and the Volvo. With this rule scheduled to change in 2014 how can Beneteau plan for what they don't know will happen?" he asks. The First range is unique in the world of production yachts in that its success (or failure) is dependent on the in vogue handicapping system, whereas custom builders/designers such as Jason Ker, Shaun Carkeek and similar small design houses can respond quickly. "Undoubtedly, it's desirable to produce a dedicated ocean racer, but the economic reality is that the market is simply too small," explains Eric. Beneteau's raison d'être is to tool up for large numbers, leveraging its market-leading buying power to minimise costs. The result is affordable cruiser-racers that have earned the Firsts their legendary status. However, as the 'goal posts' have moved, the French builder has also had to change its game -- something it is used to doing when it comes to the Beneteau First brand. LOOKING TO THE FUTURE "It's the way we want to go. Racing is what we are thinking about at Beneteau right now," says Eric. The First range caters for a wide variety of sailors -- the racer, the cruiser-racer and the dedicated cruiser who wants fast passage making --so the company is focusing on the components servicing their needs. Its large R&D resources are focusing on removable components and lighter weight systems. Heavy equipment, such as batteries, hot-water systems and cabling, contributes significantly to displacement. As an example, Beneteau's buying power could allow lightweight lithium batteries to enter the equation and even power cells for heating. A new experimental breed of First 30s will be the company's initial step on this new path in early 2013. Around 300kg will be relocated from the hull to the keel, along with extensive reworking of the internals. Deck work and general sail handling is also something Beneteau are focusing on -- given the challenges of gathering a dedicated race crew, it's only logical that smaller crews should be able to sail the boats. "We see evolution as the best way forward, rather than revolution," concluded Eric. www.beneteau.com.au MR. FIRST Eric Ingouf has dedicated most of his working life to ensuring the First brand remains competitive.
December January 2013
Offshore Yachting April-May 2013