Figaro Beneteau 3 Foils and Flies Through Asia: Exclusive Review
Darren Catterall sea trialled the first Figaro Beneteau 3 in Asia, where the foiling monohull stopped in Hong Kong on its way to Taiwan.
Beneteau’s Figaro 3 is already a game-changer as the world’s first production foiling one-design monohull. It arrived with high expectations, as this latest edition follows the two hugely successful Figaro models that since 1992 have not only dominated their category but also sailed more miles than any other Vendee Globe yachts.
So, when the first Figaro 3 into Asia whistled through Hong Kong on her way to Taiwan, I was pretty excited to get a quick spin on her before she left for her new home.
Firstly, she’s an amazing boat, looks fantastic and handles amazingly well. She’s built in a customised yard in France by a separate racing division that was set up within the Beneteau Group to oversee the launch of this iconic iteration and work on future racing projects.
The third version succeeds the incredibly successful Figaro 2, which for about 15 years helped launch the careers of the world’s most competitive, single-handed skippers, most of whom are French. These include Charles Caudrelier, who led the China-flagged Dongfeng Race Team to victory in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race.
VPLP Design, founded by Marc Van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot-Prevost, was the architect of the last two boats to win the Vendee Globe and was also responsible for this latest Figaro, a proud addition to the French firm’s remarkable portfolio.
And it was an almighty challenge having to succeed both the Figaro 1, which had naval architecture by Finot Berret and produced about 140 units, and the Marc Lombard-designed Figaro 2, which tallied almost 100 hulls.
Sales for the Figaro 3 are already topping the latter, as the newcomer is the exclusive model to be used in this year’s Solitaire du Figaro, a race Caudrelier won in 2004 and which has been the proving ground for so many offshore sailors.
It’s a classic single-handed race for single-minded people who don’t like to sail on boats with other people!
However, with her inward-curving foils, the Figaro 3 can also become the stepping stone for the IMOCA 60 – used in the Vendee Globe and also the next Volvo Ocean Race – and other offshore foiling races around the world, the majority hailing from France.
Flying The Figaro
Stepping into the cockpit, you immediately understand she was primarily built for one person to sail her fast and hard.
Everything runs into the cockpit and there is a lot of everything, such as the mainsheet (course and fine), traveller, jib inhaulers and downhaulers, foil extension and retraction system, backstay runners, as well as the halyards and spinnaker tack line. All of it ends up in the small cockpit and can make a big mess if you’re not on top of things.
In the middle of the cockpit is space for a small liferaft, suitable for those longer offshore races, but it can just as easily hold a beer cooler and music if you’re doing some round-the-island sailing, which is nice.
Taking the helm was a pleasant surprise. The Figaro 3 is incredibly light and very sensitive for a yacht this size. She responds like a dinghy, quickly and happily going wherever you want her.
As she was designed for single or double-handed racing, the light helm is necessary to ensure the auto-helm system is not overstressed during long offshore races.
She also points surprisingly well and it’s here that the new “asymmetric tip foils” – as described by Beneteau – deliver their magic.
These foils do not lift the boat out of the water but instead create an additional sideways force to assist that of the slim keel blade. This reduces leeway significantly and allows the yacht to point well.
This system replaces the ballast tanks used in the Figaro 2 to reduce weight and drag, and makes the Figaro 3 faster than her predecessor.
Heel her over a bit and she powers up quickly, as the wetted surface area reduces and the power-to-drag ratio increases.
The mast is set back to balance a fathead main and a large genoa to give a very balanced helm. She comes with a smaller jib, a masthead asymmetric spinnaker and a smaller gennaker to complete the standard sail plan for the one-design fleet.
Once we got up the track, we turned downwind, hoisted the big spinnaker and off she went, easily hitting double digits in only 10-12 knots of wind.
The acceleration, even in average winds, was great fun and it made me wish that we could have had her out on a windier day to see what she could really do when pushed.
Bare Necessities Down Below
After a decent downwind zoom, I decided to check out the rest of the boat. The foredeck is large and easy to move around when setting up the spinnaker and there’s plenty of space on the side decks as the hatch is quite narrow and built to protect in offshore conditions.
Down below, only one word fits and that word is spartan. Okay, perhaps two words: spartan and very. Nothing that would detract from the aim of going fast and far has been added to this boat in an attempt, I suspect, to put people off considering single or double-handed offshore sailing unless they were mad!
Two small, uncomfortable pipe cots mean sailors won’t be sleeping in luxury and will be available 24/7 to trim the boat and make her go fast.
There’s no fridge or cooking stove of any description, so gourmet meals aren’t on the menu, but that’s not a bad thing because there isn’t a toilet so it’s probably best not to eat too much.
And there’s nowhere to store any personal belongings, so you won’t be bringing anything onboard beyond what you walk onto the boat with, so keeping weight down.
With nothing else to power – like fridges and air-con and TVs – the house batteries don’t need to be massive, which again reduces weight. The perfunctory engine is a 21hp unit from Japanese maker Nanni Diesel.
The Figaro 3 is built for speed, not for comfort, and is best offshore where she is going to excel in tough conditions and remind sailors what it is to be alive. And she’s likely to form a very large, heavily used fleet for the next 15 years or so, providing a launch pad for another generation of offshore sailing greats.