North Sails NEWS

May 17, 2019


North Sails Head of R&D Gautier Sergent Provides Insights On the Figaro 3

Since the very first Beneteau Figaro 3 concept drawings appeared, the North Sails R&D team has been doing its homework, working alongside sailors to understand what makes these high-performance foilers tick. To learn more about the development process, we sat down with Gautier Sergent, the head of North Sails R&D, who oversees the Figaro 3 project led by Vannes-based sail designer Quentin Ponroy and segment leader Gaetan Aunette.  

To date, North-powered teams have won every Figaro 3 regatta—and each event had a different winner. North’s pro-active technical approach—all that R&D homework—is really paying off.

“The whole process started really early for the Figaro 3 because of our close relationship with Beneteau and our motivation to help develop the class,” Gautier says. “The minute we had access to the design concept, we tried to imagine the possibilities: what size for the jibs, for the main, for the spinnakers. North Sails has a roster of designers who have a good understanding of how the foils work and how that impacts the sail design.”

“I have been collaborating with North Sails since the launch of the Figaro 2 in 2003. This led me to continue collaboration when I joined Team Banque Populaire with the IMOCA for the Vendee Globe in 2012, and then again in 2016 with a win and speed record. More recently we have worked together with the Ultimes BPVII, IX, and now XI which we just finished designing. Of course, we choose to work with North Sails for the Figaro 3.”

Armel Le Cléac’h, Skipper Banque Populaire

The first step to building a winning inventory was understanding how boat and rig would behave under load. Flow and Membrain allowed the North designers to design virtually, balancing wind pressure, sail shape, and rig forces. The Figaro 3 has a stiff rig, which reduces the ability to induce bend with the runners, which affects sail shape and structure.

Having North Design Services involved from day one was critical, Gautier says, adding that it was a process learned from successful projects with the IMOCAs, Ultims, AC75s, and the newly branded Ocean Race. “Before asking for our clients’ trust,” he points out, “you need to have done your prep work.”

North was the only sailmaker to complete a full set of test sails, which were ready to go in time for the launch of hull number one in 2018 and proved fast right out of the blocks. But shortly after that, the project ran into a serious setback; class rules were published that banned spread filament sails, effectively making a North 3Di inventory illegal. Gautier and his team immediately reached out to the class. “We pushed hard to explain the possible ban was bad for sailors; North sails could be faster, lighter, and last longer.”

And even before the rulemakers agreed to allow 3Di, the design team carried on building prototype sails. “It’s proof that we were not going to sit back and stop,” Gautier says. “We will show you that our sails are better. It was a long shot but it worked out. We’re here, and our sails are winning.”

The North Sails inventory for the Figaro 3 consists of a Square Top Mainsail, J2, J3, Helix Code Zero, Masthead Spinnaker, and Fractional Spinnaker.

“We use a science-based approach to create an optimized inventory from the start,” concludes Gautier. “We ask our clients to put so much trust in our recommendations, but we are confident because we have the data to back them up; we also work closely with these sailors to explain why and how we got there, get their feedback, exchange ideas, and continue the development. To be fair, we lost a few clients to start. As the boats start to sail more, the sailors who maybe thought we were arrogant in our approach are coming back around.”

“Building up to an event or during the design phase I see the North Sails experts every week,” explains Armel. “Quentin or Gaetan is on my boat or in a chase boat analyzing and making their expertise available to me. We all work together to understand the full picture and exchange ideas to keep improving.”


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