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Pulling G’s with Beneteau – Pt I

by John Curnow on 23 Aug
Beneterau's Gianguido Girotti (G3) and the newly launched semi-foiler, the Figaro 3 © John Curnow
In a car, just the one G will have you straining at your seatbelt. Over nine (+ve) in an aircraft, and without a G-suit, you will be unconscious. So at three G’s, and pulling no punches with them either, we not only enjoyed our opportunity to sit with Gianguido Girotti (G3), we got to learn a lot as well!

G3 is the man with the product reins at the world’s largest boat builder, Beneteau, and this encompasses both power and sail. G3, because after all he is not 3G mobile network, is both quiet and reserved, but also acutely aware of the magnitude of the role he is so passionate about. Simply put, G3 is Mr Product at Beneteau, and by way of demonstrating the previous point, when asked if he has a lot of voice at Beneteau, G3 simply says, “I wish. I would say I have lots of responsibilities for Beneteau.”

It has been an impressive 12 months for G3, for he has only been with Groupe Beneteau for some further 12 months or so prior to this, and it was only recently that the first craft that is solely from his vision came to be. It is the Oceanis 51.1, and together with the Figaro 3, they show a lot about the vision for Beneteau’s traditional arm of sailing. You also get the impression that there is a lot more to come. Elsewhere we will review how you could argue that possibly even more has gone on in the power side of things, with the GT50 and Barracuda 6. However, for now, we’ll just quickly talk about the group as a whole, then promptly hoist the sails and go for a yacht…

“Overall I think that we are encountering a market situation that is not that bad anymore, which is a good sign. At the group level, we have some segments that are pushing the growth. These are the multihulls, the big monohulls, and the outboards. They are encountering the biggest growth in the market versus the other segments, which are slightly more conservative, but every single segment is in a growth, that’s for sure. And as we keep on saying, our objective, because we cover every part of the segment, is to being able to grow better than the average market percentage.”

“It’s quite ambitious, but we’ve put enormous amount of resources in place in order to make it happen. We invest more than 70 million Euros at a group level for a billion Euros of result, it’s an incredible figure in percentage terms, and this justifies the percentage growth versus our competitors. It is not R&D per se; it’s just the broader development. Being the most professional and industrialised manufacturer in the world, there is also another 70 million Euros that we place into factories improvements, methodology and all of that. When I talk about 70 million, is pure product development. Last year I think we launched worldwide more than 30 boats overall from outboards to the Oceanis Yacht 62.”

“This year, and just at the Beneteau level, we have ten new models. They are Antares 6, Antares 9, Barracuda 6, Barracuda 9, Swift Trawler 35, GT50 Coupé, GT50 Sport Top, Oceanis 55.1, Oceanis 51.1 and the Figaro 3. This year we also had to build a new factory for the racing division, so it’s been a tough year.”

Indeed it was only just before our meeting during the Sydney International Boat Show that the Figaro 3 had left the shed and undergone it’s first sail. “Yes, unfortunately, I could not sail it yet. They started sailing two days ago and it’s an incredible boat. The feedback I got from the naval architect last night was pretty positive, especially where the foil starts generating some lift already. We are all excited because it’s the first serious production of boats with foils that will be launched at a very reasonable price. Once more we prove that we are capable of transforming the inaccessible and making it become accessible, which I think is a bit of the mantra of Beneteau in general.”

Moving on, G3’s first real baby has only just come out. It is the new Oceanis 51.1, “…and yes, we are happy that we already sold all the units from the first year of production. This was before actually displaying her at any boat shows, so I was pretty shocked myself about that.” To put that into perspective, we are talking about 60 boats, and the order book continues to build ahead of her official release at Cannes.

Under such an impressive feat, what does the man in charge of Beneteau’s future see as the way forward? “We can summarise the basic product development strategy into the inaccessible becoming accessible. We’re not going to be there just to be different, for we have to be better and to produce that at a very attractive price, because this is what we are best at.”

“Even if we work in order to raise the brand perception, to raise the values of the brand, we will always keep in mind that we are still developing something for the widest possible public, and not to be elitist. This is our internal philosophy, and I think that sometimes it was a bit over confused between trying to prove design or stylistic elements that were probably affecting this basic pillar of the brand.”

“The second aspect is persistent determination, which means that we have different ranges, and each of them will have to be constantly developed with new boats every year. This is vital, because we need to make sure that our product portfolio is constantly updated, and that we do not have any obsolete products. So there must be a more rigorous approach in the product development phase, while we cannot just let some products die without being rethought or renewed in the meantime.”

It sounds a lot like the focus will be on enhancements to performance, which in turn means changes in production methodology to make the boat cheaper, and/or more effective. As usual, G3 is very clear about it all. “We created this racing division in a dedicated factory, to mark how we have started a new route, a new path, but it’s just the beginning. My dream is that we have to reduce the displacement by 30% to get a completely different feeling out of the sailing experience. Now that there has been a technological evolution that has allowed really a dramatic improvement in the performance, I think it’s the time to make it happen.”

“There are also this new generation of hull shapes to utilise as well. By way of an example, we have 35% more sail area in the best possible condition with the new Oceanis 51.1 versus an identical product in the market, so we are dramatically improving the performance side of our boats. However, it’s not just that. We also have to improve the comfort, the way we conceive the boats, and the way we work with some suppliers. This is all part of the persistent determination I spoke of, and it goes on in every part of our endeavour, in order to make sure that the customer will get a better product every time we develop something.”

“We won’t be doing just a reiteration of what they already know. I think that if we came to a stall in the market we would be heavily copied and we need to rethink about the way we do stuff in order to get the next possible big advantage.”

Just before, G3 mentioned a 35% increase in sail area, and it should be noted that this is for the new ‘First Line’ version in the seventh generation of Oceanis craft, that is all about being Smart, Comfortable and Fast. There are some 700+ configurations available, overall. The ‘First Line’ will enjoy a lighter T lead bulb at the end of a deeper fin keel, integrated bowsprit, and a taller, carbon rig and boom, along with upgraded deck gear.

“It was all about making sure that our customer was getting a better feeling. Because we sometimes have aging owners, and they don’t want to go anymore for a full on racing machine, yet they did not want to spend their weekend just lying in the marina. They still wanted it to be fun, and I think that this is where we are positioning ourselves.”

The Oceanis 51.1 is probably most notable for her new chine in the bow that we have written about in A fine entry. It is a fairly radical design, especially for a cruising boat, and it reminds one very quickly of Comanche. However, the new boat does not have the knuckle below the waterline like her sibling from the famous VPLP Studio. G3 simply says of that, “We sail at different speeds and heel angle, as well…”

The Oceanis 51.1 also has some 400mm more beam for even greater amenity down below, which is evidenced by her voluminous accommodations. However, rather than this coming from more wetted surface area below, she has deployed a stepped hull, and that too means that she has a finer entry as well as a more pronounced keel line, which coupled with more rocker will mean a far superior ride.

After all of that, you then notice that the interiors are far more apartment-like and bathe in even more light. So there’s a structural aspect to that too, given that you’ve got a hull form that’s getting wider to accommodate boat speed, and then you’ve got larger in-hull portholes, let alone obviously the superstructure. The 51.1 is already resin infused, so maybe E-Glass is next? The question for G3 becomes, how far can you see all of that going in terms of structural capacity?

“Ten years ago, when I was at Farr, so probably even more, I did an entire boat with the roof in crystal. So the limits are not yet even close to what we can do. For me it’s more the tip of the iceberg that is showing a new approach. It’s the best of the two worlds, in a way. As Comanche is a planing boat you don’t worry too much about the beam at the waterline, but we are more of a displacement style, so we do have to be concerned with how much is going through the water. The V-shape also means we behave better in waves, for if you are too flat you just slam all the time, and that is never pleasant. The overall result is the kind of sail to displacement ratio we now enjoy.”

“What we have now is that we’ve got the advantage of a more powerful hull, with increased form stability, which is always handy, and at the same time we discovered that the extra beam up for’ard has added to the Owner’s Stateroom, so that after measuring we can now confirm that it is bigger than the average 60-footer on the market.”

From it all, one does get the sneaky suspicion that with the racing factor, the creation of the First Line and Figaro 3, that it all points to the fact that we will be seeing much more of an aggressive capacity coming from Beneteau in the near future. G3 simply says, “Yeah, it’s a fair comment. I cannot say more, but yes, it’s a fair comment.”
So with those lines clearly painted down the road we will leave G3 for a short spell and be back with ‘Pulling G’s with Beneteau – Pt II’, very, very soon.

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