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Melges 2023 - Melges 15 LEADERBOARD

Bold as brass

by John Curnow, Editor, Sail World AUS 7 Nov 14:00 PST
Lenny the Beneteau First 44 that is about as racey as you can get - Charly Devanneaux has seen to it personally © John Curnow

Ordinarily, you might expect a cute little French name on a French boat. Dare we say it is somewhat de rigueur? (Argh. Argh. Argh.) So how does one get to 'Lenny', which is also very masculine in nature, and these are not necessarily boat names, unless you happen to be an Aircraft Carrier.

The answer lies in the mnemonic preceding the letters. Two mates. A celebration of a life, also life itself, and an hommage (do I get bonus points for two French quotes in the first two paragraphs?) to the very person for which the craft has been named. Lenny, the boat, is owned by the charismatic and energetic, Charles-Etienne Devanneaux AKA Charly.

It is so named for the late Lenny Shabes. Together with his wife Cindy (Cynthia), who is the current President, they founded American Sailing Association.

They are great friends of the owner, obviously, but it also goes a long way to highlighting the kind of person Charly is. Dedicated, and connected. Life-long is not a catchcry in this instance, but more like a foundation stone of his modus operandi.

So we kicked off our annual Hobart coverage with Not a 205 T16 and Lenny was mentioned in that. As part of Flagstaff Marine's annual Beneteau Cup on Sydney Harbour, I had the opportunity to sit with Charly and learn about the creation and implementation of his most audacious plan for Hull #6 of Beneteau's new First 44.

The short version of this here bold vision starts with the fact that Devanneaux has a long history with the water and sailing. He wanted to celebrate his 50th birthday in grand style. So he secured an early slot for a build of the Roberto Biscontini-penned latest First model from Beneteau. Like many things in this new era, delays meant it got to Los Angeles in April, about the same time as his birthday, but now with barely enough time to be prepared for the 2,255nm Transpac Race to Hawaii in June.

Not to worry, they finished second in their division. A testament to both the crew that assembled the boat by late May for the 150nm qualifying trip, and also the sailors that comprised of Charly, his son Clement, Fred Courouble (who has done five Transpacs with Charly two-handed no less), Thomas Anglade (a Canadian and old friend of Charly's), Romain Ingouf (the son of the 'Godfather' of Beneteau's FIRST series), Pierre Follenfant (they call him the Legend, as he has raced Vendée Globe and Figaro), and Olivier D'enquin (who amongst many things has a long history with the production of Lagoon catamarans).

That was stage one. Now Charly confesses to being huddled over his tablet at Christmas dinner for the start of the Hobart (remember the time delay). Stage Two meant getting the boat down to Sydney via firstly Fiji, then New Caledonia. Olivier, Pierre, Franck Genin, and Jacques Daniel (Charly's Brest friend) took care of that, and the meter now reads an impressive 7411nm!

Stage three now awaits Lenny. Boxing Day's 628nm Sydney to Hobart jaunt. You might say it is the real mission, which is fair enough for this particular plan, but it is just a cog in the machinations of Charly's ever-spinning mind. The crew will be headed by Charly as Skipper and Navigator, Olivier, Pierre, Christophe Vanek (who got the job of bowman at the Beneteau Cup), Jérôme DeBaecque, Luc Sorlin (who was Charly's Best Man at his wedding), Yann Masselot (Chef de Brand at Beneteau), along with an eighth, and as yet undisclosed sailor, but I can tell you they will be fluent in French!

Devanneaux commented, "Eight is a good number for this boat. It is very stable. It's most likely one of the best cockpits I've sailed on in a long time. The boat is really, really nice at sea. It's not wet either, as there is a lot of freeboard. You can easily be at 15 degrees, and even at 24 the boat won't round up." (BTW, the latter is an andoo Comanche kind of number.)

"I started to build the polar speed of the boat on my computer during the Transpac. So, I think after one week of racing, I started to have a pretty good idea about what was right and what was wrong, in which conditions," said Devanneaux reflecting on the journey to date.

"You know, a project like this is a combination of a lot of things. You had my son wanting to do the race to Hawaii, which required taking a big boat that was fully crewed. Then there was the opportunity with the new Beneteau First 44, and also having some friends who were retired and not only really wanted to race, but also take the boat across the Pacific."

"Having the latter surrounding your project is so important because it's a really, really big impost on everyone. Not only financially, but also just time for all the logistics, like registering, entering PLB numbers, and the list goes on... You simply can't do it without help, and for this project, all the stars aligned wonderfully. We had the right boat, with the right people, at the right time, and now we can achieve my dream to go to Hobart."

The vessel, and its distinctive livery, also feature the elongated prodder, taller carbon stick, and deeper keel, along with two extra winches in that capacious cockpit. All well laid out, for sure, but definitely highlighting that this is distinctly a racer/cruiser (Performance) version of the series, not the other way around.

I have not sailed the boat, as yet, but power is not this boat's problem. It seems that just like her bigger sister, the First Yacht 53 which I have driven, she powers up very early in the piece, and you do need to be on top of your gear changes. Incidentally, a brand-new North Sails J3 is on the way to round out her already impressive wardrobe.

The knuckle sits well proud at rest. Just about all of her significant beam is carried aft from chainplate to transom, and she does like to heel. Not on her ear by any means, but there is certainly a point where form stability, maximum dynamic waterline, and minimum wetted surface area all converge, and this is precisely where you need to be. The aft chine is higher on the First 44 than the First Yacht 53, so that will explain the angle of heel thing.

She is big for a 44, and there is plenty of Larry carried in the gear. Indeed Vanek, who is a bit of card, looked at me with a slightly tired expression after the Beneteau Cup, and just said, 'Heavy!'

If you are in Sydney, you can investigate and sail the supremely well-appointed Lenny as part of Flagstaff Marine's First Experience that will be held on December 15 and 16.

OK. There it is. There is so much more on the group's websites for you. Simply use the search field, or 'edition' pull-down menu up the top on the right of the masthead to find it all. Please enjoy your yachting, stay safe, and thanks for tuning into

John Curnow Australia Editor

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