09 October 1998
Charleston, S.C., us
There have always been yacht designers who stood out as dominant forces in their respective eras and arenas. In the early part of the century, a visionary named Nathaniel Herreshoff changed the way naval architects thought about their craft.
If you were racing in the America's Cup during its 12-Meter period from the '50s through the '70s, you'd better have been speaking to Olin Stephens. Today, Bruce Farr has put an indelible stamp on all phases of inshore and offshore crewed yacht racing.
But if you're talking about single-handedk round-the-world events, one name stands above all others: Jean-Marie Finot.
The top seven boats in the Around Alone race this morning came from the Groupe Finot design office.
Perhaps net surprisingly, the skipper of the newest Finot Open 60, Marc Thiercelin on SOMEWHERE, was at the front of the pack. At this morning's 0940 GMT position report,
Thiercelin was almost 50 miles ahead of English skipper Mike Golding; with each passing day, it becomes more apparent that Thiercelin is for real.
Josh Hall, Isabelle Autissier, and Giovanni Soldini round out the top five places in Class I. Soldini took solid steps on the comeback trail overnight, skipping ahead of Class II front-runners J.P. Mouligne and Mike Garside (both sailing Finot Open 50s), and Brad Van Liew in the overall fleet standings. Of the first eight boats, only Van Liew's BALANCE BAR an original David Lyons design now sporting a Rodger Martin refit does not hold a Finot pedigree.
There are subtle differences in the Finot boats: Thiercelins SOMEWHERE has one of Finot's distinctive new rotating wing masts, which are stepped on deck and supported by long outriggers in lieu of conventional stays; and a "traditional" fimed keel with a ballast bulb. Autissiers PRB, now three-years-old and the oldest Finot boat in the race, has a canted keel which the skipper controls hydraulically, and a standard four-spreader rig.
Golding's Team Group 4 and Soldini's FILA have the whole enchilada: the wild rig and the swinging keel. But Hall's Gartmore Investment Management has neither -- the veteran skipper opted instead to keep his boat as light and simple as possible.
Finot does not believe there are significant overall speed advantages with the canting keel: "When reaching in [moderate] winds, with the canting keel you don't need to add water ballast and the boat is lighter," he said. "in those conditions the moving keel is better. But when you are running [before the breeze] the normal boat [with a fixed keel] is lighter.
Then it is the better solution." However, Finot does believe the canting keels are safer, and points to the fact that Soldini was able to right his boat after a capsize last year by canting the keel to an extreme position. "The swinging keel is good for security in extreme conditions," he asserts. "But it is also more complicated and expansive. It costs between $100,000 and $200,000 to add this system."
But Finot does believe the wing mast does provides a real boatspeed edge. "With the rotating mast the mainsail trim is perfect," he said. "There is no drag from the mast.
That makes a little advantage. I think they are two- or three-percent faster than the other rigs. That could be three days faster over the voyage. But the main problem is not to have the better speed; the problem is finishing each leg and the entire race. The most important thing for me is having all the skippers return." Thus far, Marc Thiercelin must be very satisfied with the choices he's made.
This morning he wrote, "Here everything is all right. The night had gusts and squalls and a moon, and now there is a little good wind. My energy is low and I am tired because I am learning my new boat. I attack every time [I can]. It's busy work..."
Herb McCormick is the senior media correspondent for Around Alone.
He's also executive editor of Cruising World magazine.
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