It’s hard to believe that a month has passed since I first received my Beneteau Figaro 3 #20 Hive Energy. When you first open the hatch to a bare and empty boat with no ropes on it, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the endless jobs list ahead. One thing is for sure. That after the first few weeks of training, still nobody knows the fastest setup for the boat.

The Figaro 3 comes with a box of ropes and blocks and an ‘IKEA Flatpack’ type manual of how to put the everything together. It’s much the same too, at first it seems to take forever and be extremely complicated, but as soon as you’ve done it once, it’s easy. After a week in the shed I managed to get the boat into a sailable condition and ready to put into the water.

Now into the second week of sailing and I can safely say that all the boat work has paid off. For the first week of sailing we rarely had less that 20 knots of wind and the boat absolutely loved it, off the wind averaging speeds in the high teens. The helm is light and easy to steer, always feeling in control and the buoyant bow keeps it nicely out the waves.

The class rules dictate that we can have 2 upwind sails and 3 downwind sails onboard, including a gennaker reaching sail. The addition of the gennaker makes short-handed sailing much easier. It is a furling sail that is very easy to put up and down. At reaching angles it will make the boat not only faster, but also easier to control under autopilot. In the first few days of training we have already seen it start to be used as a light wind upwind jib too. The thing that will determine which sail to use in these conditions will be how many tacks you’ll need to do with it, since the gennaker requires re-furling and unfurling through each tack.

This year I was lucky enough to have be selected to join Le Pôle Finistère Course au Large for training in the Figaro 3, based out of Brittany, France. The training group for the season ahead consists of 15 of the top Figaro sailors. Unlike the Figaro 2 where some sailors had over 10 year’s experience sailing the boat, the Figaro 3 is a completely level playing field, with nobody having sailed more than a few hours on the boat before January 2019. It’s also a training school that operates entirely in French so following the complex discussions about minutre details on the boat can sometimes be challenging.

We had our first double-handed training session last week which was the first opportunity for everyone to line up and compare boats. This involved a few speed runs at different angles, followed by a coastal-type race for a few hours around some nearby islands. 

It is obvious that the learning curve is steep for everyone, and with only 5 weeks until the first race of the season there are some intense weeks ahead. At the end of every day I walk round the docks to look at other boats and see what they have changed to make the boat easier to sail. The rules are very strict one-design so although you can’t change many things there are still some subtle tweaks.  This makes training that much more intense, as after a 9 or 10 hour day on the water you end up spending most of the evening tweaking the boat for the next day’s training.

The biggest difference amongst the fleet is the sails. The rules are relatively open in terms of their shape, size and material, meaning many sail designers have had different ideas as to what is the ideal for each sail. It is clear to see already where some sails are faster than others in different conditions. The training we are doing now will be crucial for development of the sails over the next few weeks, and it is likely we will see some completely new shapes appearing soon.

We have also been working out how to setup the foils, which are relatively complicated in how they affect the boat. This also appears be quite an unknown area to all, as there are no obvious differences in speeds with various foil set ups. It’s becoming clear that when sailing upwind the foils act as a sort of daggerboard, helping to reduce leeway with more forward rake. However, the added drag may turn out to reduce the overall VMG of the boat.

The layout of the cockpit makes manoeuvres like tacking and gybing quite easy, with everything being within an arm’s length. With an asymmetrical spinnaker now too, there is no need to go onto the bow to a spinnaker pole, which makes the boat considerably safer in strong winds.

One aspect that may prove to be a challenge is the hoisting and changing of sails. As the clutches are very low down in the boat, hoisting from behind the clutch results in a lot of friction. The solution for this is to hoist at the mast, but when single-handed it can take some time after a bear away to get the autopilot setup and sailing in a straight line. In doing so, you then have to run back to the cockpit to pull the halyard line through the clutch.

There are still so many things to learn about the boat, and everyone is already in a race to learn as much as possible before the first race of the season kicks off with the Sardinha Cup at the end of March. Over the next few weeks the fine details will become smaller and less visible, making the small gains of speed harder to find.

At the moment I feel like I am in a good position, as one of the first Figaro 3s to be on the water and sailing. The boat goes well and we are competitive with the other sailors we are training against. Fingers crossed it will stay like this until the racing begins!