Stephen Pizzo, Quokka Sports Staff
Cape Town, South Africa
"I don't like the boats. I don't like the race. I love the sea." ~
As each boat arrives at the dock there is always a crush of
reporters, family and race officials. There is always the flash of cameras and popping of
champagne. And, if the boat was a Finot design, there is always a small, quiet man
standing in the background, Jean-Marie Finot, the man who designed all but one of the
remaining Class I boats in this race and two of the Class II boats.
Finot does not fit the image of a world-famous designer of cutting edge Open Rule designs. He is a decidedly modest man. But, by the age of 55 this scientist-turned-boat designer has attained the status of guru to many multi-million dollar campaigns.
Finot sat down with us for an informal interview and
chatted about how boat designs have changed over the 34 years he has been in the business,
and how he makes his design decisions.
Finot said that, from inception to completion, each design he produces is a collaborative process in which he guides, but does not dictate. "First the skippers want a boat that is strong, that can start and finish the race," he explained. "After that the design is dictated by how that skipper wants the boat to sail. I design the boat around the skipper's needs."
But, as a father with five children of his own, Finot exudes a fatherly presence that he uses skillfully to gently nudge skippers in the right direction, without appearing to dictate. Each skipper begins the process, he said, with strong opinions one way or another, some good, some bad. "On the keel, the mast, the hull design, I present the conditions to the skipper," he said. "I tell what they gain and what they lose from each decision. It is always a balance. It is a political decision we come to together.
"For example, at first [Giovanni] Soldini told me he
thought a wide boat was the best way," he added. "Then after a long discussion
we had, he changed his mind and decided this was not the way to go. With Isabelle
Autissier I give her two choices with wing mast and hull shape and she picked the one she
Stability has been a point of contention about the Open 60 for some time and Finot bristles at any suggestion that his designs lack stability. "These boats are more stable than the normal cruising boat that you buy to sail recreationally," he replied with a dismissive wave of the hand. "How can we say they are not stable, because even without ballast they are stable enough. Look at Fedor [Konioukhov], the Russian. He is sailing without any water ballast at all and he has had no problems."
He also said he does not agree with those who complain that boats with canting keels are lacking in upwind conditions. "Well, you have to understand how to balance your boat for different kinds of sailing, with the canting keel and the water ballast," he said. "The fact is, that between the canting keel and the water ballast the overall speed is not statistically different. For the canting keel it is maybe 5% more speed."
As each boat arrives in port, Finot sucks each skipper dry
"I am already working on the next designs because the
skippers are already coming to me," he said. "So, yes, I am thinking. The
skippers are asking me about the next boats, proposing things and asking me if I think
this or that change makes sense.
Finot believes that, as fast as the new generation of Open 50s and 60s are, they are no where near their design limit yet. "No. I don't not believe we have reached the design limit yet. I believe they can still go faster," he said. "How much faster? Who knows. But, I have just finished designing a 25-footer on the same design as the Open 50s but without any ballast and they reach almost the same top speeds as these 50s."
When the boats are at sea Finot said he suffers the anxiety of a father whose children are in harm's way. "It is just terrible," he said, rolling his eyes skyward. "The last two years have been very, very hard on me. But, I have been very surprised that there have not been big problems on any of these boats and so it means we have done a good job."
Though seven of the boats in this race are Finot designs,
he plays no favorites. Finot said he does not care which one wins. "I have five
children back home and I have no favorite," he said.
As the interview ended Finot said, almost as an aside, "You know, I do not really like the boats. And, I do not like the race. I love the sea."
Ask any of the skippers who sail Finot boats and they will tell you that Finot's love for the sea is bred into the very fiber of his boats.
Page d'accueil/Home page: www.finot.com