Some legacy

Visit World Sailing

Give me a fast boat, any fast boat. ANDY RICE

Making sense of sailing is hard enough when you’re in the race, let alone when you’re on the outside looking in, whether as organiser, coach or spectator. But the advent of accessible GPS tracking is now starting to make things easier to understand and Germanybased software giant SAP is working hard to refine the technology while – and this is crucial – also making it relevant at a level of regattas below the rarified heights of the America’s Cup.

SAP was founded in 1970 by well-known racer of maxis and 505s… Hasso Plattner along with four of his fellow former IBM software engineers. So a healthy racing connection from the start. Today Milan Cerny is the innovation and technology lead for sailing at SAP Sponsorships. ‘When we started working with SAP Analytics in 2010-2011 it was not much more than a live leaderboard on the edge of the screen… though that was already quite a breakthrough for the sport!

‘Making sense of who’s in the lead and how that lead is changing from one side of the course to the other, it’s not even that easy to know for the sailors, let alone those watching from outside.

‘Bit by bit over the last five years we’ve added more and more functionality, working closely with sailors and race officials to help make sense of the racing by taking advantage of the data that we can now grab from the boats, the wind and the racecourse.’

Cerny says they have designed SAP Sailing Analytics to appeal to three distinct groups: the competitors, the race officials and the fans. So Cerny and his team developed a race management app to help make the whole process of running a race more precise and efficient. ‘The app now enables the race officer to digitally lay out his racecourse together with the schedule for the day.

‘I would say that was a big step forward for the process of organising a regatta. It sounds simple but it’s actually very challenging to make it happen.’ With everyone on the race team – including the mark-laying crews and umpires – all with access to the same data on the app, Cerny says it helps keep everyone on the same page as the race officer and so enables the regatta to proceed more smoothly and with fewer delays.

For the competitors and their followers their needs are much the same, according to skiff sailor and racing commentator Andy Rice. ‘Watching pretty images of boats racing is beautiful but in itself not that informative,’ says Rice, who has been commentating on the Olympic classes at World Cup Series events for several years.

Seahorse readers will be familiar with SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner as a maxi competitor – less well known is an enduring passion (main picture) for racing 505s, competing in numerous events over many years. No coincidence then that SAP is also a major sponsor of the 505 class itself and used the 505 worlds (below) in Aarhus in 2010 as an early test of its Sailing Analytics system

‘Having the live data from the SAP Sailing Analytics helps bring those pretty pictures alive. We knew the pin end of the line was 10° biased, but why did the boats at the other end of the line take the lead less than five minutes later?

‘The data helps inform us, the commentators, of when and why the lead is changing, who’s faster through the water, who’s sailing the shortest distance, who’s making the fewest or most manoeuvres, what the tack-loss is for different boats, and so on.

‘You can see who are the risk-takers, the ones who prefer to bounce out to the corners of the racecourse compared with the steady-up-the-middle, more conservative sailors. This information is great for painting a much richer picture for the fans following the racing, and the very same data is great for the sailors to analyse what they did right and what they did wrong when they get ashore at the end of the day.’

So what comes next? Using the technology to help umpires make instant decisions perhaps, as we’ve seen in the past two America’s Cups? Or using GPS positioning to confirm who has jumped the gun at the start? Cerny says that it’s all possible, but with some clear caveats. ‘Of course it would be nice to rule out human error from some of these critical decision-making processes, but you can’t 100 per cent rule out system error either.

‘Out on the water in a damp, salty environment, with potential problems of internet connectivity, there’s a lot to think about before you’d go over totally to systems-based race management. The human factor is vital, and will be for a long time to come.’

But while systems-based event management is now active across sports like tennis, cricket, football, ice hockey and basketball, Cerny believes the next big gains for sailing will be in using the technology to simply make the sport more spectator-friendly.

‘It’s a beautiful sport to look at, but it’s much harder to understand for those who don’t participate in sailing – other field-based sports tend to be much easier to grasp even if you don’t have the advanced technology.’

However, what SAP Sailing Analytics has shown is that you can start to explain the complexities of racing even to a lay audience. Well-presented live data has become a vital part of bringing the story alive. With augmented reality on the horizon the future for live sailing coverage looks healthy.

Click here for more information on World Sailing »

We invite you to read on and find out for yourself why Seahorse is the most highly-rated source in the world for anyone who is serious about their racing.

To read on simply SIGN up NOW
Take advantage of our very best subscription offer or order a single copy of this issue of Seahorse.

Online at: and use the code TECH20

Or via email:

Or for iPad simply download the Seahorse App at the iTunes store


The 2018 Grand (Caribbean) Tour

We’ve managed to remain in close touch with our friends in the Caribbean Sailing Association throughout their recent and dreadful experiences – offering by comparison minuscule but still sincere support wherever it can be of any use whatsoever.

We were thrilled – and surprised – by the inspiring stated ambition to run their scheduled regattas for the coming 2018 Caribbean season. We at Seahorse will be digging deep and stretching ourselves a little thin but we are committing now to having people at all the events we possibly can and we very much encourage the entire sailing community to do the same.

The Caribbean regatta circuit plays a huge role in supporting the local economies of many of the islands that were just ravaged by Hurricane Irma – islands and communities that have been incredibly welcoming to us all in the past.

Now it’s our turn. As racing sailors, if ever you had an interest in visiting or revisiting a Caribbean Regatta then early 2018 is the best – and most public spirited – opportunity (hopefully) any of us will have in our lifetimes.

The following article (which was written pre Irma) maps out the CSA’s key events – we urge you to commit to one or more today, notify the organisers of your intention to take part and support wonderful communities that are at this moment working desperately hard to provide their families with something approaching normal living in the most adverse and dispiriting of conditions.

Visit The Caribbean Sailing

Can’t make up your mind, why not have all of it?

Anyone considering putting together a yacht racing programme in the Caribbean could be forgiven for being slightly bewildered by the vast choice of regattas that take place in so many different locations every year. In the past there were similar challenges for organisers trying to identify dates that were both amenable to the participant and did not clash with other existing events.

The Caribbean Sailing Association (CSA), under the guidance of past presidents such as Cary Lee Byerley and Peter Holmberg, and current president Kathy Lammers, have since paid a great service to those participating on the Caribbean circuit by establishing better dialogue between the many different organisers. The result is that no longer are there the major clashes between events that today flow smoothly into each other. On the CSA website there is now a splendidly organised calendar that lists the dates of all major winter regattas in the Caribbean through to 2022 – one great step in regatta coordination and compatibility.

2018 offers yet again a wonderful selection of regattas for sailors to participate in – all taking place in the Leeward and Windward chain in a geographically logical sequence. The ARC and the RORC Transatlantic Race both act as handy feeder races for European based entries (note that this year’s RORC Transatlantic Race finishes in Virgin Gorda rather than Grenada).

January First up in 2018 is the Mount Gay Rum Round Barbados Race Series (16-24 Jan) – founded by Howard Palmer supported by energetic members of the Barbados Cruising Club. This event attracts an eclectically diverse fleet of yachts (even windsurfers) for coastal racing, a round-the-island race and a passage race to Antigua. Andy Budgen’s foiling Moth led the fleet around in 2017 (sic), setting a new foiling record to add to his monohull record on the V070 Monster Project. Many classic yachts also attend this event, notably grand schooners like Elena and Adix; the classic Mylne ketch Blue Peter won the 2017 CSA Cruising Class in the Coastal Series.

Grenada Sailing Week (29 Jan- 3 Feb) is a well-established ‘must-do’ for anyone visiting the famous Spice Isle. Richard Szyjan, a local sailmaker and rigger, is a longterm organiser and participant in this excellent regatta where the organisers reliably ensure the best Caribbean racing experience. Expect to see the usual crowd from Trinidad as well as the local talent including Jason Fletcher of Grenada Marine, Peter Evans and Danny Donelan in his Petite Martinique sloop Savvy. Several big boats but one for the smaller boats to enjoy as well.

February The first large yacht event is the Antigua Superyacht Challenge (1-4 Feb) organised by Stan Pearson and Paul Deeth. Attracting fleets of 10-15 yachts, this event has become highly regarded for its quality and close racing. Adela, Rebecca and Marama are regulars at the regatta which has now adopted the popular ORCSy handicap system. Paul and Stan also founded the Antigua 360 (16 Feb) event, a nice warm-up before the RORC Caribbean 600. Following some legs of the 600 course, this round-Antigua race is the best possible practice for yachts entering the RORC’s offshore classic.

And so to the big offshore draw… The RORC Caribbean 600 Race (19-23 Feb) has evolved into an international regatta of some stature. With 80 boats (and 30 nationalities) racing in 2017, yachts are attracted from all over the world. Grand prix yachts with pro crew compete for the IRC and CSA trophies alongside club sailors in a tough crew challenge with 11 island roundings. The records are currently held by Rambler 100 and the MOD Phaedo3 – this is a Caribbean offshore racing adventure… with an onshore celebration not to be missed.

March The Heineken/St Maarten Regatta (1-4 March) is another event that should be in any Caribbean race programme. This major CSA regatta was founded by Sir Robbie Ferron and today it regularly attracts 150+ entries. A popular charter boat regatta in the early days, it now has a serious racing element with well-known grand prix racers joining the fray. This is also a regular stop for Gunboat owners. The event kicks off with the Gill Commodore’s Cup (1 March). Billed as ‘serious fun’, top end-music events play a strong part in the regatta’s tradition. Lionel Pean’s V070 SFS was the scratch boat in 2017 while many of the regulars like Oystercatcher and David Cullen’s Pocket Rocket also continued their winning ways.

Two superyacht events follow closely – The Loro Piana Caribbean Superyacht Regatta and Rendezvous (9-12 March) in Virgin Gorda, followed by the St Barths Bucket (15-18 March). The even spacing between these two headline superyacht events enables yachts to comfortably participate in both regattas if they so choose. This has proved popular with owners and crew who, for little extra effort, can extend their racing beyond a threeday event. Many great yachts of the past and present attend these regattas and the Bucket has been enhanced by the increasing presence of the J Class with its own class start. In St Barths this year Jim Clarke’s Hanuman beat Velsheda on countback in a closely fought contest between a record six J Class taking part. St Barths will be the bigger of these two events with 30+ yachts split into five classes. In 2017 the new owner of Spiip (ex-Unfurled) prevailed in the most competitive class to win the Bucket overall, and Nilaya held a perfect score in every race at the Loro Piana to win overall in Virgin Gorda.

March/April Two of the oldest regattas in the Caribbean follow the big boat events, St Thomas International Regatta (23-25 March) followed by the BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival (26 March- 1 April). The STIR is preceded by the Round the Rocks Race (22 March). In 2017 Blitz (Peter Corr) prevailed in his King 40 in the CSA spinnaker class and an old Caribbean favourite, Hotel California (Peter Schmidt), won the non-spinnaker class. Fujin, Greg Slyngstad’s interesting – and fast – Bieker cat won the multihulls. The main event saw 86 boats split into seven classes with the IC 24s (modified J24s) won by Puerto Rican Fraito Lugo’s Orion. The BVI Spring Regatta is a favourite with many European boats that cross the pond each year and a new outer marina at Nanny Key has enhanced the comfort for the deeper-draft yachts. RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine took a team to participate in 2017 but in light winds Blitz won again and Jason Carol’s turboed Gunboat Elvis took the multihull spoils. The BVI series also includes a lap of Tortola – though in 2018 the inaugural Full Moon Race (27 March) will take its place instead – a 165nm circumnavigation of no fewer than 64 islands and rocks…

April/May Following on from the BVI is Les Voiles de St-Barth (9-14 April), an event conceived in 2010 by Luc Poupon. With a high-end grand prix fleet and a perfect island setting, Les Voiles has become a well-attended regatta. French Caribbean chic combined with high end racing around an interesting and challenging coastline is a sure recipe for success. The Maxi 72s attended in 2017 with Proteus (George Sakelaris) winning the Maxi 1 battle and Windfall (Mick Cotter) taking the spoils in Maxi 2. In the CSA classes it was good to see the TP52 Sorcha (Peter Harrison) win, as the owner is a headline sponsor of the event. Blitz (Peter Corr) was in the money again, as was Fujin (Peter Schmidt) in the multihull class – clearly yachts who enjoyed their Caribbean tour.

Traditionally the two final events of the Caribbean season take us to Antigua for the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta (18-24 April) and Antigua Sailing Week (29 April-4 May). Originally a combined event, the two regattas are probably the oldest established events in the Caribbean. 2017 saw the return of the Herreschoff-design Mariette of 1915 to win her class, while Carlo Falcone’s lovely Fyfe/Mylne ketch Mariella again took away the overall prize for her trophy cabinet. The three-mast Adix graced the Classic class A among the traditional classes, which included a variety of yachts from the boards of a wide range of famous classic designers.

The spectacle in Nelson’s Dockyard takes one back to a different era. In 2017 Antigua Sailing Week was celebrating its 50th edition and credit must be given to Kathy Lammers and her team for making a huge effort to celebrate the event in style; 144 boats started and among them was Antigua regular Sojana back to take prizes, as was Kialoa 3 (a winning yacht that used to be owned by the late Jim Kilroy). Scarlet Oyster (Ross Appleby) was seen on the podium once again, as were Lazy Dog (Sergio Sagrameso) from Puerto Rico and Hightide, a winning yacht owned by the late Jol Byerley and sailed this year by Richard Archer and other close friends of its popular former skipper.

The season closes with the youngest event on the circuit – a final chance for the boats to stretch their legs on the 935nm Antigua-Bermuda Race; a familiar passage for many bound home for the eastern USA and Europe, providing a final test of racing skill and a warm welcome and refresher before the long journey home.

2018 will continue to offer the same wonderful selection of Caribbean regattas to satisfy all tastes – superyacht events, grand prix events, offshore challenges, as well as Caribbean-flavoured events with their much more traditional elements. To their credit the CSA have been central in introducing this balanced structure to the Caribbean sailing programme, allowing sailors to participate in a grand yachting series that for the most fortunate can last from January right through to May.

How cool is that?
John Burnie
John Burnie lived in the Caribbean for 10 years and has participated in all the regattas listed. He was co-founder of the RORC Caribbean 600 with Stan Pearson and RORC CEO Eddie Warden Owen

Click here for more information on all the events at the CSA website »




We invite you to read on and find out for yourself why Seahorse is the most highly-rated source in the world for anyone who is serious about their racing.

To read on simply SIGN up NOW
Take advantage of our very best subscription offer or order a single copy of this issue of Seahorse.

Online at: and use the code TECH20

Or via email:

Or for iPad simply download the Seahorse App at the iTunes store


Moving on from Rio

Visit the Kiel Week website

While two flying boats grabbed the headlines in Bermuda a very much bigger... 135-year-old regatta was also taking place in northern Germany

For the organisers it was another typical Kieler Woche… this year attracting 4,000 sailors from 65 nations, competing in 1,700 boats of all shapes and sizes. The race committee started more than 400 races over the nine-day regatta.

Kiel Week is one for the bucket list and you really have no excuse not to take part at least once in your sailing career. Aside from the high-profile Olympic classes, there is every kind of keelboat class plus junior and senior one-design fleets such as the Laser 4.7, the 420 and 505. From the seasoned pro to the almost-beginner, there is something for every sailor.

Main picture: Australians Dave Gilmour and Joel Turner travelled a long way to compete at Kiel this year in the 49ers, but since the Olympic Regatta took place at Kiel’s Schilksee in 1972 this has been an essential stop on the European circuit for Olympic-class sailors. Kiel Week always delivers a wide mix of conditions and is never an easy regatta to win. The event also offers the same outstanding race management and great shoreside experience to around 40 non-Olympic classes ranging from 505s to Flying Dutchmen to Folkboats… Outstanding sailing porn

This year’s Kiel Week, ‘Kieler Woche’ as locals refer to it, attracted some of the biggest names from Rio 2016. The irrepressible Robert Scheidt was back, now in a 49er with fellow Brazilian Gabriel Borges. ‘I first came to Kiel Week in 1993 when I was 19. My mother was with me and I was racing the Laser,’ Scheidt recalls. Three years later he would go on to win the first of his five Olympic medals, a gold in the Laser at Atlanta 1996, beating a certain 19-year-old from Great Britain, Ben Ainslie, into second place.

Scheidt has since competed in numerous Kiel Weeks, first in the Laser and then in the Star, winning a few trophies along the way… Now 44, he started this year’s regatta well, lying third after day one’s racing in 10kt of breeze. Not bad for an old dog trying to learn new tricks in the trickiest of Olympic skiffs. ‘If the breeze gets too strong you will see a different side of my abilities,’ laughed Scheidt. ‘Maybe some swimming!’

He wasn’t far off the mark because when the breeze did kick in the legendary Brazilian tumbled out of the top 10 to finish 17th overall. But at this early stage of his skiff career, he’s not worried. ‘We are just out to enjoy the boat and learn how to sail it and then we will see what happens,’ says Scheidt. After he narrowly missed out on a record sixth Olympic medal after coming fourth in the Laser in Rio, one has to wonder if Scheidt believes he has it in him to win that elusive sixth medal at Tokyo 2020, when he’ll be 47 years young. Don’t bet against this bloke…

Other big names from Rio included 49erFX silver medallists from New Zealand, Alex Maloney and Molly Meech, who finished second in Kiel. The 49er bronze medallists Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel just missed out on a medal on home waters, and it was an agonising fourth place in the Finn for Max Salminen, London 2012 Star gold medallist.

This being a new Olympic cycle, many are trialling new partnerships including Rio bronze medallist in the Nacra 17 Thomas Zajac. The Austrian is now teamed up with Barbara Matz and together they dominated the Nacra course. They will be back again this month when Kiel hosts the combined European championships for the 49er, 49erFX and now-foiling Nacra 17s.

A special part of this year’s Kiel Week was the Para World Sailing Championships – a key event in the quest to get sailing back into the Paralympics for 2024. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) was expecting to see a minimum of 35 participating nations in Germany and the regatta ticked that box – more than 80 sailors representing 39 nations.

Aside from the well-established 2.4mR (now the Norlin 2.4mOD), this was a debut for the Hansa 303, a small keelboat not specifically designed for disabled sailing but well-suited for the purpose. Victory went to Poland’s Piotr Cichocki in the Men’s division while Spain’s Violeta del Reino won the Women’s. Local sailor Heiko Kroger was also delighted to emerge victorious in the battle for his latest 2.4m gold.

The regatta served as a milestone on the road back to the Paralympics. ‘Congratulations to Para Sailing for its strong development over the last few months. Nearly 40 nations and a large number of participants on the racecourse were two of the requirements from the IPC,’ said John Petersson of the IPC Governing Board. Petersson competed in five Paralympic Games as a swimmer, winning 15 medals including six gold. He enjoyed seeing the Para Worlds integrated into Kiel Week, where disabled and non-disabled sailors can compete alongside each other. ‘It’s great to have the competitions combined here; both parties can learn from each other and enjoy each others’ company.’

Nothing can quite match the breadth and depth of sailing on display at Kiel Week. Which may be why so many sailors return year after year.

Click here for more information on Kiel Week »

We invite you to read on and find out for yourself why Seahorse is the most highly-rated source in the world for anyone who is serious about their racing.

To read on simply SIGN up NOW
Take advantage of our very best subscription offer or order a single copy of this issue of Seahorse.

Online at: and use the code TECH20

Or via email:

Or for iPad simply download the Seahorse App at the iTunes store

Ten years and growing

Visit the Yacht Racing Forum

With its dynamic mix of technical presentations and networking the Yacht Racing Forum is now firmly established as a 'must attend' winter event for anyone involved in the business of sailing and yacht racing

The Forum was launched 10 years ago in Monaco by the Informa Group; the event has since been taken over by Bernard Schopfer and his Geneva-based agency MaxComm, who organise the event with passion, determination and a longterm vision.

Main picture: The return on sponsorship is always a big topic at the Yacht Racing Forum; one less well discussed aspect is the ‘secured value’ – ie the value of not winning. While not questioning Franck Cammas’s ultimate goal of winning the America’s Cup, this time Groupama will have priced their spend very carefully to ensure good value even if – as indeed happened – Cammas left the stage early. With one-tenth of the budget of other teams Groupama easily won the ROI battle

Today the Forum is in good shape and attracts a growing number of the sports’ leading personalities and brands. The reasons for this success? ‘We are here for the entire sport, from kiteboarding to superyachts, and the industry that supports the sailors involved. The chance to engage in dialogue here is very important to us’, says Andy Hunt, World Sailing CE.

The delicate alchemy between the relevance of the conferences, the quality of the networking, the level of the speakers and the business achieved is at the heart of a successful Forum. This year’s conference will emphasise the sports’ leading events: America’s Cup, Vendée Globe, Volvo Ocean Race and Class Ultime (what a year for our sport, by the way!). But the event will also focus on mainstream yacht racing, club management and the most popular sailing classes, with conferences focusing on sponsorship, media exposure, sustainability and much more.

‘Sometimes we have to remind each other that there is a big, broad base out there that we always have to stay mindful of,’ says sailing legend Ken Read, president of North Sails. ‘This event is about listening to ideas, meeting your peers, networking, sharing ideas that you’ve had and absorbing new ideas you haven’t…’

Typically the Risk Management and Safety module on day two will put the spotlight on an often forgotten aspect of the sport that can potentially impact any yacht club, class, event organiser and team. Leading industry experts will explain what can be done to reduce the risks from an organisational point of view, while the way in which the latest technology contributes to safety in sailing will be explained and showcased.

This year’s hot issues will also include event management, virtual sailing, sponsorship, sailing on TV, the place of women in the sport and much more.

The sport of sailing wouldn’t exist without great imagery, and both yacht racing photographers and filmmakers will be celebrated during the Forum through the Mirabaud Sailing Video Award and Yacht Racing Image awards.

Run in parallel with the Business and Marketing conferences, the Design and Technology Symposium will be focusing on the latest innovations, materials and designs, data analysis and innovations in sail design and construction. Over the past few years the symposium has steadily gained momentum and now attracts over 100 delegates, including experts from the America’s Cup, leading builders and materials specialists, engineers and designers, plus software and hardware suppliers.

As usual in Aarhus several networking functions are also planned, including evening drinks and a gala reception provided by North Sails on the Monday night at Aarhus City Hall.

Yacht Racing Forum 2017 – the story so far
18 partners including: North Sails, Volvo Ocean Race, World Sailing, World Match Racing Tour, Clipper Ventures, Spinlock, Gurit, Georacing, Mirabaud, Zhik, OC Sport, plus 15-20 media partners. 40 speakers including:

  • Thierry Bouvard, sponsorship manager, Banque Populaire
  • Kim Andersen, CEO, World Sailing
  • Sarah Allan, lawyer, Bentleys, Stokes & Lowles
  • Ian Walker, Director of Racing, Royal Yachting Association
  • Yann Penfornis, CEO, Multiplast Carboman
  • Nick Moloney, sailor and businessman
  • Tony Bishop, founder of Bart’s Bash
  • Ben Remocker, manager, 49er Class Association and International Nacra 17 Association
  • Hasso Hoffmeister, senior engineer; Special & Light Craft, IWV and EC, DNVGL
  • Phil Jenkins, multiple awardwinning social media professional
  • James Hall, marketing & sales manager, Spinlock
  • Gary Jobson, vice-president, World Sailing
  • David Raison, SEAir, sailor and naval architect

Click here for more information on the Yacht Racing Forum »

We invite you to read on and find out for yourself why Seahorse is the most highly-rated source in the world for anyone who is serious about their racing.

To read on simply SIGN up NOW
Take advantage of our very best subscription offer or order a single copy of this issue of Seahorse.

Online at: and use the code TECH20

Or via email:

Or for iPad simply download the Seahorse App at the iTunes store

(Much) more than furlers

Visit the Facnor website

That's where the company first came to international prominence but there's a whole lot more going on at Facnor's facility in beautiful St Vaast

Offshore racing can offer a brutal environment, which is why those who participate seriously are always testing their limits. Equipment also needs to perform to a similar level in the same conditions but has to remain completely reliable under every circumstance. Whether a big professional programme or a Corinthian Vendée racer, failure is not an option.

Main picture: engineering as art. Simple solutions are always best. It’s amazing how long it took the sailing world to discover the larger furling ‘drum’. Similarly, the endless systems first introduced by Facnor back in the 1980s. The basics don’t change but composite cables (above) and vastly better top bearings have made for further dramatic gains in recent years. Note the covers on the most exposed furlers on this Ultime trimaran

It is in this milieu that, 35 years ago, Facnor started developing furling systems that could assist sailors in controlling the power needed to cross oceans fast, but at the same time be safe and reliable. Not an easy task.

Facnor’s engineers met these demands with expertise in not only mechanical engineering, metallurgy and composite design, but also with a spirit of innovation that only a small company can have when it is able to adapt quickly to new ideas.

It all started in 1981 when Jean Michel Despres, technical manager at Isomat, failed to convince his employers to enter a sector that he considered central to both cruising and the fast-growing fraternity of serious shorthanded racers – the headsail furler. So Despres left to found Facnor with the aim of specialising in the design and fabrication of new furling solutions, first for the leisure market then moving into the high-performance sector.

Facnor’s design team introduced a revolution in furling solutions in 1985, with a patented telescopic system that vastly improved operation under load; the same product line evolves to this day.

Soon after the first furlers appeared the same engineers turned their attention to mainsail systems, the result being the Facnor Facslide system of batten cars. This was followed by a new range of continuous line furlers plus the FlatDeck jib furler. This latter product won the Pittman prize in the Racing Gear category at the Chicago Sail Show, along with awards from SAIL magazine in the US and Segeln magazine in Germany.

At least 80 per cent of the boatbuilders in France now choose Facnor systems for their boats.

As Ronan Lucas, team manager of Banque Populaire (who have been working with Facnor for a decade) puts it, ‘We chose Facnor for the new Ultime project because they know that reliability and safety have to be the key priorities – even more so than ultimate performance. Though this too has to be at the highest level!’

What drives this innovation are partnerships with some of the world’s most prominent offshore sailors, who demand innovation and reliability to achieve the results they need to secure and retain sponsors. Facnor has also enjoyed a long technical partnership with French skipper Halvard Mabire, first on his 60-footer and now on his Class40 with his British companion Miranda Merron. Both Miranda and Halvard are experienced sailors and highly reliable technical consultants, who have continued their relationship with Facnor on their latest Class40, Campagne de France.

Facnor also enjoys technical partnerships with other Class40s as well as with ‘smaller’ racers such as Tanguy Bouroullec’s 6.50m Kerhis-Cerfrance. Facnor’s involvement in professional programmes results in valuable technical exchanges with the racers that prompts the innovation needed to further develop and improve a product line that serves both racers and cruisers alike.

Another key area of partnerships that drive innovation has been with rigging and spar manufacturers to develop systems suited to specific individual requirements. For example, as long ago as 1999, and long before such systems became commonplace, Facnor developed the first Imoca 60 furling solution that used a Kevlar fibre cable in a structural furler, with a corresponding reduction in weight aloft with no loss of strength. The cable and furler fittings and attachments had not only to match perfectly with Imoca rigs of the time, but also to be completely reliable for this most extreme endurance test around the planet.

The first major test of the system helped Michel Desjoyeaux not only to dominate the 2000 edition of the Vendée Globe, but also set a new course record on PRB with the first ‘lap time’ under 100 days. Mich’s choice of this still very new technology was a great vote of confidence for the company. Since then most Vendée Globe victories have been achieved with the help of Facnor equipment solutions.

Tanguy Redon, from the design office for the latest maxi tri Banque Populaire IX, says of the team’s relationship with Facnor: ‘Some competitors focus primarily on saving weight in these systems but that can come at the expense of safety and reliability. We are confident that Facnor will notify us when the safety coefficients are exceeded and we always listen to what they say. The collaboration is fluid and responsive, they do not remain fixed in a position. Their commitment to our project means we see this company as a technical partner rather than a supplier.’

Besides clever design, Facnor’s success relies on production techniques that are accurate and cost-efficient to always carefully match product to requirements (even the big round-the-world projects are still budget sensitive).

The process starts with prototypes that are tested on custom projects, where there is a unique need not met in the current product line. Sailors and project managers meet Facnor to explain where changes are needed to meet their use better, or discuss a completely new approach. Ideas are exchanged and a synergy develops to generate, produce and validate each new design.

More art: one of Facnor’s larger headsail locks receives its final touches before heading off to a rather less kindly environment at the top of a superyacht mast… rarely to be seen again other than by the seagulls but needing to remain 100 per cent reliable and trusted implicitly by the yacht’s crew – most especially when cruising miles from base with the proprietors’ family or guests aboard… The latest large headstay top bearings (below) bear no relation to their early predecessors and contain a great deal of precision as well as robust engineering. Creating a furling system that will fulfil an extremely demanding set of criteria, which will perform perfectly every time under enormous load, often after sitting unused for long periods of time while saturated with salt and moisture, all demands engineering excellence, the highest quality design and absolute precision in manufacture … and then some more experience

Facnor then commits to an initial design using CAD, which is translated through to fabrication before iterative development begins. This is what led to the development of structural furling systems, starting in 1998 on the Orma 60s with Frank Cammas who used an aluminium system on Groupama that weighed 72kg. This early solution evolved into the first carbon furler system, then followed by the use of PBO. In just four years we had reduced the weight of Groupama’s system to 27.5kg – with no loss in performance.

‘But the custom processes we employ are always done with considerations of later production manufacture,’ says Dominique Yon of Facnor. ‘We feel that it’s important to translate ideas that come from great racers into products that can later benefit the whole range of active sailors.’

The Facnor solution now has many complementary components:

  • Wide production capacity with five production sites
  • Anodising baths at Sparcraft in the US and Europe that are among the longest in the world
  • An electrostatic powder painting box at Sparcraft in the US
  • Both CNC and traditional machining capabilities
  • A synergy in the production group, with complementary production capacity in both plastics (in Maillard, France) and hot forging (at Wichard*, France)
  • A metallurgy department equipped with the measuring equipment and tools needed to ensure constant conformity of every machined part
  • Mechanical and chemical testing carried out on all materials for warranted reliability
  • A wide service network that today covers some 35 countries.

* Facnor has been part of the Wichard group since 2013

With all this capability it’s not surprising Facnor is continually entering new markets, including halyard locks for boats ranging from 30ft to the largest megayachts. Loads in these locks can range from two tons to 50 tons, so absolute perfection is needed to match the device to the task, along with perfect reliability; failure can be not only costly, but often dangerous especially at superyacht size.

A testament to the design and reliability of the latest line of Facnor halyard locks has been its adoption by not only major superyacht projects, but also by Bénéteau in many of their models. The owner of a mid-sized cruiser-racer should be no less tolerant of failure than the skipper of the largest superyacht.

According to skipper Mike Gillespie, who has installed two 16-ton external locks onboard the 203ft schooner Athos, ‘The communication in creating both the hanging block-locks and the halyard locks for us has been excellent, with the finished product produced to an excellent standard.

‘We have now used the halyard locks countless times, notably on the RORC Caribbean 600 race with a 100 per cent success rate in locking at hoist and 100 per cent success on release. Although a challenging design, with the high safety margins needed on a boat like this, we always felt we could use the locks with confidence. For Athos we specified a minimum SWL of 16 tonnes. We have since tested the locks to 14 tonnes of static cable tension (which spikes considerably with dynamic sailing loads) and the locks still performed perfectly.’

Ronan Lucas, Banque Populaire team manager, pushes even harder. ‘We have been using three 30-tonne locks onboard BP5 and have been delighted with their 100 per cent reliability. We have now sailed the boat for the equivalent of three round-the-world trips (60,000nm) and never encountered a single problem with the locks,’ he says. ‘At this scale of yacht that is a remarkable performance record.’

So, for innovation, quality and performance in sail-handling systems, expect the Facnor team to enjoy the challenge...

Click here for more information on Facnor »

We invite you to read on and find out for yourself why Seahorse is the most highly-rated source in the world for anyone who is serious about their racing.

To read on simply SIGN up NOW
Take advantage of our very best subscription offer or order a single copy of this issue of Seahorse.

Online at: and use the code TECH20

Or via email:

Or for iPad simply download the Seahorse App at the iTunes store