The start-up SEAir, which specializes in flying boats, has just collaborated with the leader in the yachting industry, the Bénéteau Group, for the development of its foil boat concept. Its founder Richard Forest and the head of the design office, Romain Josset, answered BoatIndustry's questions about the project.
How did the collaboration with the Bénéteau Group begin?
Richard Forest: Bénéteau came to see us. They'd been following us for a while. They tried flying RIB a year and a half ago and were seduced. They consulted us on a first draft to test us. Then in March 2018, they consulted us again on this project. We started from scratch all together with the 4 companies involved (Editor's note: Bénéteau, SEAir, DEMS for the design and Noval for the mechanical systems). What is pleasing is that a big company like Bénéteau was the first to understand that the boat had to be designed around the foil.
How was the work together? What was SEAir's performance?
Romain Josset: Bénéteau presented the project that DEMS had started to design. We reworked for the placement of the foils and the engineering. We were 3 people from the design office involved. The nice thing is that when you have a problem, they come up with 5 solutions.
Richard Forest: We were bluffed by the ability of a big company like Béneteau to be agile and fast. Our service includes the design of the flight function and the manufacture, delivery and installation of the foils, as well as the testing and skinning phase that is now beginning. This is a confirmation of our positioning as a foil supplier.
What were the technical objectives set by Bénéteau and the technological choices made, particularly in terms of weight?
Romain Josset: The first objective was to have a healthy boat, with possibilities of evolution if necessary. As always in a foil boat, we paid attention to the weight. We pushed Bénéteau a little bit into her entrenchments to limit the displacement. But the issue at stake was the weight/price ratio. There is no carbon in the boat or in the foils. We chose foils with a metal core and a composite fairing, a system similar to IMOCA's keels, but curved. This facilitates the mechanical interfaces and limits costs.
Why a rigid hull and not a semi-rigid one like you've done so far?
Richard Forest: It's a choice imposed by Bénéteau. If SEAir had gone on the RIB first, it's because I thought that customers in this market would be more mature for flight innovation. In the end, it's perfect, it confirms that the foils are versatile.
What are the agreements between the Bénéteau Group and SEAir in terms of intellectual property and capital relations?
Richard Forest: The entire design of the flight is the industrial property of SEAir. It's protected in the contract and I think both parties have an interest in keeping it that way. In capital terms, there is no link.
Do you work on other projects with other construction sites? When do you think we will move from concept boat to large production?
Richard Forest: There are other interested brands that we discuss with for boats directly to customers. However, before Mr. Tout Le Monde's boat, I think 10 years is reasonable, maybe less. Boating has a history and it takes time to adapt.