The start-up SEAir, specialized in flying boats, has just collaborated with the leader in yachting, the Bénéteau group, for the development of its hydrofoil concept boat. 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 had 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 for this project. We started from the blank sheet all together with the 4 companies involved (Editor's note: Bénéteau, SEAir, DEMS for design and Noval for mechanical systems). What makes me happy is that a big house like Bénéteau is the first to have understood that you have to design the boat around the foil.
How did the work go together? What was SEAir's performance?
Romain Josset: Bénéteau presented us with the project that DEMS had started to design. We have reworked for foil placement and engineering. We were 3 people from the BE involved. The nice thing is that when you have a problem, they come up with 5 solutions.
Richard Forest: We were amazed by the ability of a large 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, but also the test and analysis phase which begins. This is a confirmation of our positioning as an equipment manufacturer of the foil.
Foil in raised position
What were the technical objectives set by Bénéteau and the technological choices, particularly in terms of weight?
Romain Josset: The first objective was to have a healthy boat, with the possibility of evolution if necessary. As always in a hydrofoil boat, we paid attention to the weight. We pushed Bénéteau a little hard to limit the movement. But the issue was a 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 pins, but curved. This facilitates mechanical interfaces and reduces costs.
Why a rigid shell and not a semi-rigid one as you have done so far?
Richard Forest: It is a choice imposed by Bénéteau. If SEAir had started on the semi-rigid first, it is because I thought that the customers in this market would be more mature faster 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 flight design is the industrial property of SEAir. It is protected in the contract and I think both parties have an interest in keeping it that way. In capital terms, there is no link.
Are you working on other projects with other sites? When do you think we'll move from concept boats to big production?
Richard Forest: There are other interested brands with whom we discuss for boats directly intended for customers. On the other hand, 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.