A Beneteau designer takes our questions

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Patrick Tableau lives in Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez on the west coast of France — next to Beneteau headquarters and only about 150 feet from the sea. He has worked for Beneteau for 30 years and for the past two years has served as Beneteau’s head of product marketing.

Patrick Tableau

Tableau, 53, has designed the hulls for Beneteau’s Antares, Barracuda and Gran Turismo powerboat lines (www.beneteau.com). He also co-developed the company’s patented Air Step hull design and co-designed the hull of the new Monte Carlo MC5 flybridge motoryacht, which recently debuted in Dusseldorf. Monte Carlo Yachts is fairly new to the Beneteau Group. It started building yachts in Italy about 4 years ago and has a new line of boats under 60 feet that are built in the Vendee region of France.

Tableau has raced sailboats for two decades, first on sport catamarans and then on Beneteaus. He’s also fond of offshore fishing — or “anything that has to do with the water,” he says. Other hobbies include cooking and motorcycles. Tableau shares his passions with his wife, Helene, and her three children. Tableau’s son, Erwann, 22, enjoys the sea and fishing but also loves music and wants to become a disc jockey.

In this interview, Tableau explains Air Step technology, outlines the strengths of various propulsion types, names two of his most influential mentors and talks about his overall design philosophy.

Describe the Air Step technology that was designed into Beneteau’s Barracuda and Gran Turismo powerboats.

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The principle of the Air Step is to create a cushion of bubbles in contact with the surface area of the aft step, which reduces drag, prevents squatting, and therefore allows for a faster acceleration and a gain in fuel efficiency.

Talk a little about the Monte Carlo MC5’s “Wave Splitter” hull.

I teamed up with rising French architect Tanguy Le Bihan for the creation of this technology. It has a very narrow bow to cut through the waves, but the bow is also flared, which enables good spray deflection. The aft end of the hull is relatively flat, at 15 degrees deadrise at the transom, which provides good lift and optimizes the efficiency of the IPS pod drives. Hard chines deliver stability while under way or anchored. With IPS500s, MC5’s estimated maximum speed is 25 knots with a cruise of 21 knots. With IPS600s, those numbers increase to 30 and 24 knots, respectively.

How do you balance performance, efficiency and the use of space when you engineer or design a boat? And do you have a particular design philosophy?

We begin with the marketing brief, meaning the future market and our customers. Within this brief, we determine a base hull matched to an optimized engine solution to create the largest boat overall. We try to use the smallest engine possible to reach the desired top speed since the engine is a big component in the bill of materials of the boat. Once we’ve completed this part, it’s up to the designers and engineers at Beneteau to find the best compromises, and only then can we finish the hull at the end.

How much of your designs involve technological tools (CAD) and how much originates from your intuition and experience?

It starts from a dream, a fond desire to see things evolve. Only then can the machine help us conceive this dream. It’s the tool that sculpts our ideas. In the past, we used rulers, weights and manual calculations, but now the architect still is able to shape the hull by hand while the calculations are automatically generated. This allows us to create dozens of hull designs to optimize performance until we reach the final hull. We sometimes joke that in the past we would make a hull, then fit everything in and see what happens, whereas now we finish with the hull. … I spend a lot of time on the water. I test all of our boats on all types of waters and in all weather conditions. One draws better knowing the lay of the land.

What are the biggest challenges facing powerboat designers today, and what will they be through the next several decades?

The biggest challenge is to keep researching — to find new materials that are lighter yet stronger, to work with engine manufacturers to find the best compromises with hulls and their propulsion, to improve the efficiency of that combination to save energy but also offer our clients the best looking, most comfortable, most economical boats. And the safest boats possible, too.

Who inspired or influenced your career?

I have been very fortunate to meet two incredible mentors: Mr. André Beneteau [the in-house architect when Tableau joined the company] and François Chalain [then development director for Beneteau]. Both these men were hands-on, and they have taught me everything. They are two people who enjoyed life and whose company I truly enjoyed. My philosophy is that one can’t accomplish anything alone, and so I have always strived to get to know the best of the best in all disciplines to help develop my ideas.

What are some of the difficulties working with the growing number of propulsion systems — outboards, conventional straight-shaft power and pod-drive and joystick-controlled boats?

Difficulties? No, I call these opportunities. Every type of propulsion allows different configurations that are suited to different styles of life aboard. Outboards are pure fun. Straight shafts are ideal for slow and semirapid cruising. Pod and Z drives are ideal for fast cruising. And now all of this can be done with joystick controls — a huge plus for our clients!

What innovative technologies or designs are you working on now?

We are working on the next evolution of our hulls to continue improving comfort, energy reductions and safety aboard. We are also working on new deck styles and new technologies in propulsion.

June 2013 issue