The D Fantastica is a brand new Finn that was recently revealed by designer Juan Kouyoumdjian and boat builder and Finn Olympic silver medallist Luca Devoti

The new D-Fantastica Finn is the story of how Juan Kouyoumdjian has interpreted some of Luca Devoti’s ideas and experience and transferred them to a totally new hull shape. This project began in April 2014 in Palma de Mallorca, where the former Olympian, silver medallist and America’s Cup skipper Luca Devoti sat down with yacht designer Juan K, designer of the last three Volvo Ocean Race winners.

Luca always comes across as a passion­ate promoter of the sport and both men are known for their creativity and permanent quest for innovation … But, more impor­tantly, they share the same passion and managed to find the right words and vision to address this exciting project. After some six decades of fine-tuning, redesigning the Olympic Finn is quite a challenge …

In their early talks the Italian boat­builder explained to the French-Argentin­ian yacht designer that his boatyard, Devoti Sailing, had realised that after almost 20 years of success their current Finn was on its way out, and that they had already been working on a new design that had been refined and modified over and over again. But Devoti Sailing clearly felt the need to deliver something even better.

At the same time Lanfranco Cirillo, an Italian architect and entrepreneur based in Russia, wanted to design something new for his own Team Fantastica, a multi­national team of Finn sailors campaigning for the Rio 2016 Games. He met Luca and said, ‘We have already made certain steps but I am not sure we are right about the designer.’

Luca replied, ‘If we do something new together then I would like to work with Juan K. I think we could work well with him because I first met him as a friend and I appreciate him as a person.’ Cirillo’s answer was clear: ‘Go get him.’

In this project Luca Devoti and his boat­yard bring to the table the experience of moving into a modern way of working among a field of relatively ‘simple’ small boatbuilders. Devoti and Kouyoumdjian met up and went through various ideas, exploring where there was room for improvement within the Finn class rules …

Juan Kouyoumdjian: Working together has been a great experience because Luca was able to express his feelings and ideas even if he was not a yacht designer. Luca is a coach, a boatbuilder and an Olympic medallist sailor. We had soon developed a very positive way of working together: easy, simple, quick. Although we do not always speak the same language we understood each other very well; listening to sailors is always key to my approach. Luca Devoti: If on the one hand I could not really understand all the new develop­ments in yacht design, on the other hand, my experience could bring valuable input to my efforts to create something really fast. We just found the right words together to translate my experience into a true naval architecture concept.

The history of Finn development is a long one, since its first Olympic appear­ance in 1952. The boat was first built in wood and then with Vanguard they transi­tioned to good moulded fibreglass boats. The first Devoti Sailing moulds, dating back to 1993-1994, were more like works of art, all constructed by hand. From that our current Finn has evolved in small steps. However, yacht design has evolved and I firmly believed that it was finally time to start over from scratch.

JK: Sure, the design was going to be chal­lenging because of all the restrictions and rules that we had to respect. But we also needed to move into the 21st century in terms of providing a product that was up to date. This was a huge challenge given that the Finn is an old class with a lot of tradi­tion and an extremely complex design.

The first factor is that sailors are com­peting at such a high level that the differ­ences are minimal and this must be reflected – and respected – in a new design. The second big factor is that the Finn is very dynamic and to capture and account for such dynamics within the design process is extremely important. The way one sails the boat affects the design and it is quite difficult to account for this dynamic in a blueprint. This symbiosis was already in Luca’s head so the team we created was tasked with refining, reading, modelling, understanding and interpreting what he already had in mind.

This exchange of ideas was far more powerful than any one CFD model. Com­putational Fluid Dynamics can be a very refined tool; however, it is extremely diffi­cult to model the minute complexities of the dynamics of such a boat. I believe that to achieve a successful design in a class such as the Finn you cannot rely on CFD­based tool optimisation alone.

Some people think that CFD can solve it all, they go for an optimisation believing that after so many CFD hours the com­puter can and will give them a solution … People do not realise that in reality they are asking a machine to compensate for their own lack of creativity. In the long run such a process never succeeds. This is not the purpose of computers. To achieve success you need to interpret the history and the experience of somebody like Luca. The flipside is that modern tools to inter­pret historical databases constitute an extremely powerful resource.

When I first met Lanfranco Cirillo in Palma I felt he was a natural leader for a project like this, with a lot of energy. I immediately felt comfortable around him and so we had a good time working together. Cirillo convinced me that more than a technical one, this was going to be an interesting human project … above all, a human experience.

LD: Juan Kouyoumdjian is himself a good Star helmsman. And then there is the fact that a Star boat that he designed from scratch a few years ago won a gold medal (in the hands of Iain Percy and Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson) at Beijing 2008 …

JK: It’s kind of you to say that about my own Star sailing. But the truth is that while I never reached that top Olympic level as a Star sailor, I was close enough to ‘sense it’, and to have an idea of the combination of small details that mean that you either win or lose a race. This is a characteristic of Olympic sailing, being able to perceive the tiny little things that make the difference.

The tolerances within the Finn class rules are actually still quite big, and Luca told me they had already explored a bit of this, a bit of that … But initially I was very surprised to see how much was still on the table. But Luca clearly had intuited that with the help of cutting-edge 3D modelling software it would still be possible to refine the design by a few millimetres here and there and explore these tolerances in our favour. The CFD is already in Luca’s head, he is one step ahead and this is a very important point. In our case, we did not need any real design process because the creativity was already there. It was only a question of interpreting the feelings and combining the ideas into practice.

LD: After approval of the moulds and the first boat by the Finn Association (IFA), we are now ready to move to serial pro­duction; I think the design improvement that Juan has brought to the table has resulted in the best Finn we have ever built. It is better balanced, easier to steer and takes less power to re-accelerate.

To date our test results have been fantastic and we now have a boat that performs better than everything else in anything above 6kt of true wind. In terms of going forward from here, as a company we strive to provide everyone with the same quality boat and we are very proud of that. Today we have built the first 21st­century Finn and it should be around for a long time, ensuring that ultimately every­body has an equal opportunity to win … the most important thing in Olympic sailing. In the end it should always be man who wins, not the machine.

And there are some specific gains in important areas. In this free-pumping age the Finn had reached an unbelievable level in the physical performance it required from the athletes: maybe it had become too much. In early testing we recorded that with this boat, in similar wind conditions and compared to the best-performing existing Finns, the average heartbeat of the skipper was some 10 beats per minute less… Essentially the hull generates less drag and the boat pitches less; the D-Fan­tastica will require more sensitive handling in terms of trim but we expect that sailing her will be a little less physical than before. JK: All we can do at this level is help. sailors by making their life a little easier with a faster boat. But at the end of the day a boat can never compensate for the difference between sailors … this is why when you have a combination of such good athletes sailing at such a high level, tiny details make the difference, particularly in the Finn class. The problem dictates the tools that you use to solve the design.

In this kind of work you have a lot to lose and little to gain, other than human experience. Personally, I wish that more designers would put their cards on the table with these types of very tightly restricted projects because this is the essence of yacht design. Finn sailing itself is conducted at a very high level and this also excited me. It is the essence of our task.

Nothing beats experience and this six­month project speaks for itself in terms of the quality of the set-up that Luca Devoti and Roman Teply have in their boatyard. They knew exactly what they had to do in terms of building the moulds and laminat­ing the boat … Of course, Luca and I had scanned a Devoti ‘classic’ boat in the early stages of the project, but in the end the results were in line with the forecast and with the early ideas we had discussed …

Basically we managed to successfully decode what Luca already had in his mind based always upon what I regard as the pure essence of yacht design.