Pleasureboat owners are more than familiar with Marc Van Peteghem (right) and Vincent Lauriot-Prévost (left), the founders of the renowned multi-hull design studio VPLP. VPLP was responsible for the first Lagoon catamaran built by Beneteau back in the early 1980s, and megayachts like Douce France, a 138-foot charter cat launched in 1998 that was the world’s largest private sailing catamaran until the duo designed the 145-foot Hemisphere, delivered in 2011. Racing sailors also regularly turn to VPLP. Witness BMW Oracle’s trimaran USA 17, the American challenger for the 33rd America’s Cup in 2010, for instance. For the recently concluded America’s Cup, Lauriot-Prévost was on the Review Committee formed to ensure that the racing of the AC72 yachts was safe.
In this Leadership Series interview, Van Peteghem discusses how he and Lauriot-Prévost got their start, and what continues to drive their passion for multi-hulls.
Q: How did you two meet and then decide to create your design business?
A: We went to university and became friends; we still are. I was quite involved with this generation of French sailors, and we decided at the beginning to specialize in multi-hulls. The modern multi-hull really came from the USA. There were two schools, one English and one American. The American school was led by Dick Newick and Walter Green. They had multi-hulls built out of cold-molded wood and epoxy resin. They were trimarans, and I think that was some kind of revolution at the time, the late 1970s. We had the opportunity three years after we left school with a friend of mine who asked us to design a 50-footer, a trimaran with two foils. Foils are a kind of wings underwater that lift the boat with speed. This boat become well known. One year after we had the chance to design a 55-foot cruising catamaran; this was the first Lagoon. Now we’ve produced 2,700 boats of this brand, from 38 feet to 62 feet. I don’t know who said, “You’re never as good as your last boat,” but we’ve had the chance to be known for what we did year after year.
Q: Why do you think people are attracted to catamarans?
A: People more and more are realizing the advantage of the multi-hull platform for cruising. It’s stable, it offers a lot of space, and it goes fast—well, it depends on the weight, of course, but comparatively to a monohull, it goes quite well. In fact, it’s an ideal platform for those who want to cruise around the world without trying to stay in a harbor. Many of our customers go around the world—the crew is taking the boat from place to place, and the owners come onboard for a period of time, from one week to two to three months. It’s quite an ideal way of cruising around the world.
Q: Racing yachts and pleasure yachts obviously serve very different purposes, yet I would imagine there are some similarities in the ways the owners approach the projects, and maybe even in the ways you approach the projects. Would you agree?
A: Yes, I think you’re right. A boat that is racing or cruising or whatever is always designed for a purpose. Our way of designing starts by listening very carefully and trying to really understand what the client wants. We’ve designed several boats for the same race but different competitors, and we always manage to design the boat that the client wanted. It’s very, very, very important to listen carefully and to follow the requirements and come to a very good understanding of the wish. It’s true in racing, and it’s also true in a cruising boat. It’s very important in a cruising boat, for instance, to understand that it’s all about moments you’re going to spend with family or friends. Sometimes it’s families with kids, sometimes it’s friends, so you have to define places onboard for those moments. It’s really important to understand the usage—who’s going to do what at different times in the day and to provide the best space and arrangement for those people.
Q: With the yachts you’ve designed, whether racing or cruising yachts, are there any that you feel came out better than expected, or give you a special fondness?
A: The success of a boat, of a design, is really tied to the relationship you have with a customer. The best yachts that we have designed were also nice human relationships. That’s been true since the beginning. When you get on very well with people, you feel better about what they really like, how they will sail, how they will enjoy the boat, and that proximity leads to a boat naturally that you like. Sometimes you manage to make a surprise—say, when an owner wakes up in the morning and has a cup of coffee, he finds a quiet place onboard, protected from the wind. You really have to imagine yourself being the client, being onboard and saying, “If I was him, what would I like to have?” Sometimes it’s quite intimate moments. When people are onboard, they like to play, they have conviviality, but they need to have separate spaces, for private moments. The more you know the people, the better the ideas will flow for good architectural solutions.
Q: What are some of the yacht projects you’re working on now?
A: There are two trends, I’d say, in terms of catamaran cruising projects. Some of our clients are seeking a nice cruising boat, but they like speed, so they can slightly compromise on comfort, to have a lighter boat and to go faster. That’s one trend. The other is towards luxury, so the boat tends to be heavier, and it’s less about performance and more about comfort. It’s still sailing well—I’m not saying that if you want to have comfort onboard, the boat cannot move under sail. But, it’s a question of compromise.
Of course, in the middle of that, there’s technology and budget. If you decide to do a very comfortable boat but still being light, you can make everything out of carbon fiber. It’s quite expensive, so you can play with this aspect. You can build all of the furniture out of very, very light panels. The boat will be very comfortable but still very light. Or, you can decide to build it in aluminum, which makes sense on really large catamarans, and you can play with all those parameters.