When the crew on ETNZ’s 2017 America’s Cup-winning cat began to pedal, many thought it a bold and innovative move by Grant Dalton’s team – typical of its smart approach to the Cup. Fewer knew that the idea was almost 40 years old – first developed by the Swede Pelle Pettersen with the help of Frenchman Philippe Briand.

Now, Briand is typically modest about his role in the design, which was built into Sweden’s 1977 Cup challenger, the 12-Metre Sverige. But he has always been fascinated by the America’s Cup.

Back in 1978 and with no formal training, he opened up his own boat design office in La Rochelle on France’s Atlantic coast and immediately set about working on a 12-M of his own. His aim? To build a campaign for a French America’s Cup challenge.

Without sponsorship it came to nothing, but five years later he teamed up with French sailing legend Marc Pajot to develop what became the 1987 Cup hopeful French Kiss. She was a fast boat and reached the Challenger semifinals in Fremantle, where she succumbed to the superior performance of Kiwi Magic. Briand’s name, however, was made and he went on to work on a further five America’s Cup campaigns in the years to 2000.

“I did not miss anything,” he tells me enthusiastically when we turn to this year’s dramatic America’s Cup. “I think it was the world championship of renewable energy! What else – the wind moving 7.5 tonnes at a speed between 30 and 50 knots!” He admires the work of French designer Guillaume Verdier for his ‘intuitive’ approach to designing the ETNZ boat. In particular, he points to the way he started with the foils and worked inwards from there. “Experience and intuitive design… beat formulas,” he says. “I would really like to be involved in the process of designing the next generation of these fantastic machines. I miss the nice pressure of the Cup.”

These days, though, he is just as interested in the progressive elements of design. He is at his most outspoken when discussing sustainable boatbuilding and widening access to the sport. He recently hit headlines by designing a mini version of the foiling AC75 monohulls used in the recent Auckland event.


The 6.5m two-person Flyacht resembles a miniature AC75, complete with those oversized canting foils and soft wing sails. His idea is to make top-end technology more accessible to normal sailors on normal budgets.

The revolutionary 6.5m two-person Flyacht.

“I like to be on the edge as a sailboat designer,” he says. “Our role is to transfer the benefits of innovations from the racing sector to the wider market at reasonable cost. I want to introduce the millennial generation to how much fun and excitement can be had from sailing.”

It’s a noble intention, but Briand admits that he doesn’t know how much the yacht will cost. The prototype in build now has a price tag of around €350,000, but that would fall dramatically if it entered production.

Covid has scuppered that for now, although interest could be rekindled by the decision to retain the AC75s for another two Cup campaigns. “I am convinced this product is still necessary if the America’s Cup community wants to create a larger base to sustain [itself] for the upcoming generation and also to attract a wider audience [and] more enthusiasm for the sport itself.”

The democratisation of sailing is at odds with a booming part of his business, which is the design of striking 100m-plus motor yachts under his Vitruvius brand. But it is perhaps as a designer of production sailing boats that Briand is best known, and it is here that he first encountered the sea.

He grew up mucking about in the boats of his father, a successful Olympic Dragon racer and sail loft owner. So he saw it as quite natural that he should design and build his own boat in his teens – a wooden Quarter Tonner that won plenty of races and drew orders from other racers.


His first real production design was the ground-breaking Ovni 28, drawn a few years later in 1978. Commissioned by Yves Roucher of the young French yard Alubat, this boat was meant to be an aluminium-hulled keelboat.

“As a younger designer, I said to him I would not accept the job unless he chose to launch something more radical – a full centreboarder,” Briand remembers. “He [planned to] make the hull of number two with a keel, but the demand never gave him the opportunity to switch! In the end, 1,000 centreboarders were built by the yard.”

The following year, Jeanneau got in touch after seeing Briand’s design for a ¾-tonner racing at La Rochelle. “She was noticed not because of her performance (10th was by far the most elegant. Jeanneau asked me to design a production boat out of her.” That boat became the Symphonie 32. Briand was just 22, and the partnership with Jeanneau has endured to this day – some 60 models later.

Briand calculates that over 14,000 of his designs have been manufactured down the years. Aside from the Ovnis and a brief spell on Beneteau’s Oceanis line in the late-80s, his focus has been Jeanneau – most recently the new range of large 51-64ft cruisers under the Jeanneau Yachts brand. “This is the ‘window’ through which our sailing community attracts the general public to sailing.”

The latest of these to hit the water is the impressive Jeanneau Yachts 60 after four years of intensive work with the yard’s in-house design team. “The JY 60 is special because it is the last in the range, and also the 100th of our series drawings,” explains Briand.

“We put all our know-how into the yacht and also a lot of personal emotion. I am used to putting myself in the shoes of the customer every time I draw a production boat. It’s easy for me: I would like to own this one.”

Measuring 60ft overall, with a modest taper towards the stern, a chine in the hull and a reverse bow, the proportions of the boat are very well balanced. Briand calls it “the real sailboat” because it is suited to almost any cruising plans, from trundling round the bay to a long voyage.


“It is a boat for both the Mediterranean and the Baltic,” he says, meaning that it has both the amenities for sun worshipping and the capabilities to deal with rain and rough conditions.

Briand’s enjoyed a long-standing partnership with French builder Jeanneau.

And the boat is distinguished by a next-level interior, thanks to the collaboration with superyacht designer Andrew Winch – a man more used to drawing gold-plated lifts and silken wall panels than horseshoe galleys.

The result is 20% more internal volume than Jeanneau’s previous 58, cleverly lit with indirect lighting and filled with plump, stylish upholstery including island berths and ‘big boat’ sofas. “I truly put my energy and creative thinking into the design and interior layout of this yacht, which reaches another level of precision and care,” Briand says.

It is also quite an innovative boat. It offers an exterior galley in the cockpit, for instance, and the choice of a hardtop, awning or arch. That cockpit measures a very generous 3m by 4.8m, giving more space than ever, and it is accessed via a smooth ramp to the side decks, not a step.

With his love of sailing fast and feeling the wind, Briand put particular thought into the steering pedestals. “It is a steering station designed for sailors,” he explains. “It has an outward position for a perfect view of the sails, with manoeuvring winches at proximity.”

Philippe is glowing about his long relationship with Jeanneau, but he’s less enthusiastic about the company’s slow adoption of sustainable design. He describes production boatbuilders as “traditional” operators who are “very reluctant” to embrace change. “They don’t want to take any risk, and though we adore them, because we design sailing boats every day for them, they drag down progress,” he says.

He wants the sailing public to know that stalling innovation is due to production shipyards and not because designers are running out of ideas. “Our entire community of sailing is capable of imagination, from foiling to sustainability, through giving access to cruising to a larger public. I am aware we designers need a voice.”

Technology has a role to play, in particular battery power and electric propulsion. But with carbon in pole position as a building material and nothing better coming down the track, the focus of design also has to be around hull shape and recyclability, Briand believes.

Lower hydrodynamic resistance means engines can be smaller and boats sailed down to lower wind speeds, and designers are still making significant gains here. Modern boats run nearly straight back along the quarter, creating more volume and better stability as well.

Then there’s the promise of lateral foils, which lift the boat in the water to make it lighter and faster. They can also reduce the angle of heel by 5° and dampen pitching, making for a much more comfortable ride.

“You need enough speed, so it’s not suitable for smaller boats,” he says. But Jeanneau’s recent Figaro 3 features the technology, and other boatbuilders including Baltic and Infiniti yachts are building it into more cruiser-oriented boats too.

On the other hand, recycling and recyclability is proving harder to achieve in composites. “Part of our mission with Jeanneau is to get them to engage with sustainability,” he says. “Recyclability is already on the way – maybe the French are leading the way. It should induce some development to make boats more recyclable, and this will be part of our design next time.”

This means things like ensuring that a boat’s furniture and systems are as easy to take apart at the end of life as they are to install. Or building composite hulls cheaply and strongly using natural fibres and green epoxy in a manner that can be disassembled easily.

In the end, Briand believes that designers themselves must do more to direct the boatbuilding industry. “We offer solutions so that a client can decide to go ahead with a project,” he says. “We are pushing the client more than the client is pushing us. We are in an attractivity business, not a business of needs.”