Happy birthday Arpège! The 50th anniversary of the best-selling production boat in history


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It all began in 1967. A French architect, one Michel Dufour has an insight that will revolutionize the philosophy of sailboat construction. With the Arpege, in 1967, the modern sailboat was born. 1600 hulls produced from 1967 to 1978, in various versions. The main changes occurred in 1970 when the stern was slightly lengthened and made at a negative angle, and in 1974 when the deck plan was improved and keel weight increased.

At the VELAFestival we will pay a great tribute to this boat that marked the birth of modern yachting and turns 50 this year. Dto May 4 to 7 we will have at the dock in Santa Margherita as a guest among our “cult boats” Sula, an Arpege of our own from 1967 and newly restored. Nn the evening of Friday, May 5 (from about 6:30 p.m.), during the evening of champions with the Sailor of the Year award ceremony, we will do a tribute to 50 years of Arpege.


But let’s leave it to our Friends of the .
Mythical Arpege Association
, to tell you about it, because, precisely, this craft is mythical.

“In order to understand the leading role of the Harpège in determining, as many claim, the beginning of the History of Modern Sailing, it is necessary to recall the most significant moments of its existence from its birth 1967 to the end 1975 occurred after less than ten years but with more than 1,500 specimens made. One should start with when a French architect-engineer named Michel Dufour, from La Rochelle in the Vendée, designed (this was the years 64-65) an albeit modest, in size, sailboat that he named Silphe (the name of one of his daughters). It was a 6.54 x 2.41-meter vessel with innovative features. The market, however, did not receive it very well because it was too small to be a major boat, so Dufour began to think about designing another one that was a bit larger and with even more futuristic features.

It should be considered that until then the critical speed of hulls was thought to depend on the smallest surface area of friction with the water, and therefore the artifacts had large bow and stern spans and reduced beams compatible with that minimum of acceptable interior habitability. Thus we find boats of mt. 15.00 with a beam of mt. 2.50-3.00 designed by the pens of Sparkman & Stephens, Nicholson, Peterson etc. then by the best-known designers of the time. Take for example Sp.& St.’s ICE FIRE, with mt.13.81 x mt.3.21, the Pen Duik mt.15.10xmt.2.93 etc. Michel Dufour, in order to realize his idea, carried out endless tests with various models in the water tank and searched for a formula based on a new element: the length at the waterline, thus distorting what until then was an acquired and accepted concept and which never before anyone had dreamed of questioning.

In the meantime, an Italian architect, who would later become one of the world’s best-known and most important professionals, Renzo Piano, had had two modest wooden sailboats made by the Mostes shipyard in Genoa but, not satisfied, had decided to have a third one made, designed by a colleague he had met by chance, but whom he thought was someone who knew a lot about boats and sailing. He had therefore gone to la Rochelle, in 1967 bringing with him one of the Mostes: Louis and commissioned Dufour to design him a new boat that would have innovative features.

Eng. French proposed the study he was pursuing: a hull that took into account a new way of calculating critical speed with a new element in play: The length at the waterline. It was a 9.25-meter boat with a 3.03-meter maximum beam. Dufour would design its hull while Piano would take care of the deckhouse and interior. Piano gave his a name: Didon III because his first two boats, made by Mostes, were Didon I and Didon II, designed by Van de Stadt. Dufour did not call it Arpegé right away; he would reserve the right to name it later, after Mostes had built it and the first sea trials had been conducted. Mostes, who undoubtedly had a clinical eye, had Dufour issue a license for wood-frame construction and began construction. Once put in the water, the boat was much criticized for this strange huge beam, huge compared to the conceptions of the time.

Meanwhile, a prototype in vtr. built and helmed by Michel Dufour won, also in 1967, the 12th edition of the Atlantic Cup for 18-foot rated boats with as many as 16 nations patecipants. The wooden boat built by Mostes was immediately very fast for its category and won all the races, with equal ratings, in which it participated.

As a result, the boat was highly appreciated, and Mostes had as many as seven construction orders in addition to Piano’s. One of these, it was the year 1968, was purchased by Doi Malingri who with it made, in copy with Carlo Mascheroni, the Atlantic crossing from Gibraltar to Savannah in 1970, and the book published by Mursia publisher “The Log of the Nina Boba” is a text about it. The Nina Boba today, still perfectly seaworthy, is located in Cagliari and is owned by an AMA Councilor: Marco Murgia. The boat performed excellently in the ocean, demonstrating great seamanship and seaworthiness along the 4650mgm traveled.

In 1969, however, Dufour aware that he had designed a very innovative boat and given the success of Mostes’ eight wooden prototypes, which continued to receive orders in addition to those already built, withdrew his building license and had the first production vtr boats built by the Stratifiè Industriel Shipyard in La Rochelle. Only later did he give the shipyard his name and began making the Arpège from 69 to 75 the year it had to close due to bankruptcy. Dufour was very good at planning but much less so, and it showed, in business management and finance.

In total, more than 1,500 Arpège were built, always keeping the same hull, increasing only the draft to mt. 1.65 for the racing Arpège in the years 74-75. The name Arpège came from a combination with the perfumer Lanvin, who produced the well-known perfume Arpège, still on sale in perfumeries today after more than 40 years. But what does the innovation of the Arpège hull consist of? The new formula for the critical speed of a hull was thus formulated v=2.35x(square root)of L where L =length at waterline.

The L length of the Arpège at the dock is mt. 6.75 at the level of the live work but, with the maximum beam of 3.03 and an inclination of 30°-35°, which in upwind sailing is more than normal, it becomes more than mt. 7.50 and therefore its critical speed increases quite a bit, about half a knot. If we look at sailboats built today, they almost all have a bow perpendicular to the water and a stern that drags on the wake. In this way a boat, at any gait, has a remarkable critical speed because it makes maximum use of the L = waterline length. It was the egg of Columbus but someone had to get there and that someone would seem to have been Michel Dufour with the Arpège.”

It is known that today’s hulls are designed like a nutshell to be able to reach speeds unthinkable some time ago and glide with extreme ease, however, this also leads to seaworthiness and safety problems. Basically great speed yes but little marinity: bow jams, the beat on the wave and water coming in aft gait all the way into the dinette, poibitive drafts. Michel Dufour had designed a draft of only mt. 1.35 with a 1.2-ton cast iron bulb called a ” torpedo” under the keel.

This torpedo, as it was maliciously named then and criticized, is found today, 40 years later, after endless but fruitless experiments to find an alternative, even on America’s Cup hulls such as Alinghi, Luna Rossa, New Zealand, Oracle etc. On the speed characteristics and great seaworthiness of the Arpège there are various accounts. The most credited are those of Eric Tabarly, who compared the performance of his new Pen Duicks, comparing them at sea with Jean Yves Terlain’s Blue Arpège, and discusses them in his book ” De Pen Duick en Pen Duick” Arthaud editeur.

It was 1969, and Tabarly’s aluminum Pen Duick V, dubbed a space boat, won the Transpacifique, solo. In second place overall came Terlain’s Arpège the smallest boat in the race. In Brittany, in Lorient, Tabarly’s homeland, the community has built a state-of-the-art ” Citè de la voile” museum where no less than four Pen Duicks can be admired, beautifully restored, and retrace the extraordinary, unfortunately short, life of this outstanding skipper. Reference is made only to the various Pen Duicks, of course, but there is also another, lone boat present and displayed with various scale models: the Arpège of Michel Dufour.

The world’s most famous sailing schools, Caprera and Glenans schools, which have churned out dozens of the world’s greatest sailors, used Arpège as school boats in the 1970s. One of the instructors was Fauconnier, father of the two brothers who hold Atlantic solo crossing records.



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