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93 days 22 hours 52 minutes

Grand designs – BWR interview with Nándor Fa

Without doubt Nandor Fa is an enigma when it comes to sheer fight and determination, but the 61 years old Hungarian skipper is totally unique in the world of IMOCA 60 racing in having designed his boat himself, and built a lot of it. He is a self taught designer, although he spent time in the 1980’s in the design office in Australia of Ben Lexcen not long after his successful wing keeled 12 Metre Australia II had won the America’s Cup. Yacht design, he asserts, is his hobby, his way of relaxing from the pressures of his business (designing and installing marinas). As well as the three 60 footers he has designed he has a number of smaller yacht designs in his native Hungary.

Spirit of Hungary is fully compliant with the latest iteration of the IMOCA rule, but as yet remains completely untested. Her birth was slightly traumatic in that first the original design had to be adapted to the new rule. And when the boat was built the wrong core material was specified in the forward slamming areas. Thus his ambition to do the IMOCA Ocean Masters New York to Barcelona Race was thwarted and he had to ship his boat home from New York to Hungary for expensive, time consuming remedial work. So when 31st December comes around and the start of the Barcelona World Race, it will be the first time Fa’s Spirit of Hungary has lined up to race another IMOCA 60.Nandor, tell us how the project came about? When I am tired after work that is what I did. I would sit down and draw boats and design them. My brain relaxes like that. It is a hobby for my free time and I have done it for many years. I did small boat boats, bigger boats. This is the third sixty footer I have done, fourth really because we pretty much rebuilt this one. We had to change some things inside. It is my first carbon fibre big boat, 60 footer, and I had to understand that carbon fibre behaves differently.

And you did the engineering work as well as the designs?

I did most of the engineering. I have a young guy in Hungary who helps me with some calculations and digitalisation. But most of the job is done by me. And there is an Austrian company which has a very specialised computer system, I used that especially for the keel blade, four times. It is a forged inox blade, which is not easy to have it as slim as possible and to be in the rules. That was not easy.

Part of the catalyst to starting the campaign was an offer of materials.

I had a club mate who told me once upon a time that if I wanted to build a bigger boat he would support me with materials. I asked him what he meant and he told me carbon fibre. He told me then that he was the Vice President of Zoltek in America. I asked him again a couple of weeks later and I found out he was really serious. And so then one evening I sat my family down and said ‘What if I start thinking seriously about doing a boat?’ My wife and daughters were so positive that I started work the next day. I started to make all the drawings, not just the boat but ergonomically in any aspect, right down into the smallest details. One year later I was basically ready, that was in 2012. I started to build the boat physically in summer 2012. I designed it to the old rule, asking to the IMOCA technical committee what would change and they told me to just design the boat and it would be OK. I talked to Luc Talbourdet and Vincent Riou and the chief measurer Rene Boulaire. The changes became a reality when the boat was finished. The construction was finished when they changed the righting moment and the ballast tanks. They changed the mast, keel, water ballast and the righting moment AVS, AVS VC. The mast is now monotype so for the classical mast it is has to be three spreaders, with a certain weight and centre of gravity of the tube, so I had to change the configuration – I designed for two pairs of spreaders originally. So I had to change that. The keel I had to respect the new rule. I was wanting to make a steel keel blade. But the new rule said forged inox (stainless steel) which immediately doubled the price. I had to come down 200 kilos in the bulb weight, now at 3 tonnes. And we had to cut out the bog central water ballast tank. That was taken out of the rule. Those were some tough moments because we had just finished the boat, but we had to do it.

Presumably you looked very closely at the other current boats?

I knew all the boats, the VPLP-Verdiers, the Farr boats, I knew them all. I had some ideas in my mind. I wanted to find the boat which is optimal for me. For example I felt the VPLP-Verdier boats were too fat on the bow. For me some of the Farr boats were too slim in the bow. And most of them were very big and very powerful, like the Juan K boat like the ex Cheminées Poujoulat. So I wanted something which is middle sized in beam and in the bow, but having the maximum righting moment. I am at 25.5 tonnes per metre, which is just a couple of hundredths under the limit. We have two small side ballasts because the rule changed from 40 degrees cant to 38 on the keel. So we are on the limit with the keel and the mast. We are a little heavier than designed as we had to respect the new ISO rule for 21 tonnnes per square metre, so the hull has to accept 21 tonnes per square metre, so the shell strength and the construction inside had to change. And that was a dramatic change. Before the previous boats hardly reached ten tonnes. So it has doubled. On the one hand is skin is the thicker, the inner and outer skins and the core are all a little bit more. The bulkheads are all a little bit more. The stringers are more and we now have some ribs to split the panels. So all together, if these new boats respect the ISO rule as they should, they should be about 5-600 kilos heavier. I look forwards to seeing how the new boats will meet the new ISO rule as they should be heavier and maybe slower.

Do you have any ideas how the boat will perform against the others?

At the moment we are still in the learning period. We don’t know what to expect really from the boat. But I am not nervous at all. Not at all. I know I have done my best. I am completely responsible for myself and my family. It is different for sailors with expectations because they have sponsors. I am much more relaxed. I want to make a good result, to sail a good course. But I don’t really care what the outside world is thinking. I concentrate on the boat and the sailing. I know there are now sure solutions. In spite of the science, it is not a perfect science. Some guys are rebuilding the boat or parts two months later. And five years later some boats have been rebuilt five times. There have been some design disasters. But for me it is about being out there sailing well, to be close to nature, enjoying the speed, the life, that is much important than running at the front of the pack. I want to enjoy the race. And having designed and built the boat, all that adds to the enjoyment. This is pure fun, in spite of all the years of fighting to be ready. I am a person who seems to enjoy the fight. I enjoy the fight. It is part of the game. I would hate to lose the boat, to destroy the boat and lose it. In the BOC Challenge I lost my rudders and the organisers told me to get off the boat. And I said ‘Why? I am close to the Antarctic, but the boat is here, it is floating, I have sails, I have a mast, I have food and drink. I did not ask for rescue I and sailed back to Port Elizabeth, sailing 11 days, 1600 fetching with no rudders. Two new rudders came to Port Elizabeth and I repaired and went on.

And what is the best attribute of the boat?

My real strength is that I am not out to win. I hope that the main point will be the reliability. That was the main objective in the design of the boat, to have a safe boat which it is possible to push to 100 per cent without the risk of breaking something. That is really important for me considering how fragile some of the other boats have proven. So I wanted a boat I can push and not be worried. I cannot compare my boat to the others yet. I guess that the lighter boats, in light and medium downwind conditions will be faster. In upwind and stronger winds I don’t think there will be a significant difference. But I don’t think there are any real conditions I will be faster. But the boats all have a certain sail area, righting moment, have a certain wetted surface, weight. It is physics. There are no miracles. My boat is built on the safe side. I don’t think there is a wind angle or strength which is really where I will be better. My boat is an allrounder. It is more important to be structurally strong. I am an old man and I want to feel good, to feel confident in my boat.