Multihulls Match

Doctor Belmont –Mister Lagoon

Published on 01 june 2015 at 0h00

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You'll probably never have noticed this figure wandering up and down the pontoons of boat shows in the four corners of the globe. The meticulously coiffed beard, linen shirt and trousers, slightly quirky shoes. There's a bit of Philip Starck in him. Fred Morvan, the creator of the Multihull Shows, and who has known him since he started out, calls him "the quiet force". He is also a curious man, interested in everything, never pre-judging and with a humility and an open mindedness which is characteristic of the best.
Flashback. In 1996, Bénéteau, which had just taken over its largest historical rival, Jeanneau, discovered that as part of the package there was a small subsidiary called JTA (Jeanneau Techniques Avancées). Florence Arthaud's Pierre 1er trimaran, Laurent Bourgnon's RMO, Mark Pajot's France 2 and France 3 in the America's Cup in San Diego. It was them. The trimarans in the film Water World were also them. In fact, when the takeover was happening, Bruno Belmont was in Hawaii for the filming of the huge Hollywood production. From the back of the cockpit, he steers for Kevin Costner, who, as all good actors do, just copies his movements. He is called back to France where the very rational management of Bénéteau is going over the rather depressing accounts of the subsidiary from Nantes. However, alongside the racing boats and others mentioned above, there are also the Lagoon boats which come from the same site. Only a small production (3 per year on average) but they are very nice catamarans. Even so, the situation is a long way from the industrial and profitability criteria expected by the new owner. Thankfully, there were intelligent men on both sides of the table. Firstly François Chalain who, despite the failure of Blue II understood that there was a future for catamarans. The incumbent boss, Bruno Catelinais, also approved. Bruno Belmont was given carte blanche to come up with something. What he proposed was a complete break from what all their rivals were doing. A symbol of this change were the famous vertical windows. The logic behind this change is undeniable: better view to the outside, an increase in size of the living space and no "greenhouse effect" leading to either a stifling heat or them being covered up. And that's without taking into account that there were no complex shapes and that they were therefore cheaper to make! Still, there came a time when the Big Boss had to give her approval. It was 1997. "It will be a great success or a disastrous failure" said Madame Roux, when she saw the design of the Lagoon 410. Her initial intuition was the right one! Much to Bruno's relief, as it was he who had initiated the whole process.
It was the turning point in his life. Previously he had attended the School of Naval Architecture in Southampton, UK, followed by the construction of the trimaran "Apricot", the Andrieu One Ton. On the 2nd of January 1989, he started at JTA. He remembers it as if it was yesterday. He worked on the quote for the Pierre 1er, and then built it. Boat building: his true passion. However, as the team was quite small, he took on the plumbing and electrical projects for the Lagoons. To reach the spec that he had put in place for the new catamarans, he called on his old friends from Southampton, Marc Van Peteghem and his project leader, Marc Dognin. They were to become the trio which defined the brand. They did everything together. It was an unshakeable friendship, a virtuous intellectual game which meant that nothing was ruled out, nothing was set in stone, and everything was possible. For the architect, Bruno is "a visionary" who has "a feel for the market" and "unbelievable client expectations". A little bit of intuition, plenty of common sense, and a profound empathy for those that sail his catamarans. It was putting the person at the heart of the process which brought Bruno into sailing. How do people live on their boats, and how do we make their lives easier and more pleasant? As a catamaran is a much larger platform than a monohull, it's all about ergonomics, both inside and out. The salon is square, not round. All the maneuvers will be managed from the steering position making them easier to control than in a monohull. He is almost emotional when he recalls the summer when, sitting on the roof of the catamaran that he was sailing, he realized it was a space where a new living area should be created. Away from the boat's center of activity, and with a 360° view. "Wow!" It came to him so suddenly, yet it seemed so obvious to him. This became the famous flybridge that was rolled out on the 440. As is often the case, his idea seemed rather extreme. As with many other innovations, many people would criticize it for breaking with tradition. Within a few seasons it became common practice. He would go on to have plenty of these apparently heretical ideas: large windows in the hull, island beds, the forward cockpit... Bruno came up with the marketing objectives, and the two Marcs integrated them into the design of the boat, after much toing and froing which allowed the idea to evolve and take shape before eventually finding its role, and sometimes others.
Bruno isn't just a creative talent. He also brings an entrepreneurial logic to the table. It led to him taking on the role of Sailing Strategist for the whole Bénéteau group, as well as the conceptual marketing for new sailing products. If he needed a sign of recognition for his work, this was it. However, despite his rather "corporate" line, his humility does come through. And when Yves Lyon Caen, President of the Group's Board comes to say hello during our interview, there was an obvious affection and respect for this man who was behind one of the company's greatest successes. When Bénéteau's industrial processes swung into action on the Lagoon project, it was all a little unnerving for a while. But they had decided to target the US market heavily, and it soon represented 50% of sales, which helped to absorb a large chunk of the production costs. Another shrewd strategic move was the linking up with CNB, which allowed the two smaller entities to have more influence within the group. Within five years, thanks to the boom in pleasure cruising, Lagoon had become the industry leader. The team was now not big enough, so Bruno carefully added to it. Yann Masselot joined in 2002, and more recently, Martina Torrini and Massimo Gino joined the original creative trio to form a quintet. "Creativity is all about the expression of each person's experience" says Bruno. So the more experience there is around the table, the more creativity there'll be. There are many more ideas to be tested, like they are doing at the moment with the motor catamaran market. It's especially about continuing to evolve: lighter materials; easier rigging; more varied and more attractive living spaces. The subjects which they will be getting their teeth into are many and varied. The good news is that he hasn't finished surprising, shocking or even astounding us with his innovations, which will one day surely be the norm! Bruno works out just what you'll need tomorrow. Before you know it! Amazing!

Interview - Doctor Belmont

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