MOD-ernizing Ocean Racing
MOD-ernizing Ocean Racing
“The fastest boats.” Check. “The world’s best sailors.” Check again. Newport, R.I., had it all last week, but I’m not talking about the America’s Cup World Series. Overshadowed by the wings rising over Fort Adams were the world’s real fastest sailors. Hiding in plain sight at Newport Shipyard were the sailors of the MOD 70 circuit. Russell Coutts may think his AC45 is fast, but Spindrift co-skipper Pascal Bidégorry sailed over 900 miles in one day on Banque Populaire V. He’s not the only one; most of the Transatlantic record-breaking crew is spread throughout the five-boat fleet. Current Jules Verne Trophy holder Brian Thompson is on Mussandam-Oman Sail. His 45-day lap of the planet is still awe-inspiring. Double Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux, skipper of Foncia, is also present. There’s no marketing hype needed here, though maybe there should be. Even as an estimated 60,000 sailing fans packed Fort Adams, less than 1% of them knew that the reigning royalty of ocean racing was at their doorstep, and that a tour of some of the fastest boats to ever cross an ocean was free for the asking.
The first Multi One Design 70 trimaran hit the water last year. Designed to replace the old ORMA 60 trimarans with a faster, more cost effective platform, the MOD 70 class was supposed to be the multihull’s answer to the Volvo Ocean Race; fully crewed ocean racers on a global circuit. The comparisons end there, though. A Volvo 70 is a brute of a boat. Just sitting at the dock, the boat seems to say “I eat sailors for lunch.” Everything on a Volvo 70 is big and powerful. The MOD 70, though, is an exercise in refinement. Everything on the boat is sleek and sexy, from the ultra narrow hulls to the slick canting wing mast. Since there’s no lead to drag around in a MOD 70, it can generate a greater power-to-weight ratio than a VO 70. In fact, the entire 6.9 ton displacement of a MOD 70 is less than the 8.2 ton weight of a Volvo 70 keel assembly. Things then become more manageable. The gennaker on a MOD 70 can be dragged around by a single (strong) person. Moving the Code Zero on a Volvo 70 requires you and a bunch of your friends.
On paper, this class has it all. Yet, halfway through the inaugural Krys Ocean Race from New York to Brest, France, who’s watching? According to YouTube, just 500 people. Anyone who loves ocean racing should be glued to their Internet connections. In the first 24 hours of the race, the fleet averaged 640 miles in 24 hours, with some boats breaking the 700-mile mark. Let’s put that into perspective. On the first full day of the first official MOD 70 race, every boat sailed faster than any monohull in history! So why isn’t there a greater following? It’s too easy to say that the class is too French for global appeal. Historically, offshore multihull racing has been a French-dominated domain, but with the America’s Cup switching to multihulls and the power of the Internet multimedia on full display for 100,000 fans of the Volvo Ocean Race, that excuse no longer holds. The MOD 70 association has also taken great pains to deliver international multimedia. Even the daily video recaps are produced in both French and English. While multi-language media is good, the overall content of the media needs to improve. While each MOD 70 has a state of the art media station and a high definition camera, there is no dedicated media crewmember. In the case of Mussandam-Oman Sail, Brian Thompson has been designated as the media crew. The world’s fastest sailor and the most experienced crew on the boat also has to be responsible for media content? This won’t work. When the going gets tough, the most experienced crew is going to be sailing the boat, not holding a video camera. Offshore racing fans have grown accustomed to seeing all of the action—especially when things go wrong. That compelling video footage and the accompanying story are missing here. People follow ocean racing for the drama and for the personalities—the development of both needs to be prioritized. As long as media is an afterthought, the sailing public will go elsewhere for content.
When the content isn’t world class, then the timing of the event needs to be such that the event commands global attention. The Krys Ocean Race was destined to be an afterthought simply by being scheduled to coincide with the end of the Volvo Ocean Race. The start of the prologue race from Newport to New York was going on just as the lead boats in the Volvo were approaching Galway. I was torn between watching the Volvo finish and the Krys start, and the Krys start was happening live right in front of me! The timing reflects the great challenge for any race organizer. The Krys Ocean Race is timed to have the fleet arriving in France in time for Bastille Day national holiday events. Yet, by catering to the home audience, the event is placed in a difficult global position. To create a global event, the global good needs to be considered. Had the Krys Ocean Race started in early August, the Volvo hangover would be over, and the world’s sailing media could be focused on MOD 70 sailing. The America’s Cup World Series arriving in Newport at the same time certainly didn’t make things any easier.
World-class media and good scheduling are all meaningless if the class isn’t financially strong. Title sponsor Krys has signed on to events through 2014, yet the MOD 70 class is in financial jeopardy. The original model for the class included 9 boats, ideally with a global distribution. To date, only six boats have been built, and five are currently sailing, with four of them predominantly French. The MOD 70 class owns two of the boats: Race for Water, and the former Veolia. Race for Water is hull number one and was originally to be a demonstration boat before being turned over to a sponsor. The sponsors, though, haven’t come knocking, and now the class is subsidizing the costs for skipper Stève Ravussin and crew. At the same time, the organization had to buy back hull two from Veolia after the French sponsor suddenly dropped their sponsorship earlier this year. Veolia, skippered by Roland Jourdain and captained by American Ryan Breymaier, was one of the best prepared MOD 70s and was offered at an amazingly low price. When turnkey boats with a top notch crew can’t be sold, where is the hope for new hulls to be built? The class needs to find a way to unload their boats to private teams. Maybe when that happens, more money can be funneled into media and promotion.
Ocean racing fans and sailing speed freaks owe it to themselves to check out the MOD 70s. The fleet will cover the remaining miles to France by the end of this week, and a European tour will begin in late August. Sailing World’s senior editor Stuart Streuli had a chance to sail on Mussandam-Oman Sail as a guest crew during the prologue race from Newport to New York. His race report is coming, but in the meantime, you can see video reports here: Hopefully, by the time the European tour begins, the class will have upgraded its media output, and ocean racing fans shall rejoice!