Is the MOD70 Dying?

MOD70 organizers postpone the Krys Ocean Race transat until 2016. Whether the multihulls make it to the starting line then remains to be seen.

MOD70

MOD70

The organizer envisioned the fleet sailing to the New York this spring.Billy Black/Krys Ocean Race

The race organizers' plan to attract much-need publicity could have worked. Even the most diehard and cynical New Yorkers would have trouble ignoring a fleet of 70-foot multihulls sailing into the New York harbor. But the likelihood of making their vision a reality diminished when the MOD70 organizers announced a few days ago that the May 2014 starting date for the MOD70 Krys Ocean Race transat from Brest, France, was postponed until 2016.

Citing a bad economy and difficulties in just getting enough of the boats in the MOD70 fleet to participate, the organizers said they had no other choice but to postpone the start. The New York-to-Brest Krys Ocean Race in 2012 was successful, but the money and interest level for the second transat was not there, they said.

For many, the bad news was the death knell for the MOD70 after the multihull circuit was unable to secure a title sponsor for 2013. Those with an even more pessimistic view said the MOD70 was never promising from the beginning. Safety concerns, how the design was not well geared for shorthanded sailing, and a lack of an international non-French continent are among the common criticisms.

Photo: Bruce Gain
Michel Desjoyeaux sailed in the New York to Brest Krys Ocean Race in 2012 on Foncia, but has been unable to get a MOD70 sponsor since.

The inherent safety risks of the MOD70 have also become more than apparent. Earlier this year, Virbac Paprec, skippered by Jean-Pierre Dick and Roland Jourdain, crashed near the start of the Jacques-Vabre transat in October, and Spindrift, piloted by Yann Guichard during the Route des Princes earlier this year, crashed spectacularly, resulting in injury of a crew member from each team. For a multihull class created as an alternative to the now defunct and theoretically more dangerous ORMA60, the publicity was not good.

The videos of the Virbac Paprec and Spindrift crashes attracted a lot of attention, but not the kind of publicity the organizers wanted.

Earlier this year, efforts to make the circuit more international seem to have paid off when Orion Racing, with Cam Lewis as the skipper, became the first U.S. team to enter the circuit earlier this year. However, Lewis has already left the team and Orion Racing has yet to enter a major European race with its MOD70.

The state of the MOD70 can best be characterized by Virbac Paprec's position after the crash. After some major media outlets in France claimed that Virbac Paprec was for sale in the aftermath of the crash, Laurent Simon, who serves as spokesman for the team, denied that the boat was leaving the circuit. However, Simon said the team was getting "impatient."

“If the MOD70 organizers do not propose a legitimate plan by February, then we will have to explore other options,” he said, during a phone call interview. “We have an agreement with sponsors to respect.”

As it stands now, **the ****Krys**** ****Ocean**** ****Race**** scheduled for 2016 will not be a MOD70-only race as originally planned. Instead, it will be open to different multihull classes as well, alternating with the Route du Rhum every four years. **The MOD70 fleet now includes Virbac Paprec, Gitana, Oman, Spindrift, and Orion. Whether they make it to the Krys Ocean Race in 2016 remains to be seen.