MOD70 Retreats for Strength

The MOD70 has attracted interest and spectators, and delivered on being a relatively safe yet fun multihull class. But the problem is that the sponsors are not able to turn the spending spigot tap on again, or at least not just yet.

Sailing World

Oman MOD70

Oman is one of six boats in the MOD70 fleet.

Economically speaking, things are bad in Europe. The unemployment rate in the European Union member states is at 12 percent, and there is no end in sight to the recession. This is not the best scenario to be in for a fledgling, yet promising, race class of multi-million dollar boats in need of sponsors. But that is the situation that the Europe-based MOD70 class faces, which no longer has a title sponsor and has been forced to shutter what was supposed to be the second European Tour this year.

The organizers have been forced to postpone the circuit even though the MOD70 circuit was a success, after more than 800,000 visitors came to watch the legs of the European Tour and the New York-to-Brest Krys Ocean Race last year. “Let’s just say that going ahead with the European Tour in this economy would have been complicated,” MOD70 Executive Director Franck David told me by phone.

That is the bad, but the positives outweigh the negatives, David says. The MOD70 class is not about to succumb to the fate of its predecessor, the faster yet more dangerous ORMA 60 that officially came to an end in 2007. Instead, he says, the MOD70 has retreated this year to gather strength.

After cancelling the European Tour, life still goes on. The Krys Ocean Race transat is scheduled to take place in 2014. As for the European Tour, it is also expected to continue sometime after this year, although the exact date is under discussion. This year, MOD70 boats will take part in the Fastnet, Route des Princes, with legs around Europe, and the Jacques Vabre transat races.

A new American team should also help to breathe new life into the MOD70 after Cam Lewis, a U.S. top multihull specialist, secured Orion Racing as a sponsor this year and will head the first American team in the class. "Having an American campaign will help to show the U.S. just how exciting and fun the MOD70 is, for both in- and off-shore races," David said.

With an American team taking part, the Krys Ocean Race should draw more interest from the sailing community as well as the general public in a race often criticized for being to French- and European-centric.

The Prologue of the Krys Ocean Race ended in New York, from where the teams sailed a transat to Brest, France.
Photo: Billy Black/Krys Ocean Race

In 2012, tens of thousands of spectators came to see the large and exotic-looking monster multihulls in the Manhattan port from where the race started. The Prologue of the Krys Ocean Race included five MOD 70 teams that sailed from Newport, R.I., to New York. The interest level will likely grow when the boats arrive at New York from Brest, especially with an American skipper in the fleet, during the next Krys Ocean Race.

In 2014, David said that more efforts will also be made to generate interest among the general public in New York and the rest of the United States for the upcoming Brest-to-New York race. “The send-off crowd in New York was a little VIP,” David said. “We plan to get the word out more next year to everybody else.”

The MOD70 fleet now includes Virbac Paprec, Gitana, Oman, and Spindrift, in addition to Orion. Michel Desjoyeaux, who is needless to say one of the world’s most respected sailors, has been unable to find a sponsor after cash-strapped Foncia yanked its backing, even after his team won the European Tour last year. However, Desjoyeaux should eventually compete in upcoming MOD70 races after securing a sponsor, while he already owns the former Foncia MOD70 boat.

Michel Desjoyeaux still trains on the former Foncia MOD70, but is in search of a sponsor.

The MOD70 has also lived up to its main purpose in design by being safer, albeit slower, than their more capsize-prone ORMA 60 predecessor. In addition to being a one-design class, the MOD70 benefits from a smaller mainsail and rig, and other design elements that make it safer. This means, of course, that there should be fewer mishaps and more boats in the fleet should finish offshore challenges, such as the Krys Ocean Race. While some of the teams did push the envelope a bit during the last European Tour, without mentioning any names, none of the fleet capsized or crashed.

While slightly less powerful, the MOD70's speed difference compared to the ORMA 60 is not substantial, especially in stronger wind conditions. Cruising speeds of 30 knots or more with a side wind or when running in 25 knots of breeze happens very quickly. There is also the fun factor of a 70-foot multihull sometimes gliding over, sometimes crashing through, waves at 35 knots or more as this writer has experienced.

In the long term, everything is in place for the MOD70 to not only survive, but to evolve, David says. The MOD70 did what it was supposed to do in the way of attracting interest and spectators, and has delivered on its promises so far as a relatively safe yet fun multihull class. But the problem is that the sponsors are not able to turn the spending spigot tap on again, or at least not just yet.

Read more posts from Bruce Gain in his _Postcard from Europe blog._