The threat of capsize and carnage was part of the attraction for the sailors, sponsors, and fans that embraced the high-flying ORMA 60 trimaran during its heyday a decade ago. When the threat turned into reality—such as in the 2002 Route du Rhum, when 18 of the spindly speedsters started, but only three finished—it was the beginning of the end for offshore racing’s most exciting, groundbreaking class. Sponsor dissatisfaction, escalating costs, and the inability of the principles to agree on a solution all contributed to the class’s rapid demise. By 2007, it was dead.
But the phoenix has now risen from the ashes in the form of the new Multi One Design 70, or MOD70, a 70-foot trimaran that should deliver much of the excitement of the ORMA 60s, with significantly less risk. The primary difference is that this class is a strict one-design. Swiss businessman Marco Simeoni, owner of the company Veltigroup, staked the seed money for the ambitious project to build 12 identical trimarans. He became hooked on the concept after sailing aboard Lake Geneva’s one-design D35 catamarans with former ORMA 60 skipper Stève Ravussin.
Designed by the iconic French multihull firm of Van Peteghem Lauriot-Prévost, the MOD70 rectifies many of the ORMA 60’s shortcomings. It’s slightly less powerful, with a shorter rig, a smaller mainsail, and a narrower beam. Lengthening the bows, which has effectively moved the rig aft and increased forward buoyancy, should curb the ORMA 60’s tragic tendency to pitchpole. The structure has been beefed up by approximately 20 percent throughout the boat, with foam replacing Nomex core in key, high-impact areas.
“I said it is OK to build to the same loads throughout the boat,” said Ravussin, who is also the technical manager of the MOD70 project, “because we know what they are on a sixty and we don’t want to have any more problems. Reliability is very important with this project. So the beam is five feet less because that makes it better in a big sea.”
The new boat retains some of the ORMA 60’s most significant go-faster features, including a rotating wingmast, which can be canted 8 degrees to windward via shrouds that terminate in giant hydraulic rams. It also has retractable curved foils in both floats. Deploying the leeward foil, in conjunction with canting the rig to weather, helps prevent the leeward float from fully submerging, thereby reducing drag, in turn improving both performance and safety.
However, there is no trim tab on the daggerboard, nor rake adjustment for the rig.
And here and there, for example the tiller and rudder linkage, the builders have eschewed titanium and carbon fiber in favor of more mundane building materials like aluminum alloy.
The one-design aspect will help make the boats easier to maintain and safer to sail. “Before each grand prix [regatta with the ORMA 60s] we used to take off the hydraulics for the mainsheet,” says Ravussin. “But with the MOD70, we won’t because everyone has the same [set up].”
The first MOD70, Ravussin’s Race For Water, was launched in April following a monumental construction effort involving builders across Europe: crossbeams built in Switzerland by Décision, floats by Multiplast in France, foils in Italy by Eligio ReFraschini, and the 3DL sails from North Sails France, just to name a few. CDK Technologies, in Port la Forêt, France, handled the main hull and assembly.
Perhaps most impressive about the MOD70 project is that such an ambitious, and expensive, project has managed to come to fruition during rather dire economic times. Six of the boats have already been sold. Following the launch of Race For Water, the MOD70s production line will churn out a new boat every three months: Next is Roland Jourdain’s Veolia Environnement, followed by Michel Desjoyeaux’s Foncia in August, with Gitana, to be skippered by Seb Josse, coming in November. The teams awaiting boats five and six have yet to reveal themselves.
“We are in a new era for the multihulls,” says Franck David, Executive Director of the Multi One Design. “We are really confident. Our goal was to sign five contracts before the end of this year and to be sure to get maybe six teams at the first race in July 2012. Now we are sure we’ll get six teams and we will make the announcement of the others in a few months. So it is going well.”
Part of the attraction is the price. The first five boats were sold for $3.5 million—which is below cost. Boats six to nine will cost $4.25 million, while the last three $5 million, which is approximately equal—without adjusting for inflation—to the price eight years ago of the last ORMA 60 to be built, Franck Cammas’ Groupama 2.
“We put the maximum price on what we wanted to build and [searched for] the best solution to reduce the cost of the different parts and the best solution for reliability,” says Ravussin. “It was easy to make it longer and tack the [asymmetric spinnaker to the bow] on the main hull and that reduces the risk of pitchpoling. Then we take off the trim tab on the daggerboard, because those kind of parts are very expensive.”
A long-term plan is also part of the package, hopefully proving to sponsors that this class won’t burn out in a year or two.
“We are engaged with the different teams until 2020,” says David. “There will be three, three-year cycles, the first being 2012 to ’14. It is good for the sponsors because they get visibility. Some of them will be engaged until 2014 and then there is another cycle and they can go or not. If they stay, they will be in until 2017. But with the one design [nature of the class], if you want to sell your boat, you won’t lose any money, particularly for the first five boats.”
To date, the buyers are either French or Franco-Swiss, but one of the primary aims of the class is to be international. Since international entries are generally less eager to race shorthanded, the MOD70 race circuit is entirely fully crewed, albeit just six up. Six sailors might seem light compared to a Volvo Open 70’s 11, but the sail wardrobe for the trimaran comprises just six sails, including a storm jib and a masthead Code 0 for sub-6 knot conditions.
The first two boats, Race For Water and Veolia, will be competing in August’s Rolex Fastnet Race, but the first official MOD70 event, the Krys Ocean Race, from New York to Brest, France, will start July 4, 2012. A European Tour in September will follow the Krys Ocean Race, with another European Tour taking place from July to August, 2013, before the fleet of 12 boats sets off on their Ocean World Tour in December. The round-the-world race won’t follow the traditional Southern Ocean course, but proceed westward via the Panama and Suez Canals, with intended stops on the West Coast of the United States, Australia, Asia, and the Middle East before returning through the Mediterranean. The first three-year race cycle concludes with another Krys Ocean Race in July 2014. City Races, sailed eight up, will be held during each stopover on the European and World tours.
So what’s the MOD70 like to sail? When we went out with Ravussin and his Race for Water crew it was during their early sea trials and they had yet to push the boat. Nonetheless they had managed more than 30 knots in one 18-knot gust and Ravussin expects a 35-knot top speed. Our ride was in light conditions during which we were becalmed for 45 minutes. However, the moment the slightest zephyr came in, we were quickly up to 10 knots.
“Up to 16 knots it will be less, but better after,” says Ravussin, comparing the MOD70 to its 60-foot predecessor. “In 0 to 12 knots, we don’t know exactly. Maybe because the main hull is longer it will be better, but I think in 2 to 10 knots, an ORMA 60 would be faster. When it comes to maneuvers, I think it will be similar to the old ORMA 60s before Groupama 2, which had a lot more sail downwind and a trim tab [on the daggerboard]. With the trim tab, you tack through 84 degrees, without it is 90 degrees.”
The layout on board is like other large racing trimarans, with an elliptical cockpit situated between the aft crossbeam and the semi-circular mainsheet track. It’s possibly the safest cockpit of all offshore raceboats. At each corner of the cockpit is a bucket seat, tiller, and traveler winch for the helmsman, as well as hydraulic releases for the mast cant and the mainsheet. In the middle of the cockpit are two grinding pedestals, which drive the winches and a rotary hydraulic pump for the mast cant, the mainsheet, and other high-load sail controls.
There is a large doghouse, with controls for the daggerboard, outer foils, and the rig, led on either side to dual pit workstations.
Down below there is minimal room: Two bunks for the crew are located just aft of the mast, with the nav station aft of the bunks, and the galley, media station, and head aft of the relatively steep companionway ladder.
While progress to date has been relatively smooth, snaring a non-French team still remains as a hurdle. Even at its height the ORMA 60 class remained predominantly French. Best prospects at present are the Oman Sail team and a Swedish campaign led by Volvo Ocean Race crewman Klabbe Nylof.
Hull draft: 14’9″
Mast height: 95′
DSPL: 13,900 lbs.
Upwind sail area: 3,335 sq. ft.
Downwind sail area: 4,400 sq. ft.