Budget ORMA 60s

We look at the Multi50 class and talk to its main players

Tuesday November 24th 2009, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom
While we have often previously bemoaned the death of our favourite big boat class – the ORMA 60 multihulls – in the aftermath of this has come not one, but two new classes. We have previously written about the MOD 70, the one design trimaran from VPLP, the project now Swiss-owned complete with a circuit including round Europe races and a round the world race via the Panama and Suez canals. However more at the budget end comes the new Multi50 class, with the three first boats designed specifically to the class rule now launched, interestingly from three different designers:

- Franck-Yves Escoffier’s Crepes Whaou! from VPLP,
- Yves le Blevec’s Actual from Guillaume Verdier
- Herve Cleris’ Prince de Bretagne from Nigel Irens and Benoit Cabaret.

To date these boats have had mixed fortunes. Crepes Whaou! this morning was first home in the Transat Jacques Vabre, while Actual flipped (possibly after a collision) shortly after the start, while the starboard float dramatic snapped off Prince de Bretagne during training prior to the start.


50ft multihulls are nothing new. The OSTAR, as was, had a class for them since the 1970s prompting a number of designs from the likes of Derek Kelsall, Dick Newick and Walter Greene, even a freshly graduated Marc van Peteghem. The 50ft multis had a blip in the early 1990s when Nigel Irens designed a series of three trimarans of this length for Pascal Herold, Fuji France boss Claude Develay and Brest dentist Hervé Cleris, who is currently racing his in the Transat Jacques Vabre. Like in the offshore monohull class - the Open 50s or today the Class 40s, compared to the Open 60 - the class has always been more of a Corinthian, amateur affair compared to their fully-pro bigger brother.

In France for the last couple of decades the 50ft multihulls have kept alive thanks to the major offshore events like the Route du Rhum, Transat Jacques Vabre and Quebec-St Malo, but they have mostly been a pretty motley collection of old or cobbled together boats. For example in the present TJV, there is Victorien Erussard’s Guyader pour Urgence Climatique, which was originally the late Olivier Moussy’s 1987 generation Irens-designed ORMA 60 Laiterie Mont St Michel. Erussard originally bought it and chopped it down to 50ft to compete in the 2006 Route du Rhum.

Alain Maignan’s FenetreA – Cardinal was originally Trilogic, the boat which Eric Bruneel, then an executive at French cruising cat builder Fontaine Pajot, built and part designed to compete in the 2004 OSTAR, in which he won his class. She has the main hull from a Joubert-Nivelt cruising cat, floats designed by Marc Lombard and beams from Bruneel himself.

Former skipper of the Banque Populaire ORMA 60, Lalou Roucayrol’s trimaran Région Aquitaine - Port Médoc is similarly a Frankenstein’s monster, based on a platform Roucayrol designed himself, built on a budget, using for example a carbon rig originally from Yves Parlier’s Open 60 Aquitaine Innovations.

However four years ago, at around the time ORMA was in its final death throws, one of the original 50ft trimaran owners, Hervé Cleris, started trying to bring some organisation to the 50ft multihull class and, in particular, set the wheels in motion for a class rule to be created. And so the Multi50 class was born.

“The original concept was to try and develop the 50ft alongside the 60, because the 60s were far too expensive,” explains class Vice President Marc Pardailhe-Galabrun. “Since the early 1990s, Hervé thought it was a good size of boat, also for young sailors who wanted to move into multihulls. Going from the Figaros to the 60s was too big a step, so he felt there was a gap where the Multi50 could fit in.”

“It was definitely set up to be a slightly Corinthian class,” adds designer Nigel Irens of the class philosophy. “The idea was that it should be within the grasp of someone unsponsored, albeit reasonably wealthy. To that end they tried to keep the costs down with the rules and they have encouraged, through the rules, boats that aren’t that extreme.”

While Cleris initiated the rule, several key players, notably St Malo fisherman Franck-Yves Escoffier, for a long time the only real Grand Prix participant in the class, and another skipper, Pascal Contin, had input into it, with the rule itself being penned by France’s Mike Urwin equivalent, Jean Sens.

Broadly, the rule is similar to that of the ORMA 60, but with the fun bits removed – the canting rake-able rigs banned, trim tabs on daggerboards banned, curved lifting foils or any foils developing vertical lift banned. Bowsprits are also prohibited. The full rule is here, but the basic parameters of the rule are as follows:

LOA: 48-50ft (proas are banned, dammit)
Maximum beam: 50ft (15.24m)
Maximum draft: 11.5ft (3.5m)
Maximum mast height: 78ft (23.77m)
Rotating wingmast are allowed but their maximum chord is 0.46m
Annual sail limit: 1 mainsail, 1 solent, 1 staysail (up to 45sqm), 1 storm jib (12-22sqm), 2 spinnakers/gennikers
Boats must be fitted with a 27hp motor. Hi-tech batteries (such as Nickel-Cadmium and Lithium) are prohibited.

There is a list of permitted materials (eg: E glass is allowed, but Carbon/PBO rigging prohibited and construction limitations, such as infusion being allowed ( Prince de Bretagne was built this way). Most significant of these is that Nomex is banned, while carbon is banned from the hulls with the expection of four 200mm wide longitudinals per hull. Thus hulls have glass skins. Otherwise carbon construction is limited to the beams, mast, boom, appendages, chain plates and other localised areas of reinforcement. Sandwich construction is prohibited for the spars.

Marc Pardailhe-Galabrun acknowledges that there are some gaps still in the rule and they will be working over the winter to attempt to plug these. The major one prior to the TJV was that carbon fibre sails somehow slipped through - both Actual and Crepes Whaou! have these, since banned by the class and as a result during the TJV they were each penalised by having to carry 50kg of lead correctors.

Perhaps the most novel feature of the rule is that it only allows four appendages. Thus the choice seems to be between three rudders, one on each hull, and a single daggerboard in the centre hull – the choice used on the new Crepes Whaou! and Actual; or the more catamaran-style configuration, with a rudder and a daggerboard in each float and with an appendage-free centre hull, as is the case with Prince de Bretagne.

As to their choice on Crepes Whaou! Vincent Lauriot Prevost says that they studied this choice of appendages. “It was obvious that the most efficient for speed is two rudders and daggerboards, but one thing is that you can’t incline them to give lift and the second thing is that for these boats, which are dedicated to shorthanded offshore races, you really have to have the boat pushed hard to have good efficiency if you go for twin daggerboards. And in terms of safety, when you are alone with one daggerboard, if your boat is overpowered and lifts a hull, the more you lift, the more you lift but when you have one daggerboard in the centre hull, the more you lift the more you slip sideways, because you have less lateral force. I think in terms of safety when you are shorthanded or on autopilot, we think ours is a more conservative configuration.”

On ORMA 60s curved foils were used in the floats to provide the leeward float with lift, this in turn helped prevent the leeward bow from burying. To counteract the lack of foil, with Actual Guillaume Verdier made the forward sections of the floats especially voluminous. “I pushed that point very far, to the extent we hardly put the bows of the boat in the water,” he says. “It is not so good upwind or inshore. For an inshore boat they would be much narrower. So the boat is less good pointing upwind but the point of this boat, and it was in the specification from Yves [le Blevec], is that you can sleep on deck under the roof with the main sheet in your hand without being stressed.”

So the general consensus is that while Crepes Whaou! is an all-rounder, Actual is geared up primarily for the offshores while with Prince de Bretagne it is too early to tell.

So what is the future of the Multi50?

For the designers we spoke, there is a sense of frustration after having penned fully tricked up ORMA 60s for so many years, to revert to designing boats without the go-faster elements. However what the rule has succeeded in doing is creating a boat that maybe 10ft shorter, still has an phenomenal turn of speed and yet costs around 40-50% of an ORMA 60 or even an IMOCA 60. Budgets for the three new boats vary from 1.2 million Euros for Prince de Bretagne to 1.5 million for Actual and Crepes Whaou!

In terms of raw speed, the new boats are dramatically improved. For Franck-Yves Escoffier, his new boat is his third Crepes Whaou! after eight years of sponsorship from the Brest-based maker of crepes (which some supermarkets sell in the UK under their own brand). His last Crepes Whaou! 2 (now for sale...), another VPLP design, that used to be flat out at 28-28.5 knots, while before the start of the TJV Franck-Yves Escoffier said they had already clocked 33 on the new boat and 25-27 knots was no problem. They could make 15-16 knots upwind in 15 knots of wind at 45 deg TWA, provided there wasn’t too much seaway.

This has come about from the new boat being a marked improvement all-round. New hull and float moulds were used in making Crepes Whaou! 3 but her crossbeams are from the old boat, albeit lengthened, taking her out to maximum beam. They also have purpose-built appendages, whereas on the previous boat the daggerboard was from the moulds of the ORMA 60 Géant, while the rudders now have a carbon fibre rather than a stainless steel stock.

"On the last Crepes Whaou! we had quite a conventional, conservative approach to designing the boat, its structure, etc," says designer Vincent Lauriot Prevost. “On this we just had more accurate tuning, and made a lot of CFD comparisons for the floats and main hull. If we want to reduce drag on this boat we had to work on the hulls as we don’t have any features [such as foils] that can help us.”

Thus the floats on their boat have a flatter section aft and small chines over their last 3-4m. They also have a finer entry to allow some degree of wave piercing and a reduction in pitching - an idea VPLP have also used on the Banque Populaire maxi-tri and the BMW Oracle Racing tri. Otherwise, compared to Crepes Whaou! the volume in the floats is similar, just its distribution altered slightly.

The new Crepes Whaou! also weighs in at around 3.8 tonnes, some 250-300kg less than the last boat. The upshot is the boat develops around 32-34 tonne metres of righting moment, that is more than an IMOCA 60 (which is about 30 tonne metres).

Another significant difference between the three new boats is in their beam configurations. In this respect, Crepes Whaou! went for the desirable three beam option, typical of the ORMA 60s, with the main crossbeams forming an ‘X’ configuration and a circular mainsheet track beam slung off the rear beam. Compared to the previous Crepes Whaou! Lauriot Prevost says the main crossbeams have been moved aft so that the mast step can be further aft.

On the other two new boats they have gone for the cheaper option of two parallel crossbeams. On Actual for example the beams came from the same moulds only they are structured differently - the aft beam has to take the main sheet track loads, the forward beam has to counteract movement in the bows of the floats. This certainly made her aft beam heavier but Guillaume Verdier says that the two/three beam configuration was both interesting from weight and moving the centre of gravity aft perspectives- better for offshore, than inshore, he acknowledges.

A down side of the two beam configuration is that there is no convenient place piece of deck/cross beam to tack a lower shroud, which there is on the X-beam configuration.

From a safety perspective the Multi50s should be better than the ORMA 60s since both their length to sail area and weight to sail area ratios are greatly reduced and they don’t have a bow sprit.


In terms of a circuit, the Multi50s are probably where the ORMA 60s should have stayed in that the emphasis is fully on the offshore races although they do have inshore races, known as ‘Trophées’. This year these took place at Fecamps (where Crepes Whaou!) and St Quay Portrieux (where Actual won), with typically around 10 boats competing in each. For these sailing crew is limited to five, while there must be a minimum of three guests on board.

Despite having an Irish grandmother, Marc Pardailhe-Galabrun is an Anglophile and once lived in Cowes where he is still a member of the Island Sailing Club. “I’d love to do a Trophée in the Solent, but the idea is not to have too many trophies,” he says. “They can change every year - it doesn’t matter. We’d love to have one in Lorient or La Trinite. At the moment we only have the three in the Channel because the cities were keen to organise it. We are only at the beginning of the class, so it is going to take another five or six years before it becomes an international class.”

He is pushing the class to compete en masse in next year’s Round the Island race, but the main reason is to entice some non-French participation and prevent the class being the entirely Breton affair that the ORMA 60 class ended up being. He would like the class to go up to Scandinavia in 2012 and ultimately imagines a circuit including Round Gotland, the Rolex Fastnet and Middle Sea races, although this would have to be in a non-Route du Rhum/Transat Jacques Vabre year.

Nigel Irens agrees that this is the right approach: “With the benefit of hindsight I think ORMA was pretty doomed. I can see more clearly why it has gone now than I could at the time, because it is so specialised and over all the years they singularly failed to attract foreign entrants. Some time ago I thought the best way to deal with that was via some sort of one design because there are a lot of skippers in the world who would like to prove their skill if they are not in a domain where the race is won or lost before you get on the water by the technology which has evolved from one year to the next.”

While some skippers such as Lalou Roucayrol and Jean le Cam, who sailed with Yves le Blevec on their abbreviated TJV, have graduated down from the ORMA class – [le Cam says philosophically of the Multi50 it is “Between enough and too much... We come from too much”] - most expect the Multi50 class of the future to be a mix of Corinthian owners such as Franck-Yves Escoffier or Herve Cleris, or up-and-coming ex-Mini sailors (such as Yves le Blevec, who won the Mini Transat in 2007) or Figaro sailors, who can use it as a stepping stone up to IMOCA 60 or perhaps in the future the MOD70. Karine Fauconnier is known to be interested as is Franck-Yves Escoffier’s niece, Servane (who competed in the Barcelona World Race) among others.

“The contacts we have got are younger people, who can still work with their partners to this level of budget, but who can’t afford the budget of an IMOCA 60,” says Vincent Lauriot Prevost.

More can be read about the Multi50 class on their website here .

Many more photos on the following pages...

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