Mark Lloyd / Oman Sail

Life in the fast lane

Brian Thompson tells us about the Oman Sail MOD70 program ahead of the Krys Ocean Rcae

Friday July 6th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

The first major bout between the new MOD70 trimarans gets underway tomorrow with the start of the Krys Ocean Race between New York and Brest in northwest France. With the recent announcement of the Volvo Ocean Race going one design for their next event in 2014, the Multi One Design is an interesting test case to see the pros and cons of a offshore one design ‘big boat’.

Five MOD70s are taking part with a line-up that includes several teams from the defunct ORMA 60 class the Multi One Design has replaced. Foncia once upon a time raced in the ORMA circuit with Alain Gautier on the helm, but now has former Géant skipper Michel Desjoyeaux in the driving seat. Gitana/Groupe Edmond de Rothschild have been through even more skippers including Lionel Lemonchois, Fred le Peutrec, Loick Peyron and Yann Guichard but now has Seb Josse as their skipper. Yann Guichard himself skippers a new team, Spindrift Racing, while Swiss ORMA 60 skipper Stève Ravussin, who was integral to conceiving the class with its patron Marco Simeoni, is driving Race for Water.

The newest team to the MOD70 class is Oman Sail, with French Volvo Ocean Race sailor Sidney Gavignet continuing his role with the Omani team following his participation in the 2010 Route du Rhum, which ended up with his maxi-trimaran unfortunately folding up from beneath him while mid-race. The Omani MOD70 certainly has the most international crew with ex-470 sailor and electronics guru Jeff Cuzon the only other Frenchman on board, supported by American Barcelona World Race sailor Ryan Breymaier, who was previously with Roland Jourdain’s now sadly defunct Veolia Environnement MOD70 team. With them are two Omani crew in Mohsin Al Busaidi, who was the first Omani to sail around the world when he survived a lap of the planet aboard Ellen MacArthur’s former B&Q trimaran, while Fahad Al Hasni competed in the Tour de France a la Voile last year on the Oman Sail boat.

Last but by no means least is the most experienced multihull sailor on board, Brian Thompson, who with too many accolades to him to name, previously raced with skipper Sidney Gavignet on ABN AMRO One during the 2005-6 Volvo Ocean Race and most recently was part of Loick Peyron’s Banque Populaire maxi-trimaran that earlier this year claimed the Jules Verne Trophy.

“It is very exciting to have five MODs in New York City,” Thompson told us. “We’re in North Cove Marina, right by Ground Zero, where they’re now building something called the Freedom Tower which is going up very fast.”

The Oman Sail trimaran is the latest MOD 70 to be launched (the next is Jean-Pierre Dick’s Virbac Paprec) having gone in the water in April. Since then the crew has carried out around 25 days of training, says Thompson, including some sessions out of the notorious centre of excellence in Port la Fôret, while before departing France they competed in the ArMen Race and the Trophee SNSM. Unfortunately the latter event was hampered thanks to a dockers strike in the start port of St Nazaire. The MOD70s eventually held an unofficial race back up to Lorient.

Since then the Oman Sail MOD70 has been delivered to Newport, RI and earlier this week raced in the Krys Ocean Race’s prologue from Newport to New York.

So how have they been progressing? “The first session in Port la Fôret, we were way back behind the others because we were just finding our feet, but as time progressed we got better and better,” says Thompson. “In fact that final abbreviated SNSM race - which wasn’t a proper race in the end - we were the first boat into Lorient. Then on this last prologue to New York we were right up at the front most of the time before we just fell into a hole 10 miles from the finish and ended up last, but that is not where we were for the whole race. So it is encouraging - for a young team we’re making good progress.”

Having raced extensively on Karine Fauconnier’s ORMA 60 Sergio Tacchini and before that on Steve Fossett’s Lakota, as well as various maxi-multihulls from PlayStation to Doha 2006 (ex-Club Med) to Banque Populaire, Thompson is well placed to give an assessment of the new MOD70.

“I think they are really well put together boats. It is a mini-Banque Populaire: Same designer, half size, wider for its length. It is a hybrid of an ORMA 60 and Banque Populaire. It is not quite as beamy as an ORMA 60, but it is close and it has the long bows of Banque Pop.”

Compared to an ORMA 60 Thompson says it almost has the same feeling sailing it – the elliptical cockpit layout is similar with the helming positions to port and starboard on the apex of the aft cross beams. It feels slightly heavier than the 60 but decidedly more “go-kart like”, compared to Banque Populaire. “It is very sensitive on the helm and we seem to be able to do 30 knots very easily. Our top speed so far is 38, which isn’t bad.” We think the top speed an ORMA 60 ever achieved is around 40 knots...

Otherwise the MOD70 has all the main go-faster features of the ORMA 60, from the rotating wingmast rig that can be canted to weather via giant hydraulic rams, to the important retractable curved lifting foils in the floats. The boat has a lifting main rudder, but they are not allowed to lift this to reduce drag while racing (as they could on the 60s) and the MOD70 does not have the ORMA 60’s daggerboard trim tab, nor the ability to adjust the rake of the rig while racing.

While it remains to be decided whether sails should be supplied or left open on the VOD65, so with the MOD70s they are supplied and Thompson says he is impressed by the integrity of the one design. “They have got corrector weights in them. The heaviest boat has 8kg of correctors and the lightest boat has 16kg – so they are within 8kg.” Pat Shaughnessy, President of Farr Yacht Design, was anticipating VO65s coming in to within 20-30kg. “So it is a very strict one design, right down to the cup holders...”

So there is nothing you can do to them? “All you can do is make sure it is reliable, have a good bottom on it, not carry any excess junk and learn really what the right sail combinations are.”

Thompson also observes that the MOD70s seem strong. The engineering know-how of the ORMA 60s had become reasonably refined by the time of their demise after some 20 years of work and that knowledge was transferred to the MOD70, which was given an extra 10% safety factor. “All six of them have done a lot of miles now and there have been no structural problems at all - that is very impressive,” says Thompson. “It is feels stiff. There are no cracks around the beam to hull joint, which all the 60s used to have. Really it is amazing. It is seems like the human beings are more likely to be the limiting factor than the boat.”

If the MOD70 is considered to be like an ORMA 60 but with a longer bow instead of the 60’s bowsprit, so the new boat should be less prone to pitchpoling compared to the 60 which was considered to have a sail plan too high aspect for its length. Of the MOD70 Thompson says “You still could pitchpole one, but it won’t be as rapid as an ORMA where the rig is further forward and you have a genniker on the bowsprit. Now the genniker is on the end of the hull, so there is a bigger safety factor. We have stuffed the leeward hull in several times at 35 knots - you slow down, but I don’t think even the rudders have come out of the water yet. And we haven’t heard of any horror stories yet. It seems a well mannered boat, but fast. It is a bit like Club Med - in 17 knots you can do 30. And remember on the Fastnet the MOD70s were not far behind Banque Populaire, 1.5 hours or something, but in flat water obviously. So we would be a lot quicker than any monohull until you get into rough seas.”

In fact the MOD70's performance Thompson reckons is very similar to that of an ORMA 60 with the ability to sail upwind at 18-20 knots and as fast as you are brave enough to go off the breeze.

In terms of sails the boat is simplicity itself, again similar to the ORMA 60 with just five sails – main, genniker, solent, staysail and ORC/storm jib. Apparently the class is considering the addition of a Code 0 for next season. So is the boat underpowered in light airs? “It doesn’t seem to be. The Solent is overlapped a long way and you can use the genniker up to 75° TWA in very light air.”

For Thompson, after the solitary Banque Populaire lap of the planet where their only competition was the virtual relative progress of Groupama 3, the previous Jules Verne Trophy record holder, the close contact boat-for-boat MOD70 is a welcome change. “It is really close. The boat speeds are very similar. You can play with the batten tension, the batten offset to the rig, the luff tension on the jibs. It is a great counterpoint to Banque Populaire where you were out there not racing against any one.”

In terms of the form going into tomorrow's Krys Ocean Race, at present it is very hard to determine. Steve Ravussin’s Race for Water in theory has been on the water longer, however Thompson reckons that Groupe Edmond de Rothschild has carried out the most training having spent the winter in Morocco, while Spindrift Racing and Foncia also have extremely strong crews, including many of Thompson’s ex-Banque Populaire colleagues.

A significant difference between the one design trimaran and the VOD65 is the way they are likely to be sailed. With multihull racing it has long since been proven that it doesn’t pay to hang on to your sail – as the wind builds you go slower the more sail you have up. “Obviously upwind it’s because of the drag, but downwind even because you are sinking the boat into the water and it is actually quicker with less sail and a little bit lighter and because it is easier to steer, you can steer around waves. So it is not that old Volvo 60 thing of you just put up the masthead kite and keep it up as long as possible. It is that balance of knowing when is the most efficient time to change down and the answer may not always be ‘as late as possible’. Those sort of thing we’ll learn in time.”

Crews still have some way to go in learning about sail combinations in certain conditions. In the breezy reaching conditions of the ArMen Race, Thompson says that some boats were under one reef and the ORC, while others had two reefs and staysail or one reef and staysail. However... “we all were all going the same speed – 33-34 knots. The boats just didn’t go faster than that...”

Vital to the MOD70’s performance are the curved foils in the floats that prevent the leeward float from burying, reduce hydrodynamic drag on the leeward float and also reduce the overall pitching moment of the boat. Thompson says that on the MOD70 the foils do what is expected of them. “If you go too fast you have to lift them a little bit because the whole boat comes out of the water and then drops back in. It does lift the front up more than the back which is what you want.”

On Banque Populaire it was possible to change the angle of incidence of these foils – 0° upwind or reaching and maxed out downwind to lift the bows out. On the MOD70 the angle can also be altered between 0-4° but once set before a race start it is not permitted to then be changed once at sea. “So for a race like this you have to decide before the start how much heavy air running you are going to do versus reaching or upwind,” says Thompson.

And the forecast for the Krys Ocean Race? “Luckily it seems quite fast out of New York. At the moment there is no wind out there and after we start there is no wind but later on Saturday there is really good breeze, so we should get to the Azores pretty quickly. We should be just south of the great circle.”

So watch this one with interest. Our money is on Gitana but would you bet against Michel Desjoyeaux in a transatlantic race?

Read our nuts and bolts technical look at the MOD70 here




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