Mark Lloyd / Oman Sail /

Sailing a MOD70 doublehanded

Oman Air's Sidney Gavignet and Damian Foxall on how they are not going to make it a hat trick of MOD70 capsizes

Tuesday October 29th 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

Within the ever fluctuating classes that comprise French offshore sailing, the MOD70 has taken over from the ORMA 60 as the school boy sailor’s pin-up boat of choice (okay, alongside the AC72).

However despite a change to one designs to curb escalating costs and the MOD70s being undisputed weapons, all is still not well in the offshore sailing world’s Grand Prix multihull class. Following the dramatic capsize of Jean Pierre Dick’s Virbac Paprec, just two of these VPLP-designed ocean greyhounds will compete in the Transat Jacques Vabre: Seb Josse and Charles Caudrelier on Edmond de Rothschild (aka Gitana) and Sidney Gavignet and Damian Foxall, on Oman Air.

Both the Oman Air crew have competed in the race twice before. Gavignet did an early race with Marc Guillemot on the latter’s ORMA 60 and with Sam Davies on the Artemis IMOCA 60 in 2009, while Foxall competed alongside Karine Fauconnier on the Sergio Tacchini ORMA 60 in 2003 and started the 2005 race with Armel le Cleac’h on the Foncia ORMA 60, only to capsize in the Channel. Both are also past-Volvo Ocean Race winners - Gavignet on Puma (2008-9), winning on ABN AMRO One in 2005-06, and sailing Assa Abloy (01-02) while Foxall won the last fully crew round the world race with Franck Cammas (and Gitana crew Charles Caudlier) on Groupama last time, having previously raced on Green Dragon (2008-9), Ericsson (2005-6) and Tyco (2001-2).

The Franco-Irish duo Gavignet (left) and Foxall (right) shared their thoughts:

So a 5,400 mile long match race? Damian Foxall: “I think a match race could actually be a bigger competition than we were hoping for. It is possible that having two boats will be more intense than having a fleet. We can imagine that the tactical side could have more weight to it than it would have otherwise had in a fleet race.”

Sidney Gavignet: “The boat speeds are very even. It is likely to come down to making mistakes, like if you choose a wrong sail then you’ll be slow.

“Also Gitana have Jean-Yves Bernot doing their routing. We have Jean-Francois Cuzon. So it is pretty unlikely that the boats will go in opposite directions. Then the key will be the gybes, which I guess will happen between 7pm and 4am when the radio stops!”

For the TJV, routing is allowed in the multihull classes, but not the monohulls. The scheds stop between 1900 and 0400.

The course to Itajaí is obviously new for the TJV, it having finished in Costa Rica on the last two occasions. Itajaí sees the race returning to Brazil, where it previously concluded in Salvador (last in 2007). Compared to the direct course to Salvador (in fact the multihulls in those TJVs also had to round Ascension Island out in the middle of the south Atlantic), the new route is some 1,100 miles longer...

Gavignet: “A long transatlantic should suit our boats and going south the conditions are nicer. Costa Rica last time was pretty gusty.”

Foxall: “Sailing into Salvador, you were still definitely in the trade winds. On that course when you were through the Equator it was a sprint to the finish and there wasn’t much golf left in the hole. Going to Itajaí, from Cabo Freo [due east of Rio] south you are getting into a whole new weather regime where you get influence from the depressions and cold fronts [in the Southern Ocean]. They start to sweep through the south Atlantic and they will affect you. So there is a lot of golf left, particularly in the last 36 hours to three days, so that does change it. If the boats are within 12 hours of each other [approaching there], it will still be all up in the air.”

Aside from the course, this year’s Transat Jacques Vabre has a slightly different flavour as with four classes of differing speeds it is being set up as a pursuit race. The Class40 and IMOCA 60s set sail from Le Havre on Sunday (weather permitting), and the Multi50s next Tuesday, but the MOD70s don't leave until the following Friday.

Gavignet isn’t sure if they will be able to play catch up but the IMOCA 60s: “Five days is a big gap. It depends on what weather we have or they have at the beginning. It is not certain at all. Vincent Riou [skipper of the IMOCA 60 PRB] is talking about 18 days. We are looking at 14 days.”

Foxall agrees: “Even five days with the same weather, it is not sure. And then in the five days, the weather can evolve significantly. We could quickly catch up, like MichDes did in the Vendee, or we could end up in a completely different weather pattern and come in a week later.”

MOD70s doublehanded...

The MOD70s were designed to be sailed with a full crew and this is the first time that they have been raced doublehanded. Fortunately earlier this year the crews got together to decide what modifications they would be allowed to make their boats to improve boat handling and safety for the race.

Gavignet: “We made a list of things between the three boats [including Virbac Paprec]. So we have added water ballast – 350lts in the stern of the main hull. We have one more pilot for safety and then there are a lot of cleats here and there.”

Adding water ballast should further prevent bow burying and improve fore and aft trim downwind.

Significantly following the capsizes of both Spindrift Racing and more recently Virbac Paprec, both boats have added systems that should help prevent a recurrence of this. Gitana has an electronic cleat release system that kicks in once the boat reaches a certain angle of heel or change of inertia. Oman Air instead now has her hydraulic set-up able to simultaneously dump the main sheet and the mast cant.

Foxall: “If you get to a very high angle of heel and you feel uncomfortable with it, whether you are down below or on deck, you can hit a button and the rig drops to leeward and the main sheet opens. It will have a mountable effect, because it will also drag the traveller to leeward, which is not necessarily what happens when you ease the mainsheet. It opens the leech of the headsail as well as dropping the rig from the vertical and allowing the platform to come back down. We are hoping that that is going to have a big effect.”

Gavignet: “With our system it opens the two valves and leaves them open, so you can do other things, for example you can ease the traveller, useful if there is only one person on deck.”

One shortcoming of MOD70's hydraulic system that the two capsizes have highlighted is that the piping for the ram controlling the mainsheet doesn’t have a high enough gauge (ie it won’t dump fast enough).

Gavignet: “You saw on both capsizes that when they eased it [the main sheet], it didn’t go out quickly. Even on Virbac the mainsheet was going out very slowly.”

One other contributing factor is that that if the main sheet is fully cranked on, the combined effects of the curved main sheet track and the mast being canted to weather means that the traveller won't drop down.

Foxall: “We had the same issue with the ORMA 60s. If you are hard on the wind with a lot of mainsheet tension, the traveller actually wants to come to weather, so you have to actually hold it down to leeward with the leeward winch.” Yikes.

However he adds that the gusty capsize conditions typically aren’t when you’d have maximum mainsheet tension. “When you are getting to those lifting conditions probably you are sailing with a bit more twist and then the traveller will go to leeward. And it is also a function as well of having the rig 20 or whatever degrees to weather.”

In fact Gavignet adds that when it is gusty they deliberately trim the main differently: “We know that the traveller won’t go down, so if you are in a situation when you may have to dump you put a certain twist in your main so that if you use the traveller it will go.”

They have looked closely at the Spindrift and Virbac Paprec capsizes. On the former the mainsheet was still bar tight (so the traveller couldn’t be dumped) whereas on Paprec the main was eased.

Foxall: “It is very easy to look back, but these boats do go up very easily. In theory we should either be sailing with the traveller in your hand, or have a false turn half out of the self tailer and back in, so you can just pull and ease.

“It is also accentuated by the fact that we can’t rake the rig as we could on the ORMAs, which made a huge difference to setting up the balance nicely.”

Already across the MOD70 ‘fleet’ they have extended the forestay, adding rake, but still to have a ‘balanced’ boat they are having to sail with a small headsail – J3 and full main or reefed main – otherwise the boat has lee helm.

Foxall: “It is a dangerous situation to be in in a multihull. You want to be able to push the helm quickly and have the boat luff up. If you look at Spindrift’s capsize, with the jib eased all the way and the main sheet hard on, the boat was still bearing away into the capsize. Whereas on the ORMAs you could adjust the rake by 4-6° potentially and that made a big difference.”

The solution would be initially to add yet more fixed rake to the MOD70 wingmasts but a better solution would be to set the boats up with a hydraulic ram on the forestay to allow for adjustable rake.

Apart from this quirk, both Gavignet and Foxall feel that the MOD70s are superb boats, born of some 20 years evolution in the ORMA 60s.

Foxall: “They are unbelievably seaworthy. We gave them a serious hammering this year. Sidney had us out training in the middle of January, blasting down to Portugal and up to Ireland. They are just so easy, brilliant. There’s just some minor balance details, but they have easy solutions.”

Gavignet: “They [ORMA 60s] used to pitchpole, now they [MOD70s] capsize, but they [ORMA 60s] used to be square [ie their beam was 60ft] and now they aren’t. The hose we have [for the mainsheet hydraulics] is smaller than they used to have on the ORMA 60s. So it is not much to do, but because it is one design and a class, you have to have it written down and then you can make the changes.”

So what lies in store for the MOD70 class?

There is another Krys Ocean Race scheduled for the class for 2014. There is also rumour that that the organisers are contemplating opening up that race to other multihull classes such as the 100+ footers and the Multi50s as it is unclear how many MOD70s will be on the start line.

For example Oman Sail hasn’t yet committed to doing this race yet. 

Gavignet: “Personally I am doing the TJV and then we’ll see. It is a big shame because the MOD70 concept is perfect.

The situation for the teams without sponsors seems to be one of chicken and egg - it is hard to find a sponsor for a boat with no clear circuit to complete on.

Gavignet: “The situation is complicated: Someone like MichDes has got the boat and he should be the one who can get a sponsor first, but it is hard to sell, because there is no program. And at the same time I believe organisers want us, they like the big multihull, something on top of the other boats. Even with two boats we create the buzz.”

Foxall: “Ultimately if there are skippers and sponsors who have boats, they will race, with or without the MOD class. It is without doubt the very best offshore class around at the moment. We are just looking for skippers and sponsors to come and get involved.

“There is a lot of activity going on with the 100ft trimarans and round the world records – all of that is great - but if you want to go racing, then the MOD 70 is the class to be in. It is a fantastic class. It is the pinnacle of what you can do in offshore racing in terms of size and speed.”

While there is an Omani boat certainly, the MOD70 still hasn’t managed to break down the notion that it is still a French class.

There is also the likelihood that the boats will compete in next year's Route du Rhum. However if they race in that race's ‘Ultime’ class then they will stand little chance against the new 100 footers such as the new MACIF and Thomas Coville’s Sodebo (or even the 40m long Spindrift 2, if she enters) that are gunning all-out for line honours. The only way forwards would be for the MOD70s to have their own class – if the organisers can be persuaded.

For Gavignet the Route du Rhum isn’t on the table yet and racing the MOD70 solo would be yet another step up the mountain: “Singlehanded you’d have to back off so much. Also it is bloody dangerous. But the Route du Rhum is such a big event, there is a point in doing it.”

Racing the TJV

Back to the TJV and both skippers are familiar with racing fast boats doublehanded across the Atlantic (Foxall was also winner of the first Barcelona World Race with Jean Pierre Dick) but have been working out the logistics of doing this for the first time on the MOD70.

“I am doing the day and he is doing the night!” quips Gavignet.

Foxall: “We have fallen into a natural way of doing it - we have established a three hour watch pattern that we like to work around with a certain flexibility, as needed.”

On board during the race, essentially they will both do everything, but Gavignet focuses more on the navigation and Foxall on the media. Of course they will have additional support from Jean Francois Cuzon, their router, and they have a pilot that will handle the driving much of the time.

As mentioned, it is not overly easy to set up the MOD70 with the relatively neutral helm that autopilots (both MOD70s have the same B&G pilots, even down to the software they can use) prefer, but in addition there are points of sail and conditions when it is faster for a human being to be on the helm.

Gavignet: “You go better if you steer upwind. The pilot is good reaching or when it is very fast straight line. When the human is scared and starts bearing away, the pilot keeps going. It is a mix of trimming the pilot, but also having a sail plan that is fast and safe.”

Foxall: “And at night, when you are getting tired. In fact downwind it goes quite nicely under pilot. We have started to figure out the keys for upwind as well.”

So is it faster to helm or trim? Foxall: “It depends on the point of sail. Sailing an apparent wind boat, generally speaking you trim to a specific heading and then steer to it. But reaching with the pilot on – at 90deg [on the beam] it is a long way to steer out going up or down, so it feels like it is safer to be in the cockpit where you have all the controls at hand. You can ease the main, ease the traveller or the jib sheet or even the rig and the pilot is fine. And you can still go up or down 10/20° [on the pilot controls] if you need.”

And when do you back off? Foxall: “All the time! We have started to realise that it is very easy to very quickly get into the red. You can do that for short periods, but not in the long term.

“The boat can take more than we can generally. But when you are shorthanded you can very easily get into a situation where your options become limited very quickly. Suddenly it is blowing 35 knots and we have to furl the genniker which is not very smart. Doing that in 28-30 or even 32 knots is okay with the ballast in whereas, but not in 35 with two people on board.”

Gavignet: “Damian and I have a very similar profile - we are both pushers, but at the same time these boats aren’t made to have a heavy foot on the gas. When you reduce sail you actually go faster than you did before. So you go faster when you don’t push!”

Surprisingly the hardest manoeuvre on board is tacking in heavy weather.

Foxall: “You are never sure that the boat is going to go through the wind even if you back the jib.”

Gavignet: “A multihull is already hard to tack, but when you dump the mast [cant], you ease the sails. But it is not so hard overall. There are only five sails and there are furlers. The most dangerous is doing a bad furl on the genniker. If you have to drop it in an emergency, that could be bad.”

Foxall: “That is the one that makes you nervous in any wind. We have a system that is specific to our boat in terms of how we do it, but touch wood we haven’t had any problems since we started doing that and we have been doing better furls than we were earlier in the season fully crewed.”

Both Gavignet and Foxall say they are very confident in each other’s ability and how the other will sail the boat when they are sleeping. Foxall however admits that it took him quite a while to get over his last trimaran experience which was the capsize with Armel le Cleach in the race eight years ago: “This year has been the first time I have been back on a multihull seriously since then. But it was a bit like getting back on the horse. This is good. It is a big challenge, a brilliant race. Seb and Charles are going to sail very well and we are going to make it hard for them to win and they will do the same against us.”

Gavignet reckons that the two MOD70s are now competitive, despite Gitana's crew having a year’s worth more experience sailing the MOD70 than they have.

So how the two boats get on against one another and how quickly they can catch up and pick off the smaller classes will be something to watch over mid-November.







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