Solo skippers' debate about how to limit the power of Open 60s is set to change face of this class


As the IMOCA Open 60s head west to Boston in the Artemis Transat Race, patiently awaiting enough wind to really open the throttle, they leave behind unresolved a great debate about how to choke off the power of these designs. The class is facing some of the most radical proposals since its inception.

The solo skippers who form the IMOCA class association have become so concerned about the increase in power and loads, and the spiralling build costs, that they are talking about making some major restrictions to what has been quite an open rule.

To take just one of the more conservative examples, Mike Golding’s Ecover 3, I was told last week by designer Merfyn Owen that she is 20% cent more powerful than the previous Ecover, despite being the same weight and having an extra 400kg in the keel bulb.

The solutions being proposed are to cap mast height at a certain size, to reduce ballast or to limit keel bulb weight, so that the current generation of boats are fixed as ‘highest potential’ boats. But which option(s) the class chooses will have a huge bearing on the future development of the class, and skippers and designers are wary about about creating limitations that might activate the law of unintended consequences.

Everything about the new Open 60s boats has become hard work. Each tack or gybe can involve 16-20 different tasks, not including transferring to windward and stacking up to 800kg of sails, spares and gear. The gearing up has made these solo boats quite intimidating. When I spoke to Mike Golding a few weeks ago he told me that he felt the boats are “already moving outside the range”.

The debate has been precipitated by the emergence of two ultra-powerful new designs, Pindar and the new Artemis. Neither of these boats, tellingly perhaps, made it to the start of the Artemis Transat.

Skippers I talked to last week expressed concern that the two most extreme boats to date had been designed to be sailed by least experienced solo skippers (the Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed Pindar was created originally in collaboration with Mike Sanderson, who had no intention of sailing her round the world, and the Simon Rogers-designed Artemis will be sailed by Jonny Malbon, who has yet to do a solo race).

Thus they are viewed as ‘designer’s boats’, conceived without a moderating basis of solo experience.

Former Vendée skipper Seb Josse holds this view. He is racing a new Farr design, BT (pictured above by Thierry Martinez ). The boat sailed in the Barcelona World Race as Estrella Dam and Josse has since replaced the mast with one which is shorter and stronger for the same weight.

Josse told me: “The bad side of such an open class is that people go too far, especially people who are not experienced. Maybe we are already going too far.”

The class could, of course, do nothing and that, too, is up for debate. Michel Desjoyeaux sees the power equation as self-levelling. “My opinion is the open rule should be kept open,” he told me. “It these boats [Pindar and Artemis] don’t start or finish a race that’s their problem.”

Underlying these design debates is another fear: that budgets will grow beyond the reach of regional French sponsors and that an arms race of power and speed will shorten the competitive life and dent the residual value of the current breed.

So a lot is at stake including, in some cases, personal fortunes. Right now, there are short odds on a few new clauses being added to the rules.