Can a plan for giant trimarans to race round the world really work?


A fatal potion of spiralling budgets and death-defying catastrophe did for the ORMA 60 trimarans but the dream of speed and drama that gave rise to them won’t die. Another idea for reviving the concept has just bubbled to the surface.

Last weekend in Lausanne, Franck David announced what he hopes will be a successor to the defunct ORMA class. The former executive director of the class outlined the Multi One Design, a 70ft one-design trimaran that would come with a ready-made calendar of events.

These are a crewed round the world race in 2013 – but through the Panama Canal, not round Cape Horn – a European tour and eligibility to the big solo and double-handed transatlantic races.

The 70ft design by VPLP has ‘strong oceanic options’ – ie not like the breed weakened ORMA 60s – with a similar beam but longer hull length and higher beams. They will incorporate now tried and tested features such as canting masts and curved foils.

Franck David tells me he has private funding for the first five boats to be built, and they will all be constructed at the same builder, to be announced soon.

The cost of taking part in the Multi One Design circuit is substantial: ?2.5m for the boat, an annual licence of ?475,000 to cover class membership, race entry and insurance, and estimated team and running costs of ?1.5m a year.

That makes it comparable to the top end of the IMOCA 60s, where most of the former multihull sailors have migrated.

But who, you might wonder, needs yet another round the world race? And what are the odds of making it work, at this difficult time, and within the subordinating framework of a one-design circuit?

If you look back at recent history, the signs aren’t favourable.

The idea has been tried again and again. In 2003 Bruno Peyron hatched a plan for 80ft catamarans to race round the world. There were to have been eight of the Gilles Ollier/VPLP one-designs on the start line. Various groups were always ‘close to signing’, but not one ever emerged and the idea faded away.

Then there was Russell Coutts’s World Sailing League, a ‘global Grand Prix’ in 70ft catamarans reminiscent of the Peyron model. There were to have been 14 of these ready to start this year but it likewise faded to obscurity.

And remember the SolOceans race, another brave idea to get a round the world race circuit off the ground? The blueprint was for control of the 50ft monohull design, its cost, resale value, the events and all the rights thereof. It has been put on ice indefinitely.

And before that, the 2005 Antarctica Cup round the world race flopped. Another attempt at a closed shop one-design fleet, the inaugural race had a laughable ?4.6 million entry cost (but you would get to keep the boat). It. too, died a death.

The one design round the world idea has an exceptionally poor track record. As a rule, professional ocean racing has grown best in an organic way, coalescing naturally around the individual ambitions and talents of sailors, designers and sailing teams.

The only centrally controlled one-design round the world races to have succeeded long term were the Clipper and Challenge Races, which had no requirement for top professionals or extremes of innovation and were geared exclusively to customers; in their cases a mixture of sponsors and paying crew. Even so, only one of those businesses is still a going concern.

I’m not saying I think the Multi One Design can’t work, but I do wonder if it is yet another case of putting the cart before the horse. Where is the demand for another round the world race or another type of boat? Both are areas where supply already seems to exceed demand.