The Open 60s are deserting this great race, and the Class 40 is set to take over


For the first time ever, the Open 60 fleet is taking centre stage in the Transat Jacques Vabre race, eclipsing the moribund ORMA 60 trimarans. The irony is that this it will be a short-lived glory. In two years’ time, the Open 60 class is deserting this great race, and its future as a classic – if it has one – will take an unexpected twist.

Huge changes are afoot in short-handed ocean racing. The Open 60s have become the premier league by virtue of a massive growth spurt. This has encouraged the IMOCA class association to flex its muscles.

From now on, instead of entering events because they already take place, IMOCA will choose the type of races skippers and sponsors want to take part in. Either an existing event meets these criteria or the class will invite organisers to create one that does.

So, out went the Velux 5 Oceans, whose race organisers skippers felt had not been listening. So, too, has the Transat Jacques Vabre, for many of the same reasons. In 2009, the class is backing a yet-to-be-arranged race round Europe.

It’s possible there could be a split but if there is, the Open 60s in the TJV will be a depleted bunch, much as the ORMA 60s trimarans are now. So the future of the race is down to the burgeoning Class 40. This is the largest class already, with 30 entries, and that’s the tip of the iceberg. An incredible 70 more are planned or in build.

Out of the blue, this conjunction of the stars has given the Class 40 management the upper hand. It’s a highly amusing reversal considering that until a few months ago they were having to battle with Pen Duick, the organisers of the TJV, to avoid being shunted away into a corner of the Le Havre docks where they would languish in the shadows of All The Important Boats.

In two year’s time, the Class 40s will be the main attraction. Who could blame them if they looked at the precedent set by the Open 60s and vowed to get things done their way?

All these developments must be unsettling for ocean race organisers. The tail had got used to wagging the dog, but those days are numbered.