The ORMA 60 class has set the scene for a revolution with plans for a 70ft one-design


A revolution is afoot in the 60ft French trimaran class. The organising body of the class has appointed a new president and executive director and yesterday they announced that they are looking at completely reorganising the class and introducing a 70ft one-design.

After consulting with sponsors and skippers, they will announce their decision in December – for which, presumably, read that the new class and a new race circuit will be confirmed at the Paris Boat Show.

The ORMA 60s have been in severe decline in the last five years, a state of affairs brought on by escalating costs and technical innovations that led to more complex, faster boats round short inshore courses that, ironically, audiences cared less about, yet produced boats far less durable for the important transocean races. That was proved conclusively by the disastrous 2002 Route du Rhum when the trimaran fleet was decimated in Biscay.

This decline has been speeded up by the defection of top skippers and celebrities such as Jean Le Cam, Loick Peyron and Michel Desjoyeaux (and their sponsors) to the Open 60 monohull class, which has prospered while the ORMA 60s withered. The ORMA class association looked on with much hand-wringing as the Open 60s deposed it as the premier league of solo ocean racing, and wrangled over what on earth to do.

This is their bold new move: a one-design class with controlled costs, a circuit that would involve one or two transoceanic races a year and a proposed annual five-week round-Europe circuit, all contained in a copper-bottomed media package.

Although at this stage the proposals are touted as consultations, the plan reads as if it is already a long way down the road. What’s interesting but perhaps predictable for a class that has tried – and largely failed – to become international is that it will have a very French focus. Whereas the ORMA 60s were split between designs by French office Van Peteghem/Lauriot Prévost (VPLP) and British designer Nigel Irens, the ORMA association says the 70ft one-design would be a VPLP design – and they haven’t even talked to Irens. When I spoke to Nigel Irens today, it was the first he had heard of any of these plans.

From a broader perspective, what we’re beginning to see is a rejuvenation of interest in one-design ocean racing. Another group of French race organisers are currently building a one-design prototype for the new SoloOceans round the world race in 2009, sponsored by Véolia. It is a business model that puts control of the yachts, the race course, the title sponsorship, the skippers and the media and marketing firmly in the hands of one group.

The burgeoning Open 60 class, on the other hand, continues along a different road, with a strong class association but a design box rule that allows designers from all over the world (and an increasingly international assortment of skippers and bluechip multinational sponsors) to interpret and express it in various ways. That’s been the key to its success. It will be interesting to see if the ORMA class can get back to the super league by taking a more restricted route.

Read more on the new proposals here.