The one-design MOD70s were dreamt up to revive offshore multihull racing. How are they faring?

After another incredibly tight race, the five Multi One Design 70 (MOD70) trimarans today crossed the final finish line of their European Tour within minutes of each other. Following 670 miles of racing from Marseille to Genoa the fleet was all within sight.

This has been a hallmark of the new class’s racing round Europe, and was the promise on which the one-design concept was predicated. The MOD70s have replaced the defunct ORMA 60 trimarans, which once defined the progression of French offshore racing – until the 60-footers spiraled in cost and plummeted in robustness to become extinct.

The MOD70 trimarans have attracted the top offshore multihull sailors, mainly French but including Briton Brian Thompson. (A tweet from him today drew attention to the fact that each of the six-strong crews contains between one and three sailors who set the Jules Verne record on Banque Populaire, so perhaps there’s an embedded clique?)

The why of it is obvious. When I sailed on board last month on the Dublin stopover it was plain to see that the class ticks almost every box of modern racing popularity.

Those behind the concept of the boat and race circuit, who include top sailors such as Michel Desjoyeaux and Franck Cammas, have taken the most interesting elements of all the top yacht races: high-speed up-close drama of short courses inshore – so-called stadium racing – as well as offshore legs between European ports with finishes as close as Figaro racing.

There was a transatlantic ocean race this summer and next year the package will be topped off with a round the world epic.

These boats are fast, photogenic, sporting to sail and state of the art and at €3.5 million apiece [and €2 million per year to run], massively cheaper than the America’s Cup 72s – or the €12-15 million new Volvo Ocean Race one-design campaign costs.

Outwardly, the circuit has all the factors that could make a lasting programme a huge success. But the MOD70s have had a slow, even faltering start. It has no overall sponsor. By the year end, two of the original six sponsors will have dropped out; Roland Jourdain’s backers, Véolia, retreated earlier this year and Desjoyeaux’s loyal sponsor Foncia is about to withdraw from sailing for the forseeable future.

Perhaps the element lacking in the formula is an established history. The Multi One Designs need to prosper long enough to build up their own patina of myths and legend.

Franck David, a former executive of the ORMA 60 trimarans and Olympic windsurfing Gold Medallist, is executive director of the Multi One Designs. He believes the concept can work long-term. “I’m a child of the one-design,” he says. “The best thing for sailors and sponsors is to sail and with these there is no development to do. The ORMAs were sailing 25-28 days a year. We are sailing 50 days per year and we’ve got the top offshore sailors here.”

David argues that, for any professional team, it’s only a six-month job to get up to speed in this one-design fleet. Seb Josse seems to prove this. He has come from a background mainly in monohulls (he has done the Volvo and Vendée Globe races) and after a winter’s training is already at the front of the fleet in Groupe Edmond de Rothschild’s Gitana 15.

“With a prototype you need background knowledge. With this you don’t have technical problem; when you buy the boat it’s ready to go and if you have a good crew you can get there quickly,” he observes. “You beat the others by sailing faster.”

That said, he points out that “[the MODs] have so much energy you have to learn how to control it. They can accelerate from 10 knots to 30 knots in minutes. It’s like an unbroken horse.”

He adds: “As there is no difference in speed you have to be aware all the time where small gains can be made and you have to be a real all-round sailor. On a monohull you might lose 0.1 knot if you change a trimmer. On these [the speed difference] can be 2-3 knots.”

While the lack of commercial sponsors to lead the circuit into profit is obviously a worry, the MOD70s are, for the time being, on a cushion of private wealth. The racing has been seed funded by a Swiss backer (including the entry Race for Water) in the hopes of developing it into a profitable business.

Two others have private sponsors (see below). British sailor Brian Thompson, on Oman Sail, thinks that’s no bad thing.”The cost is not far off a TP52, but it’s harder core racing.

“It’s a bit like the old days of maxi offshore racing – all you need is people with time and inclination. It would be a great boat for a young keen adventurous private owner.

The costs are quite controlled. You can’t spend lots of money. The boats don’t break and you can only have one set of sails per year and they tend to sail around on their bottoms and not be shipped.”

He also argues that it’s easier for smaller crews or possibly female sailors to join. “The boats are less physical than Volvo boats because there’s less stacking. It’s more about brain power. They key is to be a good helmsman.”

He also says it’s accessible to relative newcomers, citing the inclusion in the Oman Sail team of two recently trained Omani sailors.

He adds: “This complements the Volvo Race. They’re two years apart, different types, going the opposite way round. They’ve done a great job to get the concept so right and have taken a huge gamble. I hope it works; it’s an amazing thing.”