Why sailing Dee Caffari's new Open 60 Aviva shows the beauty of racing these beasts

You hear a lot about the power of the current generation of IMOCA Open 60s, and even more about their frailties – the keels that fail, rudders that disintegrate. To read of all these challenges, you’d be forgiven for thinking that racing them is a masochistic game Russian roulette.

What is rarely mentioned is what an absolute dream these boats can be to sail. I’ve sailed on every generation of these boats and, beasts that they undoubtedly are, the experience seems to get better with every one. Wind these boats up to full power in the right sea conditions and wind angle and you are treated to a quite unforgettable sail. Feather light and smooth on the helm, balanced, forgiving of trim and blisteringly fast, they are magic, like a hard-riding but sure-footed sports car.

This short video shows me steering Dee Caffari’s new Owen Clarke-designed Aviva from Plymouth to the Eddystone and back last Saturday. We stormed out at 18-21 knots and back at 16-17 knots in 25 knots TWS from the SE. The boat is a dream to helm, smooth as silk and responds like a dinghy; the chief sensation of speed and power is the spray that whips up from the bow and fires across the cockpit. To steer one these boats is pure pleasure.

The test sail (Dee was making one last check of her generator, watermaker and comms before locking into Sutton Harbour for the week before the Transat start) also hammered home to me how much canvas these new boats carry. The mainsail seems enormous, especially after sailing on Sam Davies’s older Roxy the previous day – in fact it’s about 10% bigger.

Talking to designer Merfyn Owen, who’s also here at Artemis Transat in Plymouth, he reveals a few more interesting facts. Dee’s boat, a sistership to Mike Golding’s Ecover 3, is 20% more powerful than his previous Ecover despite being the same weight. And the same weight includes 400kg more on the keel bulb.

What those figures mean, and I could imagine when I was aboard, is that while these boats sing and everything feels just silky when everything’s going right, you’d have an almost superhuman solo job on your hands when a chain of events begins to go wrong.