Forget about the speed, what about the noise?
It was the pre-start of a 150-mile race from Newport, Rhode Island, to New York City, and I was one of four sailors manning the dual coffee grinders aboard the Multi One Design (MOD) 70 Race for Water. In all there were five of the new one-design speedsters reaching back and forth, dodging cruisers, schooners and other pleasure boats when the puff hit. It wasn’t much of a puff really, maybe into the mid-teens. But that’s all it takes aboard an MOD70.
Instantly, the entire world canted over to one side as Race for Water’s center hull lifted out of the water. To windward of us—dangerously close if you ask me—Foncia, with two-time Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux at the helm, was doing the same, but I didn’t have much time to enjoy the show. The loads on a high-powered racing tri are enormous and there was work to do.
And the noise! The wind in the rigging sang out in a high-pitched whine that sounded like a cross between a jetliner and the tires of an eighteen-wheeler screaming down the interstate. The water roared past the leeward ama like a waterfall at full flood, and the flags snapping madly on our backstays were deafening. Glancing up during a momentary break from grinding, I saw the display on the starboard side crossbeam read out 17, 19, 20 and finally 23.5 knots—a personal record for yours truly! Throughout it all, Race for Water’s French-speaking six-man crew was yelling at the top of their lungs as they coordinated their sail trimming efforts, not out of any Gallic sense of drama—half of them were Swiss, anyway—but simply to be heard over the din.
“Bordee! Bordee!” yelled our skipper, Swiss multihull veteran Stève Ravussin, exhorting us to trim in the main and our smaller headsail, a solent jib, then, “Prête à Virer! Ready to tack!”
Moments later the puff passed, the gun sounded, and Ravussin put the helm down as Race for Water started beating out toward the open Atlantic. As we did so our speed dropped to “only” around 11 knots—tris like the MOD70s really hit their stride on a reach. The boat, though, still very much had my attention, something I didn’t foresee changing until we were safe and sound in New York City.
A NEW KIND OF SERIES
Race for Water and the other four MOD70s racing toward the Big Apple represented the beginning of a new professional racing series that is the brainchild of Ravussin and fellow Swiss sailor Marco Simeoni. Following this Newport-New York prologue race, the five boats took part in the inaugural 2,950-mile Krys Ocean Race from New York to Brest, in the heart of France’s boat-crazy Brittany region. This race, in turn, served as the jumping-off point for the 2012 Multi One Design Championship tour, which includes both inshore and offshore events and is scheduled to finish up in October. The European series will then be followed by a 2013-14 Ocean World Tour, with stops in the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, South America and—fingers crossed!—North America again.
Ravussin and Simeoni hired veteran French multihull designer VPLP to create the MOD70 as a strict one-design, right down to the sails, to cut down on the costs of launching a campaign. In doing so, they also created a wind-borne rocket: no surprise given Simeoni’s experience racing D35 catamarans on Lake Geneva and Ravussin’s long association with Europe’s now defunct ORMA 60 class.
In fact, Ravussin says, the ORMA 60 served as a starting point for the MOD70, although the latter has been de-tuned, with slightly less sail area and more waterline length to make the boat easier to handle in extreme conditions—a problem for many ORMA 60s, which had a tendency to turn turtle or break up in rough weather. Not that the MOD70s are dogs—just the opposite, as is evident in the fact that Spindrift, the winner of the Krys Ocean Race, covered the course in less than five days. With their all-carbon construction, curved daggerboards to help keep amas from nose diving in heavy air, and canting/rotating masts, these boats are all about speed.
The emphasis on performance is equally evident belowdecks, which like the rig and deck layout is all business. It really is incredible how little living space there is given the boat’s 70-foot LOA. The nav station is comfortably appointed with a molded carbon-fiber bucket seat, and that’s about it. The “galley” is wedged under the companionway ladder, with scarcely enough room for a tiny sink, a single-burner stove and the six insulated buckets that serve as dishware. There’s a cramped, unlit tubular space with two narrow pipe berths just forward of the nav station, and another murky windowless cave forward of that, which houses the daggerboard trunk and provides gear stowage. Headlamps are essential for getting around belowdecks, even on an otherwise sunny day.
Not that anybody spends much time down there, at least not in light air. As on any multihull, weight distribution is crucial, which means staying out on deck as “ama meat” in the interest of boatspeed. As soon as we crossed the starting line, Ravussin’s brother Yvan, sailing as a trimmer and helmsman, sent me straight up into the bow along with Simeoni, who was also onboard for the prologue, and our bowman, Swiss sailor Loic Forestier. The idea is to get the weight as far forward as possible in the interest of ensuring a clean run off the transom and reducing wetted surface area. Later, as we left Narragansett Bay, we switched back and forth between the bow and the two amas, depending on the breeze—eating and even sleeping out on the tramps for the rest of the race.
That night, while snuggled up between the Solent furler and bow pulpit, I was once again struck by the noise. Even in a breeze of 10 knots or less, an MOD70 is making at least that much boatspeed, so there’s a pretty hefty apparent wind whizzing past your ears. There’s also the never-ending sound of the water hissing alongside the hulls, and the aforementioned whining, which starts up in as little as 8 knots of true wind. In fact, as I mentioned to French trimmer Benoit Lequin over a rice dinner we shared out of single plastic bucket, I soon came to regard the pitch of this whining as an excellent indicator whether the helmsman was still sailing in the groove.
Alas, the next morning I had the opportunity to experience an entirely different class of noise, when the wind fell away to nothing off Long Island’s southern shore. Race for Water’s 95-foot rig and ability to create her own apparent wind can keep the boat moving at 4-5 knots, even when the water’s surface is absolutely glassy and there’s a mere 3 knots of breeze aloft. But even the raciest boat in the world can’t sail in no wind at all, and there are few things more dispiriting than baking in a dead calm while listening to a big tri’s amas slapping up and down in a greasy swell.
By mid-morning, after hours of struggling with various sail combinations and tacking repeatedly as we chased puffs of wind, the breeze filled in out of the south-southwest, and we were off and running—the rig whining contentedly as we logged 10 knots over the ground in 7-8 knots of wind. But it was too little to late. Foncia and Edmond De Rothschild Group’s Gitana, which had both been visible on the horizon at sunrise, were now long gone. We’d lost contact with the rest of the fleet during the night and could only assume they were now ahead of us as well. Clearly, the offshore route had been faster. Stève and tactician Francois Morvan had stayed close to land in the hopes of picking up the very sea breeze we were now enjoying, but it was looking like their gambit had failed.
“Not such a good race, but a good day for sailing,” Stève said ruefully, while taking a break from the helm and nav station to unwind with the ama meat up in the bow.
As fate would have it, though, a funny thing happened on the way to our expected defeat. Sailing west-southwest along Rockaway Beach toward Rockaway Point at the mouth of New York Harbor, we noticed Foncia and then Musandam-Oman Sail off on the horizon, both pretty much parked. Team Oman, in particular, seemed to be having problems over by Sandy Hook, as Race for Water thundered along at a steady 12 knots on a port-tack close reach in 10.5 knots of wind.
In a flash, the crew was all smiles again. We were still in the hunt. If we played our cards right, we might at least avoid being dead last. And it really was a beautiful day for a sail.
In no time, we were bearing away around the breakers off Rockaway Point with Coney Island off to leeward. Then, a couple of gybes later, we were crossing the finish line, where we were greeted by a small flotilla of Krys race fans. It seemed strange that they should be so excited by our mid-fleet finish, until we learned we hadn’t finished mid-fleet after all—we’d won.
The heat, the ugly calm, the hours of trying to get some rest with that damn furler jabbing me in the back—all that immediately faded into what now felt like the distant past. “Ca, c’est bon!” Stève exclaimed as the crew cheered and exchanged bear hugs. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Photo (top) by Ryan O'Grady Photography