On Saturday more than 120 boats will set off from Valletta in Malta for the 2022 edition of the Middle Sea Race, a 606-mile classic that circumnavigates Sicily. Within this fleet will be no fewer than five former MOD70s, surely signalling a renewed interest in these 70-foot trimarans launched back in 2011. Tip & Shaft looks closer.
The original ambition of the MOD70 one-design series of multihulls was to “build a unique boat which would be the reference for the next ten years (2010-2020)”. And while the beginnings were promising, the series subsequently collapsed due to the lack of sponsors and then participants. But now, more than ten years after the launch of the first boat, Race for Water, five of the seven original boats which were designed by VPLP will be at the start of this Middle Sea Race.
Two competed here a year ago: Maserati (Giovanni Soldini) – ex Gitana XV – and Mana – the ex Spindrift – which has been owned since 2020 by the Italian Riccardo Pavoncelli. But Mana is set to change hands, as Alexia Barrier will take over the boat. She says, “I am going to announce a first sponsor during the start of the Route du Rhum and then formalize the acquisition of the boat which will serve as a training platform for two years before moving to an Ultim in 2025 as part of my Jules Verne Trophy project (see our article).”
Three other MOD70s will compete in this Mediterranean classic in their new colours, as they have all changed hands over the past year. The former Foncia, which later became Phaedo 3 and then Beau Geste, has been bought by the Dutchman Frank Slootman, boss of Snowflake, a major player in computer data management.
Three boats now under the French flag
The other two are owned under the French flag like Barrier’s boat will be: Erik Maris, already a player on the GC32 circuit has bought the old PowerPlay (the last MOD built originally under the name of Paprec Recyclage), renamed Zoulou; Eric Defert, with the financial support of Thibaut George, founder and managing director of Drekan Groupe, which has supported him since 2010, took over the former Race for Water which now carries the name of Axciss (whose Drekan is one of the subsidiaries).
“After racing in Multi50 (now Ocean Fifty), we didn’t find ourselves fitting into the format of the Pro Sailing Tour, which is very marketing driven. The MOD seemed to us to be a good compromise, with a boat that is financially accessible, that really lasts and does not lose value. It is a project which does not require a big team and a program that allows us to remain autonomous and free in our choices”, explains George. The boat, which belonged to Marco Simeoni, the man who originally launched the Multi One Design circuit, was bought back for 900,000 euros. Now Eric Defert is aiming for an operating budget of “between 800,000 and 1.2 million euros depending on the racing programme”. more than 500,000 having already been found to date.
From his perspective in the MOD70, Erik Maris saw “the opportunity to do something different, complementing the GC32, racing on a fast multihull, and especially with boats very closely matched to each other.” The owner-skipper sails with his GC32 crew – Thierry Fouchier, Thomas Le Breton, Bruno Mourniac and Tim Lapauw – who are joined for the Middle Sea Race by Sidney Gavignet, Ned Collier-Wakefield (former skipper of the boat under the name of Concise) and Loïck Peyron! Erik Maris adds “Given the existing fleet, I knew there was potential to find three or four at each event, but this more than I expected. From my hotel window, I see five MOD70s and that is quite amazing.”
Not all boats are the same
The Italian Giovanni Soldini has been skippering Maserati since 2016 (to an annual budget of around 1.5 million euros according to him). The Italian adds: “It’s great to see new teams joining us, I hope that we will see all the MODs in the Caribbean next winter ideally with Argo and Orion. It is very rare on this kind of owner circuit to have boats that are all the same, or almost.” It is unlikely we will see Orion (formerly Veolia Environnement) there as she has hardly ever left California since her acquisition in 2014 by American billionaire Tom Siebel, but Argo, with another American on the helm, Jason Carroll, will certainly be there.
That would make six boats out of the seven built, but, contrary to the initial concept, they are no longer one-design, some having evolved over time. That is the case with Maserati, whose foils have been modified to give it more power and has T foils on the rudders. Snowflake has gone even further with a rig extended by two meters and the addition of a extra bowsprit. Next year, it will be the turn of Zoulou and Argo to be optimized, as confirmed by Vincent Lauriot Prévost, co-founder of VPLP: “We proposed to the owners to pool certain optimizations in order to remain in a reasonably similar, balanced class and reduce costs a little. Erik Maris and Jason Carroll accepted, I think the other teams will watch how it goes before deciding. We are going to try to give a little more power to the appendages and more stability in flight, with slightly boosted foils and T-shaped rudders.”
Isn’t there a risk now of greater disparities between the boats which do not all run under the same rating within the Mocra rule? “On the contrary, I find it very interesting that everyone continues to develop things on their own,” replies Soldini. “We do have a rating system but what matters is who crosses the line first. If we look at the results of last year all the races were very close with each time there was a different winner. For example, we won the Rorc Transatlantic Race just 20 minutes ahead of PowerPlay, which was a “pure MOD”. And today, if I had to choose a boat for the Middle Sea Race, given the light airs, I wouldn’t take ours because we’re going to pay dearly for our larger wetted surfaces.”
A tie up with the IMA
The desire of all the owners is to meet as often as possible on the same races: in 2023, most will participate in the RORC Transatlantic Race, the Caribbean 600, the Fastnet and the Middle Sea Race. Some will go on the Transpac, Eric Defert and Alexia Barrier are also interested in Lorient-Bermuda-Lorient, open to Ultims and also to MOD7Os. The owners have also approached the International Maxi Association, which could open the doors to other races.
This is confirmed by IMA Secretary General, Andrew McIrvine: “The MOD70s all now come under private ownership and that fits our model, owner-driver with professional crews. In the IMA it is not about the boat but about the owner. And we aim to offer them some cohesion and a class association but they need to decide whether they want to pay a subscription. We are making them an offer. Easy events for them to go to would be the Mediterranean offshore events and the inshores in St Tropez and Porto Cervo and perhaps something in Palma.”
Soldini adds: “It is certainly very interesting to get into this to try to unlock the few races that do not want us, such as Sydney-Hobart. We will see what they offer us”. When asked if he would have imagined such a future for this class of boat, Vincent Lauriot Prévost concludes: “Well the boats were not really designed to develop like this as it was supposed to be a strict one-design class with the intention of doing a professional circuit, but now we feel a common desire among the owners to get together and sail together. In a way it is a rebirth for the class.”