20 years of Open 60’ multihulls
After Lionel Lemonchois’ extravagant singlehanded ride during the 2006 Rhum and the spectacular 2007 Route du Café by Franck Cammas and Steve Ravussin, it is hard to believe in the programmed disappearance of the Open 60s in 2009! Their fate seems to be sealed however, despite a very full 2008 season!
What is an ORMA 60’?
• Overall length limited to 21m
• Waterline length: 18.28m
• Max. mast height: 31m
• Max. mast chord: 85cm
Greed for speed!
Genetically marked by their incredible search for ultimate speed, these violent and gracious machines will leave the media stage as they entered: flat out!
Over 20 years, these overpowered acrobats have dared to try everything and have shattered all the known (or supposed) limits under sail. These shooting stars are preparing for their final seasons’ racing; there is still time to watch the show!
But where do these iconoclasts come from?
The family tree leading to this apogee is complex; the recipe for the 60’ trimarans’ perfection comes from a fertile cauldron fed by hundreds of often anonymous riggers, racers, developers, architects and technicians. The recurrent theme in their story is therefore a subjective recollection; I hope I will not overexpose certain of them and will try not to be unfair to others.
Towards the middle of the 80s, we witnessed a proliferation of audacious architectural initiatives, Derek Kelsall’s trimarans appeared to be too sensible, Dick Newick’s creations seemed almost classical, and a handful of young architects wanted to try out everything. GORDANO GOOSE, built in 1981 by Nigel Irens, made the transition: it resembled a Newick, but the slim central hull, the continuous structure of the crossbeams and the volume of the floats announced the next generation. Boosted into Formula 40, it was to be moreover one of the first trimarans to (nearly) sail on one float. Before it, there was THREE LEGS OF MANN, then VSD, MOXIE, ROYALE; after it, APRICOT and PARAGON!
From 82 to 86, Etevenon’s Rhum left the field open for research, Horaces and Curiaces (catamarans and trimarans) were slugging it out at the top. WILLIAM SAURIN (25.9m Kelsall/Eugène Riguidel trimaran) and ROYALE (25.9m Le Graal/Loïc Caradec catamaran) were seen as excessive! Above all, they had reached the technological limits of an era. Ocean racing was looking for its format, and the victory of a 50-footer (UMUPRO JARDIN/Yvon Fauconnier) in the 84 English Transat gave attentive observers something to think about!
Meanwhile, the excesses of the 40’ Class, which had abandoned ocean racing for inshore events, opened other perspectives to the architects and offered them a wonderful field for experimentation. The creativity of Gino Morelli, Marc van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot Prévost transformed the trimaran platform and stifled the development of catamarans, the death knell was sounded: BISCUIT CANTREAU, the visionary, foretold GROUPE PIERRE 1er and RMO. Another overpowered platform-concept: Dick Newick’s OCEAN SURFER! In 1987, the magician played a master card, which passed relatively unnoticed, but brought together numerous elements anticipating the future, including its rotating, tilting wing mast and an overall design concentrating exclusively on power and speed: the accommodation had disappeared.
Those who showed the way
The demonstration given by APRICOT (Irens) in the 1985 Course de l'Europe removed the last reservations and released classic trimaran design from its chains. SEBAGO (Adrian Thompson) appears to originate from the Georges Lucas saga, it prefigured the future, but did not set the racing world alight, unlike HITACHI (Mvp-Vlp), FLEURY MICHON VIII or FUJICOLOR (N.Irens). Between 1986 and 1990, everything changed, development accelerated, the 1990 Rhum start line saw the first modern 60-footers: GROUPE PIERRE 1er, RMO, FLEURY MICHON IX and FUJICHROME. Their creators (Irens and VP/LP), joined later by M.Lombard, have remained at their peak for 18 years!
What can they not do?
A good question! Their energy is infectious, their beauty convincing, their performance unimaginable, even for the initiated and they strike fear into the hearts of the hardest bar room sailors! Their power to deceive is therefore enviable. Thanks to them, the supermarket trolley surfs at 30 knots, the motorway service station sandwich becomes a feast for the heroes of daily life. Insurances, tinned food and biscuits blossom under their media spindrift.
Why do they sail so fast?
These extreme machines have reached an admirable level of reliability, considering their power-weight ratio and their performance. It must be remembered that the ‘red zone’ for RMO began at 25 knots, in 1990; for Lionel Lemonchois aboard GITANA XI, it was at over 35 knots!
The singlehanders’ (average) target speeds leave one speechless: 18 knots to windward in 25 knots of breeze, with a real pointing angle of 47°, or 28 knots on a broad reach! This is made possible by a creative approach and systematic experimentation, just as on the America’s Cup class boats… (But in a relevant form!) The chassis’ stiffness is optimal, to transmit the power and maintain the geometric rigour. The links to the ground level are prodigious: the efficiency of the foils, which generate lift and anti-leeway forces allow the area of the central daggerboard to be limited. The floats have become capable of completely piercing the waves, whilst supporting three times the weight of the boat, the rudders retract, the masts twist at the top (the wind backs by 15° at 25m) and tilt both horizontally and laterally to lift the bows of the boat! The 60-footers have taken advantage of the technological explosion of the 90s, their sails are all made of latest generation laminates which can turn the slightest variation in the wind into thrust, via a completely textile rig with prodigious strength (9t for a mainsheet)! These trimarans behave like catamarans, with added stability, and realise a large part of the dreams of a hydrofoil: freeing themselves from the wetted surface area, but crossing the Atlantic! Sailing on one float is without a doubt the decisive contribution by the 20th century sailors; it is also a unique individual experience.
So why stop?
The construction, maintenance and development budgets are exploding and some people think that a bigger (70’) one-design formula will be cheaper (sic) and will allow the platforms to be ensured, thus perpetuating the format.
The future stakes
Although the decision appears complicated, the alternatives are simple:
- Keep the 60’ size, whilst creeping towards a one-design (but any modification of the class rules is potentially ruinous for the racers and sponsors).
- Go bigger, whilst remaining conscious of the fact that there is a risk of not achieving the critical mass of participants which expresses the vitality and sportsmanship of a class.
- Go smaller, with the certainty of bringing together projects and encouraging the co-existence of enlightened amateurs and professionals on platforms with accessible budgets (but spread over a larger number of participants, which would not please everybody!).