Sailing a MOD70 - Speed is a drug..

I thought "my need for speed" was out of my system, after sailing on Sisi, the Volvo Ocean 65 (VO65) ocean racer during the February RORC Caribbean600 regatta in Antigua.
But then an opportunity came up to crew on DrekanEnergy, a 70 foot MOD70 trimaran, during a regatta in Bretagne (France). And I could not resist.

MOD70's are amongst the world's fastest open ocean racing boats, only to be beaten in performance (but by a small margin) by "Ultims", 100ft trimarans, who currently hold the world record of the fastest circumnavigation around the globe.
MOD70's are full carbon racing beasts, built with only one purpose in mind: record-breaking speed.
21 meters long, 17 meters wide, 29m tall mast, with 3 hulls, weighing only 6 tons.

When this class of boats was launched, it was agreed only 7 of them would ever be built. Ours was the first to be launched. Two of the 7 are currently de-commissioned, and over the past 6 months, I have "met" or raced against all four other MOD70's which are still racing: "Argo", "Zoulou", "Maserati" and "Limosa-the Famous Project".

And sailing this MOD70 changed my perspective of "sailing".

During our first training day we had lovely weather, with "only" about 15 knots of wind, but from the moment we hoisted the sails, I realized what this beast-of-a-boat could do: With the least efforts, on that beautiful training day, we went faster than the wind,... almost all the time: With 15 knots of wind, without pressure on the boat or crew, we flew at 23 knots easily.

For the sailors amongst you: even when sailing at 170° True Wind Angle (TWA), because of the speed of the boat, the Apparent Wind Angle (AWA) was 50°-60°, so this boat never really sails in a downwind configuration: the apparent wind always comes from "forward".

Contrary to the VO65, where we trimmed the sails continuously, on the MOD70, we hardly trimmed the sails: the boat speed was trimmed purely by the tiller, changing the boat's angle to the wind slightly. As she is so light, the boat speed would pick up 5-10 kts in just a few seconds purely by steering her with slight different wind angles. Doing so, she lifted her windward hull out of the water, and when putting on more pressure, lifting also the center hull up, mainly sailing on her downwind hull and foiling daggerboard.

I thought the below-deck space was limited on Sisi, the VO65, but inside the MOD70, there was far less space: the two outer hulls are empty, and the center hull was really narrow - stretching out my arms, I could touch both sides of the hull with my hands. Aft in the center hull, there was some storage area, a small stove and a mini-sink. Midships, there was a navigation desk and forward she had three bunks and sail storage space. And that was it, basically..

On the day of the regatta, the weather was different than on the training day: it rained and it was heavily overcast, with a low pressure front moving over. We started off in about 20 knots of wind, but it picked up fast. During the regatta, it gusted up to 37 knots. "Normally", when we "cruise-sail", we would not even have left port with that forecast, but wait, here, we were going to do a regatta!?!

We had a great start, battling it out with several other big trimarans, including "Actual", a 100ft ULTIM trimaran. But we beat them all at the starting line. This starting line battle made some great photo shots as we picked up speed and all trimarans started to fly over the waves on only one hull, ours in front. With the full professional crew the competitors had, they passed us, 30 minutes into the race. But even that was a thrill to see: These are not sailing boats, these are beasts,...!

As the wind picked up, we peaked up to 39 knots of boat speed, which was totally and absolutely nuts. I never sailed at those speeds: on Sisi, we peaked 29 knots for a short while, but this MOD70 was constantly flying at 25 knots, peaking easily over 30 knots, with a top speed of 39 knots.

Now you need to understand what this means: as we flew through the regatta course, at 25-30-35 knots boat speed, and with a true wind of 30-35 knots, this means, when sailing upwind, the apparent wind speed easily hits 60-70 knots, which is about 110-130 km/h. So the wind and rain hits you at 110-130 km/h. It was the first time I sailed, where some of the crew had to wear goggles to protect their eyes. With water and spray splashing us, all crew were in full foul-weather gear as our outer layer was soaked within minutes. Luckily, with the weather gear we had, our inner layers stayed dry, but... it was cold, and the rain drops hit our faces as if someone was throwing pebbles at us.
It made me feel like I was standing upright on the roof of a car, with the wind, spray and rain hitting my body at 110-130km/h, with the car jerking left and right the whole time.

And while the MOD70 healed far less than the VO65's 30°-35° heal, I also found the MOD70 to be very stable - compared to Sisi, the VO65: She would have less of an up-down longitude pitch, but there was quite a bit of lateral jerking, as the helmsman moved the tiller left-right to pick up speed.
So, one really had to hold on to "something", when moving on deck.
Well "on deck" is relative, as we only had a rather small solid aft platform, the width of the center hull, and all the rest of the boat were trampolines. And one does not "walk" over trampolines at that speed: you half-jump over it, while water is rushing below your feet at 60-70 km/h.

It was bloody cold, bloody wet, bloody exciting, and bloody challenging. Especially for me, as I had hurt my back two weeks before and was rather weary not to injure my back again while on the boat. But the 4 "amateur sailors" like me, were well taken care of by the 5 pro-crew, under the guidance of Eric, the skipper.
Contrary to sailing on Sisi where I had some "oh-oooh this is no good...!" moments (when we had two almost-broaches in the middle of the night), I never felt the MOD70 was pushed to its limits, mostly thanks to Eric "protecting" the amateur crew onboard. But it is a weird feeling, seeing the windward hull lifting out of the water by 1-2-3 meters and seeing the water rush under your feet, below the trampoline, at that speed.

And the rush of speed was even more visible, looking behind the boat, looking at the traces we left in our wake. To be honest, I might have become slightly numb, as I did not feel or sense much difference between 25 and 35 knots of boat speed. Both speeds, sensed like "FAST"!. The only big difference was when sailing upwind versus downwind, as the perception of windspeed is quite different: upwind, the wind, rain and spray hit you with twice the speed as when we were going downwind.

We finished the 40 miles regatta course in 2 hours flat, just behind the three other trimarans. All other boats finished the regatta after 4 hours racing, minimum. By that time, we were already well underway to our home port: After the race, we sailed another 80 miles, back to "Port-la-ForĂȘt", the base for Drekanenergy, our boat. And that distance, we sailed in just under 4 hours - quite a difference compared to the charterboat we sailed over that distance a few years ago, when we needed about 16 hours to cover the same distance.

On the way back to our home port, the wind picked up and the Atlantic swell became bigger: this coast is unprotected from the open ocean swells, and it was impressive to see how the MOD70 sailed the waves. It was sooo different, from sailing in transatlantic waves on "slower" boats, where the 3-4 meter waves would run faster than the boat, catch up, lift the boat up and down...
DrekanEnergy moved almost 2x faster than the waves, so we just fleeewwww over them. Another first in my life: sailing faster than the waves.

I am not sure if I (finally) got that "need of speed" out of my system now. I realize that "speed is a drug", and while I still enjoy cruising and sailing more leisure-ly, from time to time, I do need "my shot", "my kick", "my fix"...

One of the projects I am currently looking into, is to sail a MOD70 in a transatlantic race. Would it not be a thrill to sail a beast like this in 8 days across the Atlantic, compared to the past 3-4 weeks it took us?

If you are a sailor and interested in crewing on DrekanEnergy, check out their website.

PS: In one of the pictures, you see the French flag on our stern, torn up. Well, that small flag was brand new at the start of the regatta. We literally sailed the flag to bits :-) :-)

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