No plain sailing


GO BY SEA: Joining the crew of one of the fastest sailing boats in the world is a truly different way to travel. SIMON TIERNEYjumped on board the ‘Spindrift’ in Brest for a hair-raising taster

"SIGN HERE,” she says. I scan the document. It is a disclaimer. Now I am worried. I tighten the belt on my life jacket. I am about to board a sailing boat. Not just any sailing boat.

This is one of the fastest sailing boats in the world. The MOD 70 is a new multihull class that has quickly become one of the most exciting racing machines in sailing. I am in Brest, France, to experience the MOD 70 first hand, in advance of their arrival in Dublin as part of the European Tour of the Multi One Championship. The speed and majesty of these elegant racing machines will be a unique event when they come to Dun Laoghaire.

I am spending a few hours on Spindrift, the winner of the Krys Ocean Race, a 2,950 mile dash across the North Atlantic, from New York to Brest. It completed the task in just over four days and 21 hours, arriving in Brest just a few days before I hop on for a taster. As I board the 70ft long boat I am handed a helmet. This is my second indication that I am not on an ordinary sailing boat. We will be going fast. Very fast.

There are six crew members, all with their own roles, from trimming the sails to helmsman. Our French skipper, Yann Guichard, is a former Olympian and America’s Cup World Series sailor. He is calm and collected which bodes well for the next few hours. The MOD 70 is designed to be big and light. Everything is economised with minimum clutter. There are only two bunks. During the Atlantic crossing, four crew members would sail while two got some rest, on a four-hour rotation.

I ask Léo Lucet, one of Spindrift’s French crew members, what makes the MOD 70 so special. They are “built in exactly the same design, in the same place and by the same people,” he says. Because they are monotypes, it is the quality of the sailing that counts, not outspending each other on equipment.

As soon as we are out in the Celtic Sea, off Brest, the sails are hoisted to the top of the 95ft mast. I relax. Things seem calmer than I expected. The sails are luffing and we’re stationary, pleasant. I take some photos of the other MOD 70’s next to us in the bay. The skipper shifts the boat to port and the sails fill. I am jolted backwards. The acceleration on the MOD 70 is quite extraordinary. As we rapidly increase our speed, the starboard side is lifted out of the water, leaving only one of the three hulls in contact with the sea. We are soaring eight feet above the ocean.

The skipper barks something in French and the crew scramble into their positions. The gennaker, a sail that is similar to a spinnaker and used exclusively for downwind sailing, is hoisted. The boat lurches into fifth gear, a shift that the crew are clearly excited about, while I cling to a rope. I tighten my helmet. I am lying on the flat of my stomach and it is a mission to prevent myself from falling sideways on to the base of the mast. There is an unsettling groan from the bowels of the boat as the entire structure begins to vibrate. The water is furious in our wake, kicking enormous fountains into the air. I glance at the speed gauge. We are doing 35 knots. This is an extraordinary velocity for a sailing boat. It would be difficult for a speed boat to keep up with us.

Lucet tells me “multihulls can go faster than the wind... [we can] create our own wind. That’s why we can say that the MOD 70’s are in the range of the fastest boats in the world”. This is one of the very unique things about trimarans such as the MOD 70. Although it is only blowing 15 knots, the boat has more than doubled that figure in its own speed. This is due to the size of the sail area and the lightness of the vessel. I am glad I am wearing the helmet they gave me. I ask Lucet if the transatlantic crossing had any precarious moments.

“It’s always a little bit scary to sail on multihull,” he says. “The reason is, anytime the boat could capsize . . . we don’t have a keel. It could happen very easily and very quickly, so that is something that you have always in your mind.”

Teamwork is essential, he says. “The crew members have the responsibility of the others on board. That’s why the relationship between the crew members has to be very good because we have always in our mind that the boat could capsize”. Hopefully not today, I think, as the mast leans hungrily towards the water. Another MOD 70 passes by us and I am distracted by the elegance of its movement, struck at how an enormous vessel can cut so crisply through the waves. It whizzes past us, roaring more like a Formula One car than a sail boat.

The Multi One Championship is the culmination of a number of years of preparation, to see a major new series of high-spec monotype trimarans sailing the world and bringing their unique brand of adventure and spectacle to the public. The Krys Ocean Race was the first leg and now they will embark on their European Tour, racing to Kiel in Germany before they come to Ireland. In each city they will compete in smaller, inshore races. The event in Dún Laoghaire will be of interest not only because we lack a tradition of this type of boat but also because of the access to the fleet. “What is very important,” says Lucet, is that “people [can] see the race exactly like in a stadium.”

The sheer size of the boats and their proximity to the shore when they are racing means that spectators will have an unparalleled view of the spectacle. It will be an opportunity to see world-class sailing on intimate terms.

Lucet says the Multi One Championship also brings an important message of water preservation. “We would like to preserve the water all around the world. It’s important for me to share this preoccupation with people. We do sport, yes, but we have another value behind all that,” he says. The Multi One Attitude Foundation aims to raise awareness of the pollution of the oceans, highlighting the fact that 10 per cent of plastic rubbish ends up in the sea.

Back in the harbour, I ask to have a look around the inside of one of the boats. Comfort is minimal on a racer like this. There is no toilet. The kitchen is a small sink with a row of six flask mugs hung neatly above it with each crew member’s name. Below this, there is another rack containing each person’s toothbrush. The bare essentials, to say the least. The space is so tight it’s hard to imagine how these men managed for four days, non-stop, on the Atlantic crossing. I disembark and stand on the jetty. I have been on the water for several hours and I feel like I am rocking back and forth, even though I am stationary. What must it feel like for the championship sailors to touch “la terre seche” after several days of North Atlantic waves?

Dublin Laoghaire Harbour Company is running a free family festival on the East Pier today and tomorrow with a food fair, farmers market, craft fair and childrens entertainment. The MOD70s can be viewed from the pier with live commentary with Irish Olympic Sailor Ger Owens.

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