Boarding the world’s newest and potentially fastest trimaran was a glimpse into the future of ocean racing, writes Kevin Green.

Many of the racing world’s record breakers cast off from Brittany, or the adjoining province of Vendee and the fastest of them are the ultime trimarans, 100-foot-plus monsters of the deep who chase the low-pressure systems around the globe to claim the Jules Verne Trophy.

There’s only a handful of them so being invited onto the newest, Sodebo3, was the highlight of my three-week assignment in NW France earlier this year, especially as I spent time with superstar skipper Thomas Coville and designer Renauld Banuls.

Record-breaker Thomas went around the world solo in a staggering 49 days in his previous ultime but had just launched the Sodebo3 (costing €10million) a few days before my arrival in La Trinity Sur La Mer, an hour’s drive north of the major town of Nantes.


A deafening noise from the mast hydraulics filled the air as I climbed over the 100-foot ama and huge foil, then across the netting to the cockpit which, unusually, is located ahead of the mast. “You have to think and act differently on this boat and the cockpit here allows us to lower the boom,” laughed Thomas when I questioned the design.

The size of four tennis courts, the idea of controlling this monster alone is astounding, especially given its mostly manual winches. Teasing the 50-year old Thomas by grabbing his arm I commented gym-time would be needed but this uber-cool superstar just shrugged. “It will take me only eight minutes to put a reef in the main!”


Outboard, huge carbon foils sprouted – making Sodebo3 the first dedicated foiling ultime – something that challenged the international design team that included designer Renauld Banuls, someone I’ve talked designs with for many years, but this was clearly the next level.

“We really don’t know how it will perform or how fast it will go but we did about 35 knots without foiling so far,” said Renauld. Leading design house VPLP was responsible for the amas and fore beam, and GC32 catamaran designer Martin Fischer created the foils.

This collaborative effort also included engineers from Oracle Racing, the Luna Rossa America’s Cup team and Ben Ainslie Racing. Primary yard for the build was Multiplast in Brittany – it did the central hull, floats and cockpit while CDK constructed the fore beam. The aft beam was by Persico in Italy. The polars estimate it reaching 50 knots but with so many forces at play, the year will be spent testing as Thomas works towards his 2023 solo Jules Verne attempt to break the 40-day RTW barrier.

Renauld Banuls.

Photography wasn’t permitted inside the cabin. But it will have some bunks forward while behind the large steering wheel are banks of Harken winches clustered around the rotating Lorima mast base to control the vast wing mainsail and cutter rig.

Crawling through a hatch into the darkness of the lower hull revealed banks of lithium batteries, the tiny 15hp engine that will power three autopilots and some hydraulics; beyond there was a longer crawl to the escape hatch at the transom.

Above deck, engineer Yves Bourdais and I looked over the rudder system and huge crossbeams holding this 75-foot wide trimaran together: “The 35m high rig will apply 65 tons of compression to the mast foot alone, then there’s nearly 700m2 of sails downwind”.

Alongside us was moored the big daddy of them all, the 130-foot Spindrift that was licking its wounds after structural failure off Western Australia in January. Beyond, in the yacht-filled bay of La Trinity, sat another ultime, the red-painted IDEC of Francis Joyon that holds the crewed RTW record of 40 days, also built nearby at the Multiplast yard in Vannes.



Fast-forward to August this year, where some of these monsters clashed. Unlike the Sydney-Hobart race that bars multihulls, the Fastnet has embraced them so the biennial August ocean race is an important event in the ultime calendar.

On the start line at Cowes in the sheltered waters of the Solent were an incredible 437 boats that included four ultimes: Sodebo3, Edmond de Rothschild/Gitana 17, Actual and MACIF, all out to beat the course record of 27h 42m 26s, set by the MOD 70 Phaedo in 2015.

The 605-mile course involves several challenges including the Needles tide race, strong coastal currents along the south of England and usually a bumpy reach over to Ireland where they round the Fastnet Rock before dodging their way through the traffic separation scheme off the Cornish coast for the finish in Plymouth.

Multihull Race Start

Edmond de Rothschild/Gitana 17 led the fleet out followed by Sodebo3 and that was how it ended when the Guillaume Verdier-designed foiling ultime sailed by Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier crossed the finish line at Plymouth after recording a run of 1d 4hrs 2m 26s.

Racing on board MACIF was Jimmy Spithill, the only skipper to command a winning America’s Cup trimaran. The Sydneysider was a last-minute replacement for Pascal Bidegorry, who stood down with a back injury.

“That was my first Fastnet, it was quick – I probably won’t ever do it quicker than that!” said Spithill. “The power of these boats is incredible because they are big machines. With other foiling boats your limit is waves but with these, because of their scale and the shape of the foils, you can push them hard.”


Coville’s Sodebo Ultim 3 finished 1 hour 24 minutes after the leader, having been left behind by the lead duo in the transition who were first to the strong breeze crossing the Celtic Sea. Unusually, a Brit was among his crew, the affable Sam Goodchild in the pit, with whom I’ve enjoyed talking multihulls in the past.

Goodchild is one of a select bunch that sails on these boats, including the record attempt with the 130-foot Spindrift. Coville’s other crew was his regulars: righthand man and navigator Jean-Luc Nélias, boat captain and bow François Duguet and Thomas Rouxel, and dedicated media man Martin Keruzoré.


Trimaran development evolved from designs that included the ORMA60s and then the MOD70s and both these models continue to race globally. Here in Asia-Pacific we are lucky to have a few so I’ve been privileged to race on an ORMA60 and in August an MOD70 at Hamilton Island Race Week.

Aboard our MOD70 Beau Geste, New Zealand skipper Gavin Brady was seeking a different experience at Hamilton Island Race Week: “We’ve brought the boat over from New Zealand as a training exercise because we’ve only been sailing it for about two years, so we are still learning about the capabilities of this MOD70,” he told me.

HIRW © Photo by Salty Dingo 2019 CRG

Co-owner Karl Kwok, a Hong Kong businessman, is a former winner here on his expertly-campaigned TP52 monohull, so his NZ crew are finding the MOD70 an exciting new challenge. “We are coming to terms with regatta racing this boat, so start lines can be challenging and there’s a lot of tuning that can be done,” explained Brady as we motored out to the race.

The only other similar boats in the southern hemisphere are two ORMA60s. Racing on one of these boats I found to be nearly as thrilling as the MOD70, with a memorable moment of passing the Opera House on Sydney Harbour while doing 34 knots on the ex-Banque Populaire IV named Team Australia.

That boat has since been sold to become Scallywag under the Hong Kong-based team owner Lee Seng Huang. The other one was the ex-Team Vodafone, renamed TeamVodafoneSailing when in New Zealand, which has recently been bought by two Australians and is now based here in Queensland under the name Frank Racing.

In October Scallywag is racing against the former MOD70 Gitana (renamed Maserati Multi70) in the Hong Kong to Vietnam Race. Modified to use foils by skipper Giovanni Soldini, Maserati was beaten in July’s Transpac by fellow MOD70 Argo (formerly Oman Sail) and American-owned Powerplay (formerly Paprec Recyclage).


Back onboard Beau Geste, we found controlling one of these monsters in the narrow confines of Dent Passage outside the marina a challenge. As there was the ever-present danger of stalling and being swept ashore by the tide (as happened to a fellow competitor, the Stealth 12 catamaran named Cosmo) so we kept our 110hp engine running until well clear before lifting the propeller shaft to go under full sail.

“This boat is one of only seven OMD70s and I think the only one that’s not capsized, despite doing a higher mileage than most others, so I intend to keep it that way,” laughed Brady. Also onboard was Brady’s nimble 15-year-old daughter Carrington who was learning navigation skills via the Expedition software tablet.

Moving to open water at the south of Hamilton Island and reaching off against the 20-knot southerly wind the MOD70 weather ama flew high as we accelerated; the crew winding hard on the two sets of pedestal winches to build hydraulic pressure and sheet-in.

High on the windward ama skipper Brady held onto the long tiller with one hand and the traveller sheet with the other – ready to dump; his foot also on a stirrup controlling the mainsheet. The brutality of sailing these trimarans quickly became apparent as the waves burst through the cockpit netting as our speed reached 33 knots and the windward ama flew alarmingly higher while our eight crew huddled behind the stern crossbeam for protection against the exploding waves and searing apparent wind.

This was good practice for our race start some minutes later when we sailed a windward course in open seas, then unfurled our Code 0 to fly downwind past the islands and toward the mainland town of Airlie Beach, overtaking many monohull competitors as if they were anchored.

Nearing land, tension grew steadily among the crew as a big gybe awaited us near a rocky shore, so I readied on the lazy sheet of the Code 0 while another crewman crept out to the main hull to pull the clew through.

A sudden gust of wind shook the structure of the MOD70 as we all looked nervously at the mast, which was then hydraulically canted sideways in preparation for the next run. The other key control was the trim tab that acts like a small rudder behind the central daggerboard to create longitudinal stability and some lift in addition to our ama daggerboards.

Nearing the rocks at speed, skipper Brady gave the call and we all jumped into action, pulling the Code 0’s lazy sheet hard as the MOD70 spun to windward, setting us on a course back to the Hamilton Island finish line.