Class of the Month: Class 40

The Class 40 began in 2004 as a scaled-down, less-expensive version of the Open 60 and Open 50 monohulls that are the darlings of professional shorthanded offshore racing in Europe. The idea was to give amateurs an affordable class that was a step up from the Mini Transat 6.5, but pros have since embraced the boat as well.

In the 2006 Route du Rhum race from France to Guadeloupe, 25 Class 40s took part, about a third of the total fleet. In 2010 44 boats—just over half the fleet—took part in the quadrennial classic. There are more than 130 of the boats worldwide.

Since 2008, Connecticut-based sailor Mike Hennessy has been spreading the word and sailing his Class 40 Dragon in events such as the Bermuda 1-2 and Newport-Bermuda race. In May, Dragon and at least two other U.S. boats will be taking part in the inaugural Atlantic Cup, a Class 40 regatta that will include both inshore racing and an offshore stage from New York Harbor to Newport, Rhode Island. As many as six U.S. Class 40s may take part in the event.

Class 40 boats are governed by a “box rule,” a system that places strict limits on length overall, beam, draft, sail area and displacement. Class rules also forbid the use of canting keels and exotic materials in the hull to keep costs down. The boats are configured to accommodate shorthanded sailing, but Class 40s can also be raced with full crews.

A number of “series” designs and production boats are available, including the Groupe Finot-designed Pogo and the Akilaria. In 2008, SAIL recognized the latter as one of the winners in its Best Boats contest.

With their plumb ends, light weight, wide beam and massive rigs, Class 40s look and perform much like their 50- and 60-foot cousins. They can be especially quick off the wind. “It’s hard to beat the feeling of blazing through the waves at 20 knots with just the two of you!” Hennessy says of shorthanded sailing aboard his Dragon.

For years now, the U.S. sailing community has agonized over how to reproduce the success that professional sailing has enjoyed in Europe in general and France in particular. With the arrival of the Class 40, at least a part of the solution may now be at hand.

For more on the boat, including videos of Class 40s in actions, click here.

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