Skip to main content

A Q&A with Class 40 Champion Joe Harris

Veteran offshore racer Joe Harris and co-skipper Patrick O’Connor took first overall in the fourth annual Atlantic Cup, a doublehanded offshore/inshore series from Charleston, SC, to Newport, RI, aboard Harris’s Class 40 GryphonSolo2.
  • Author:
  • Updated:

Veteran offshore racer Joe Harris and co-skipper Patrick O’Connor took first overall in the fourth annual Atlantic Cup, a doublehanded offshore/inshore series from Charleston, SC, to Newport, RI, aboard Harris’s Class 40 GryphonSolo2. A three-week Class 40 regatta held in May, this year’s event included a little of everything, along with the closest finish in Atlantic Cup history.

SAIL: What was the highlight of the series?

JH: The win in the long offshore leg from Charleston to NYC was very satisfying as the lead changed hands a few times, but we worked hard, made some good choices, and I felt deserved the victory. In the second offshore leg from NYC to Newport we made one mistake that cost us two places and resulted in a third-place finish. During the inshore racing, we knew we were fast downwind and reaching, but not so fast upwind in light air, so we just tried to hang on in what ended up being predominately light-wind conditions, and luckily it worked out.

SAIL: What’s next for you and GryphonSolo2?

JH: It will be just low-key stuff until 2015, when I hope to do the NYYC Transatlantic Race in June, the Fastnet race in August in the UK, and then the Global Ocean Race—solo around the world—in September. It has long been my dream to race solo around the world, and I hope 2015-16 will be when I achieve it—sponsors willing!

SAIL: How did you get involved in Class 40 racing?

JH: I had an Aerodyne 38 for five years (which I retrofitted with water ballast) and then an Open 50 for six years (with a hydraulically canting keel and twin daggerboards), which were both pretty similar to the Class 40. After competing in a number of transatlantic events in the 50, the class kind of went away in favor of the Open 60s and the Class 40s. The Class 40 suited my budget a lot better. The racing both in Europe and here has been very satisfying over the last three years.

SAIL: How would you describe sailing these kinds of boats?

JH: Fast and Fun! They get up and plane early and love to power-reach in big air. They feel quite sturdy going to windward when loaded up with water ballast (two tanks each side, about 1,500 pounds per side) and the deck is laid out well for short-handed offshore work. The boats have powerful sailplans and dinghy-like planing hull shapes, so they are very lively and fun to sail.

SAIL: What’s the current state of Class 40 racing in the U.S.?

JH: We have about 14 boats here in North America, a small fraction of the 150 or so Class 40s that have been built. The Atlantic Cup is our Super Bowl, with its unique offshore-inshore format, so we are always trying to get more competitors to the start line. There has been a real effort to keep the older boats sailing (first generation designs) and we have found that if they are well-equipped and well-sailed, they are very competitive with the newer designs. A testament to this is Pleiad Racing’s win in the AC inshore series. There are plenty of boats for sale or lease both here and in Europe at good prices, so our Class 40 North American group ( is growing.

SAIL: What would you say to anyone interested in trying out this kind of sailing?

JH: Jump on in—the water’s fine! Anyone who has raced on big boats with big crews will find it very satisfying to race short-handed and be responsible for everything onboard rather than just one job. The performance level of the boats is high and the competition is keen but friendly, and we all have beers together after the racing. Plus, you can get into the game in a Generation One boat for less than $200,000, which is a fraction of the cost of entry for a new offshore race boat. I encourage anyone seriously interested in Class 40 to drop me a line, and I will take you out for a test sail in Newport and show you how much fun it can be.

For more on GryphonSolo2’s plans, visit For more on the 2014 Atlantic Cup, visit

Photos courtesy of Billy Black/Atlantic Cup

Where to Race Your Class 40

In addition to the many regular PHRF races, an increasing number of regattas on this side of the Atlantic now offer opportunities for head-to-head Class 40 offshore competition—the type of racing the class was originally intended for when it was conceived in Europe in 2004

RORC Caribbean 600

Pineapple Cup

Bermuda One-Two

Marblehead-to-Halifax Race

Newport-Bermuda Race

Ida Lewis Distance Race

For more on both short-handed and crewed Class 40 racing opportunities, visit



Cruising Lake Superior

Almost anywhere a sailor drops the hook someone else has been there before. We are hardly ever the first. That remote Maine harbor without a soul in sight: there’s a lobster trap. The south coast of Newfoundland: the crumbling remains of a fisherman’s cabin lie hidden among the more


Fabricating a Tablet Holder

During the pandemic, I was stuck aboard Guiding Light, a Lagoon 410, in St. Lucia for over a month. During that time, as I worked on the boat, I started by doing a spring cleaning in my spares locker and finding some parts and material that I forgot I had. As soon as I saw them, more


A Catamaran for a New Era

Anacortes, Washington, is an unassuming sea-salty town near the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound, and the Betts Boats yard is easy for a passerby to miss. But within Betts’ facilities, the dawn of an era in Pacific Northwest production boatbuilding could be breaking with the more


Boat Review: Xquisite X5 Plus

The Xquisite X5 Plus is a major update of the boat that SAIL awarded Best Large Multihull and Best Systems titles in 2017. The changes were not just cosmetic, but genuine improvements to an already fine boat, making it lighter, faster and less dependent on fuel. The builder’s more


Cruising: Offshore Prep Talk

When I began preparing Minx, my 1987 Pearson 39-2, for extended Caribbean cruising, I had to balance my champagne wish list against my beer budget. Every buck spent on the boat before leaving would be one less frosty can of Carib down in the islands. On the other hand, I had to more


Barcelona Venue Shaping Up

The decision to host the next America’s Cup in Barcelona ruffled the feathers of some fans, but the Defender is happy with how the venue is shaping up. The process of allocating team bases, spectator zones and the race village is underway. “I cannot speak highly enough of the more


Boat Review: Elan GT6

Elan’s first sporty “Grand Turismo” yacht, the 43ft GT5, launched in 2017, and was actually a bit of a mash-up. It combined an existing go-fast hull from Elan’s sexy E5 racer with a new deck and interior optimized for cruising comfort, and a somewhat detuned rig to create a more


Ocean Voyages Institute Recovers Nearly 100 tons of Plastic Waste

After 45 days at sea, the sailing cargo ship KWAI has docked in San Francisco with 96 tons of recovered plastic, including ghost nets and derelict fishing gear from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Ocean Voyages Institute, a non-profit organization based in Sausalito, CA, uses more