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.
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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 (usaclass40.com) 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 gryphonsolo2.com. For more on the 2014 Atlantic Cup, visit atlanticcup.org

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

caribbean600.rorc.org

Pineapple Cup

montegobayrace.com

Bermuda One-Two

bermuda1-2.org

Marblehead-to-Halifax Race

marbleheadtohalifax.com

Newport-Bermuda Race

bermudarace.com

Ida Lewis Distance Race

ildistancerace.org

For more on both short-handed and crewed Class 40 racing opportunities, visit usaclass40.com

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