The Atlantic Cup, a new event intended to promote Class 40 racing in the United States, kicked off in style this past May, with four boats competing for $15,000 in prized money off the U.S. East Coast.
Dragon, with Mike Hennessy and Rob Windsor aboard, won the opening double-handed offshore portion from New York Harbor. Cutlass/11th Hour Racing, with Rob MacMillan and Ryan Finn in charge, swept six, fully crewed inshore races off Newport, Rhode Island, to take first overall in the regatta.
Race director Hugh Piggen says a second running of the regatta is already in the works for next spring with at least one more leg/stopover, and that he fully expects the event to become an annual one. SAIL magazine caught up with Hennessy shortly after the regatta to get his take on Class 40 racing and his upcoming Transatlantic campaign.
Your first boat was a C&C 35.
It was! When I graduated from college, I started sailing with a friend who owned a C&C 35, which he used strictly for cruising up and down the Eastern Seaboard. I ended up buying the boat from him in 1998 and continuing with the same program.
How did you end up going from a performance cruiser to an offshore racer?
I wanted to make some changes to the boat to make it easier to sail single handedly, but at the same time I was looking for a bit of a bigger challenge. I continued to work on the boat, but started to have a goal in mind: the Bermuda 1-2.
Within a year, I was comfortable taking the boat offshore, so I sailed the boat singlehanded to Bermuda and back. In 2003, I did the Bermuda 1-2, and I think progressively through 2004 and 2005, I was improving both the boat and my own skills to the point where I had achieved everything I could achieve with that boat, but I would not be able to do the Transatlantic (Transatlantic Race 2011, starting June 26 from Newport, Rhode Island, to Lizard Point in the UK) with it. So I started looking around at other options that might offer me an additional challenge.
What made you interested in the Class 40?
At the time, my choices were a Figaro, which are very difficult to find, the Mini Transat, which is highly specialized and technical and about as comfortable as a J/24, and the IMOCA Opens. At the time, IMOCA made changes that practically made obsolete the IMOCA Open 40s and 50s, and so while there were some available, there wouldn’t be any new ones, and so you’d be racing against yourself. The Class 40 stepped into this class, which made it immediately noticeable. So I spent 2006 getting educated in the boats – designers, builders, costs and choices – and then in 2007 I found a builder named Martin Boulter at Composite Creations and an architect named Owen Clarke, both over in England, and she was built in a barn in the middle of a farm, next to a big pile of grain.
The Class 40 is a box rule, so that allows designers to optimize the design based on what kind of sailing the boat is going to do. Some boats are built wider, anticipating that they’ll be sailing a downwind course from France to Brazil. The remarkable thing is that as many designers as there are, Class 40s are all very close and competitive. On any given day, any particular designer’s boat can be at the front of the pack.
The field of 40-foot racers is getting pretty crowded. Why do you think the Class 40 has had so much success?
As crowded as the field might be, like many things in sailing there are many corners in a very big tent. Some of the other marquis 40-footers that have hit the market in the last few years, rather the Soto 40, the Ker 40, or now the Farr 400, are intended for different purposes than the Class 40 is. Those three, in particular, overlap their intentions. The Class 40 is really meant for shorthanded inshore and offshore racing, more than anything else. The class encourages you to put in amenities for greater usage, things that allow for cruising. You have to put in four berths, for example. You have to have a galley of some sort. But the reality is that most of us have worked the rule to create as close as possible to a racing boat. You can inshore race this boat, but it will be beat by one of the other three boats almost every single time.
Besides the Annapolis to Newport Race starting on June 3, what other preparations are you finishing up for the Transatlantic Race?
We’re going to do this race, and hopefully do it well, and fix anything that we break and just try to take it easy in the month of June, focusing before taking off across the Atlantic.
You have the Annapolis-Newport race with only four Class 40s on the line, but then you are turning around and taking part in the Fastnet where there will be 30 Class 40s competing with you. How are you preparing for a bigger field?
It’s definitely going to present some good challenges, as well as having a ton of other boats out there who fit in our same range, IRC-wise. I think the Fastnet race is, on one level, a 600-mile race. It’s like going to Bermuda. But at the same time, it’s nothing like going to Bermuda. So I’m spending a lot of time learning about the course and the race and the typical weather conditions, understanding the fact that there are three or four tide gates going through the English Channel. And also the size of the fleet – it’s a massive fleet. The total size of the fleet is huge. The English Channel presents challenges with commercial traffic as well. So I expect it to be crowded. But it’s such a unique challenge, a marquis event in our sport, and I’m privileged to be able to participate in it. I can’t wait to give it a shot.
To watch a video recapping Dragon's offshore Atlantic Cup win, click below.