The 52 Super Series is widely considered one of the top circuits in the world for monohulls, and in this era of rapid change, the TP52—or TransPacific 52—has managed to stay the series’ boat of choice for 10 years. Not only that, but as the class marks its 20th anniversary the boats it has produced remain as relevant today as the year they first came out.
The Super Series was born in 2012 when class sponsorship from Audi and the MedCup circuit ended, leaving owners in Europe without racing opportunities. Veteran U.S. sailor Doug DeVos, the Roemmers family and Niklas Zennström all conspired to keep the class alive, because for them, the boats were the perfect combination of technology, speed, power and reasonably sized crews—not to mention they’re great to sail. To this day, the 52 Super Series is primarily a regatta of boatowners. They’re the ones who sustain it, the ones for whom the two fundamental pillars of sailing fast and having fun remain the same as ever.
In Barcelona, Spain, in May 2012, the first 52 Super Series regatta kicked off with five boats in contention. Today the regattas regularly boast a dozen boats entered, as loyal owners continue to enjoy a kind of racing that never grows old thanks to the class’s constant evolution.
A typical 52 Super Series circuit includes five or six events held in various locations, mainly in the western Mediterranean, but with a few notable exceptions, like Key West and Miami, Florida. Usually, the fleet follows a windward-leeward course, although it will sometimes take part in coastal races as well. Each event has an individual winner. A season winner is then crowned according to the overall results at the end of the year—no discards.
Trophies are also awarded to the best owner-drivers, as it has been customary since the circuit was created for owners to drive their own boats. Professional skippers can be hired, but owners who choose to do so are penalized by being required to also get by with less crew weight.
To date, nine seasons have been completed. (Let us forget the pain of 2020!) Until 2021, only two teams had the honor of winning the series overall—victory having alternated between Doug DeVos’ Quantum Racing and the Azzurra team of the Argentine Roemmers family. But in 2021, Sled, owned by New York Yacht Club member Takashi Okura took the overall win. After losing the championship, DeVos said, “It is great for the class to have a new winner. The level of the competition with how close the Rolex World Champs were and how close the season championship is shows that there are some great teams that have really embraced the spirit of the 52 Super Series.”
Now, with what once seemed like a pipe dream—someone actually beating the “big two”—having come to pass, the regatta enters a new phase, with more boats than ever capable of winning the competition. Take Harm Müller-Spreer’s Platoon, which has been on the season’s overall podium since 2017 but has yet to secure an overall win, or Vladimir Liubomirov’s Bronenosec, Andy Soriano’s Alegre or Turkish owner Ergin Imre’s Provezza—strong teams all. Then there’s the Plattner family’s Phoenix project, which has gone so far as to put two boats in the water at the same time in the same competition.
Currently, veteran sailor Rob Weiland serves as the class manager for the series. When asked what he thought were the keys to a circuit like the 52 Super Series staying relevant in the face of the rise of the many grand prix catamaran and foiling classes now competing around the globe, he says, “Never say never. Classes and circuits of privately owned ‘flying yachts’ may happen in the future. But I feel that it will be a long time before you see a circuit [of foilers] as well established as the 52 Super Series...There already are attempts to realize this for smaller and less pricey concepts. Wait and see. The TP52 will be a classic, no doubt. And they still provide good racing and good fun.”
The boats were originally created for the Transpacific Race (hence the acronym TP) between California, and Diamond Head, Hawaii. At the time a cohort of West Coast sailors was looking for a “box rule” class that would be especially good at reaching, as this race is mainly downwind. Out of that came the TP52.
“The TP52 class is a development class and over its 20 years you clearly see changes in the pace and type of development,” Weiland says. “Of course, in the first years big steps were made, with designers having no previous designs to go by, but learning quickly. Then the class moved to the Mediterranean and mainly focused on WL (windward-leeward) racing.” Weiland notes the fleet has also gotten bigger, which leads to an increased focus on the first beat, so that upwind performance, especially pointing and ‘holding the lane’ have a become much more important than when the class made its debut.
“From 2005 to 2010 one had the feeling that a new boat would always be better, and so the top team’s were replacing their boats each year.” Weiland says. “It was a game not many could afford for a long time and, combined with the 2008 financial crisis, caused the fleet to shrink quickly. A few years later, though, the MedCup stopped, and with that and with the fleet being much more optimized for its use, the urge to build new slowed down to a much more sensible rhythm of about one new build every three years. ”
Of course, even when not building a new boat every year, mounting a serious 52 Super Series campaign—and at this level all the campaigns are serious—still takes commitment. Dedicated owners like DeVos, for example, find themselves having to be away from their work and families at least five weeks out of the year; however, they tend to take it in stride, recognizing the privilege of being able to sail at such a high level. As DeVos puts it, “To see the quality of all the sailors, all the owners, all the programs and to be in the mix here is a complete thrill. I pinch myself every day when I walk down the dock. The shore teams, the crews on the boats, seeing the effort that goes into being the best they can be, I’m just thrilled to be part of it.”
“The concept of the TP52 boat is great, because it is a modern, fast boat and has the right size to be considered a big boat, but is small enough to be fun and agile,” says Guillermo Parada, president of the circuit and the helmsperson with the most 52 Super Series titles under their belt to date (four). “That means it can be used to the limit without being afraid of the boat. For the owners, the organization of the circuit also makes it easy to know ahead of time that you are going to have plenty of good competition in each of the venues with good racing, good rivals and good boats. The truth is that this is a combination that is difficult to improve upon, and that’s why we have the best projects, owners and sailors. One thing ends up attracting the other.”
Interestingly, at 54, Parada is just one of a number of experienced sailors competing on a circuit where silver hair dominates, especially among the afterguards: a testament to the staying power of the many of the campaigns if ever there was one. “Many of the faces are the same,” he says. “We sailors have a slightly longer sporting life than other athletes, and this makes experience unbelievably valuable in all the boats. There are always some changes on the crews, but less so in positions where decisions are made or where there is not so much physical wear.”
Parada adds: “It also happens that changes are seen as something risky, and people don’t dare to bring in someone who has no experience in the class because each boat has its tricks, its secrets...Sailing with people who have no experience on a TP52 can be a major handicap, especially in the first year.”
Which is not to say the class is standing still: just the opposite as the boats continue to evolve, even 20 years down the road. Because the class is governed by a box rule, each boat is unique with its own strengths and weaknesses. Each boat also always has the potential to go just a little bit faster.
“I feel the boat can still go a bit lighter with a bit more sail without falling out of tune with its secondhand market in rated racing,” Weiland says. Beyond these adjustments, though, he says the next step to pushing the class forward would be reconsidering the specifics of the class’ box rule, a step that “does not allow the existing fleet to compete with the new fleet without applying handicap scoring. That would be a total reset.”
Meanwhile, in the short term, Parada says the future of the 52 Super Series and TP52 racing, in general, is all about keeping things fast and fun. “We must [continue to] set up a circuit that is competitive, good and fair. In short, one that has all the sporting ingredients and that the shipowners need,” he says. “On the other hand, we must try to make the circuit at reasonable costs and ensure it does not cost a lot of money to the boat owners. Sailing and chairing the circuit has given me a great overview, and I am relieved to know that I can still help even without competing in the regatta as has happened this last year which I hope will not happen again because I love sailing in this class!”
Along these same lines, Weiland says, “It would be great to have a second high-quality event that would trigger owners to build new boats, like the Admiral’s Cup or One Ton Cup of days long gone. To have two more ‘reasons’ to build a new TP52 would be significant help.” For the present, though, Weiland says, “Together we are strong, besides which the TP52 still is one of the best-looking boats out there—if I do say so myself!”
Ed Note: For the latest on the TP52 class and complete results for the 2021 52 Super Series, go to 52superseries.com
Photos by Katrina Zoë Norbom