Joe Harris: The Birth of a Class 40
When I sold my Open 50 “Gryphon Solo” in July of 2009, I had an empty feeling in the pit my stomach. I had sailed many miles with that boat and she had taken good care of me. She was sold to a Hollywood producer and quickly trundled off to the West coast to star in a film called “Charlie St. Cloud” and I could just hear the old girl of such distinguished descent groaning with disbelief at being reduced to a prop in a teen heart-throb thriller. But hey, it’s better than the unfortunate end of Tim Kent’s Open 50 “Everest Horizontal” as a carbon homeless shelter in Bermuda!
Anyway, I sold the 50 because the Open 50 Class really went away in favor of the Open 60’s above and the Class 40’s below. My dream of racing solo around the world was still strong and I felt there was unfinished business yet to complete. So, with the multi-million dollar budgets of the Open 60’s slightly (OK, completely) out of reach, the Class 40’s looked like the affordable (a relative term) alternative vehicle to get around the great capes in one piece.
I began looking at used, Generation One Class 40 designs, and sailed a number of Owen-Clark, Akilaria, Pogo and other designs to get a feel for the boats and the class. However, after seeing the third generation of Class 40 designs come out last year, I felt that buying a Gen One boat would achieve only planned obsolescence and the re-sale value in five years would be rock bottom, so I decided to buck-up my courage and go for a new boat.
I looked very hard at the Farr-Cookson Kiwi 40 and was close to pulling the trigger, but the price tag was slightly higher and the New Zealand location a long delivery home. The other two mainstream Gen-3 production builds were the Pogo S2 and the Akilaria RC2 and while they are both great boats for sure, I thought the Akilaria was a potentially better all-around performer.
What put me over the top was a competitive price from Akilaria builder MC-TEC and an immediate spot in their build schedule for a fall start and spring completion. Their factory location in low-labor-cost Tunisia sounded exotic and I honestly couldn’t place it on the map, but when I went to my globe and found it, it was really not too far from the South of Italy and France across the Med. Part of getting a good price from MC-TEC was agreeing to commission the boat in Tunisia instead of France or the U.S.
However, I had no idea when I signed the purchase contract in September that Tunisia would soon the lead the Arab world into rebellion and armed revolution against its long-time despotic dictator. When the revolution began in early December and there was rioting and violence in the streets, it soon became apparent that commissioning in Tunisia was just not going to be safe. In fact, the resort village of Hammamet, where we were going to commission the boat, was the home of President Ben-Ali’s opulent summer homes, which were burned and looted by the angry mobs. Not the best place to commission your race boat!
So, we made the decision to move the commissioning location to LaTrinite, France, where Akilaria had previously commissioned some of their G-1 Class 40’s, and it was also close to the spar maker Lorima and sail maker North France. As it turned out, when President Ben-Ali fled the country and a provisional government was formed, with the promise of elections within six months, the angry citizens calmed down and went back to work.
However, as we have seen, the revolutionary fever quickly spread to Egypt and now on to neighboring Libya, where the battle rages on. I feel very lucky that Tunisia’s’ period of unrest was relatively brief and not as violent as Egypt, Libya and some of the other Arab countries.
At the MC-TEC factory about two hours outside of Tunis where my boat was being built, they lost about two weeks on the schedule due to general strikes, curfews and inability to get parts, but they did their best to make it up. The boat finally left Tunisia last week by ferry across the Med to Marseilles, in southern France, where it was trucked to LaTrinite on the northern coat of France for commissioning and launch. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I received emailed photos of the boat safely in LaTrinite- what a long strange trip it had been!
Now, we are in a hurry-up offense to get the boat commissioned, launched and sea-trialed in advance of the trans-Atlantic delivery on its own bottom to get the boat to New York in time for the Atlantic Cup, which starts May 6th. We have about eight weeks, and on paper it should take about six weeks, so it is possible if everything goes right.
However, boats are boats, and Murphy’s Law occasionally rules, so we have fingers and toes crossed that everything fits and works as designed. I am headed over to France next week to help get the boat ready and take her on her maiden voyage. I couldn’t be more excited. I will provide further updates and reports as the project develops.
Onward to the Atlantic Cup!