Editor’s Note: Though Class 40s are better known in Europe, Brian Harris, general manager of Maine Yacht Center in Portland, has carved out a successful side business outfitting and refitting the shorthanded raceboats. He began importing Akilarias designed by Marc Lombard in 2007, and today continues with the third generation known as RC3. You can view the evolution of the model line in our profile of Harris in “Some Assembly Required,” Professional BoatBuilder No. 155.
In that article, Harris, a former ocean racer himself, told Senior Editor Paul Lazarus before he began importing Class 40s, he had checked out the fleet in St-Malo, France, and liked what he saw down below: “You could stand up, put your pants on. There were bunks, real bunks. There was a V-berth. There was a little galley area.”
The boat’s design was unique because it was “far from a cruising boat, but it wasn’t a stripped-out shell of a raceboat either. At the time, that wasn’t the direction the class was going in. I was thinking a Class 40 would be easier to promote … if it had some amenities. But pure raceboat is what they’ve evolved into now.”
For a description of what it’s like to actually race those boats, we turned to Emma Creighton, the winner of this year’s Pineapple Cup and an experienced ocean racer on Class 40s. Read her firsthand account below.
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It’s 02:50 in the morning. I come awake to the familiar tick, tick, hiss of the Jetboil being lit about two feet from my head. I’ve been asleep for a little more than an hour, but we’re going upwind in 25 knots of breeze so “sleep” is a relative term. My eyes were closed and my body was in a somewhat horizontal position, nested into a damp beanbag on the floor, but there was somewhat more banging, getting chucked about and a lot more moisture involved than your average night at home.
When Brian Harris first asked my husband, Dan, and I to race on Amhas II for the 2015 Pineapple Cup, we didn’t think twice before saying yes. Dan and I had spent 2013 racing together on a chartered Akilaria RC2 in Europe [RC2s are the second generation of Lombard’s Akilarias]. We had a good season with some respectable results in the RORC series and Class 40 events like the Normandy Channel Race, Les Sables-Horta, and Fastnet. After our fair share of runs across the English Channel, racing downwind in the Caribbean sounded like a great idea.
Harris planned on racing with five people on board. I did both the Quebec–St-Malo and Fastnet four-up, but otherwise all of my offshore racing experience has been single- or double-handed. Going to Jamaica with five people sounded like an interesting new challenge.
I have a lot of respect for the four guys that made up the rest of the crew. Despite never having raced with them before, I knew Brian Harris and MacKenzie Davis were wonderful people with a lot of experience. As for the other two, I’ve done more than a few miles on a Class 40 with Rob Windsor and Dan Dytch.
In my mind, the perfect co-skipper on a Class 40 is a mixture of a little ADD, a lot of OCD, a touch of sadomasochism with a fantastic sense of humor to tie it all together. My co-skippers for the Pineapple Cup ticked all of those boxes.
Since few people start out by learning how to sail on a Class 40, people come to the boats from a wide variety of background experience. Because I moved up to them from racing a 21-foot Mini Transat, a mostly hands and knees affair, I remember my first moments down below on a Class 40 vividly.
The boat was Harris and Davis’ first Class 40, the Akilaria 1 Amhas, and I was about to help deliver it from Portland, Maine to West Palm Beach, Fla. I stood at the foot of the companionway and looked around me in wonder. Bunks! A nav station! A galley! A head (never mind that no one ever uses it)! And did I mention that I was standing up while I was doing this?
After some thousands of miles, Class 40s still feel luxurious to me. As I leave the beanbag nest to struggle into a sodden drysuit, I take a quick glance at the computer and B&G displays at the nav station. We’re pounding upwind outside of the Bahamas and the sea state is still horrendous, but I can hear cheerful chatter from the cockpit as the watch change choreography begins. Soaked bodies bring another few gallons of water down with them and someone zips me up as I clamber on deck.
Read more about Brian Harris and his production process in Professional BoatBuilder No. 155. Did you know our magazine is free for qualifying members of the marine industry? Find out how to subscribe or view a sample digital issue.