For several years, ideas had been based around a 40 footer, but had not yet taken form. In 2004, at the request of many people in the marine industry, skipper-journalist Patrice Carpentier took the initiative to draft the Rules for Class40. He brought together the skipper Michel Mirabel, Christian Bouroullec of the Structures Boatyard, and Pascal Jamet, CEO of Volvo and passionate about sailing. Between them, they created the "Class40" Association.
Creative influences and moderating influences in the same boat...
At the time, on the one hand there were boatyards with existing 40 footers. Of particular note was Structures' Pogo 8.50 which had just won the Transquadra, and the Jumbo 40 from the yard of the same name. These boat builders knew that there was a demand, and a market for this kind of boat. They wanted to find a framework and rules for this 40 footer aimed at enlightened and "wise" sailors.
On the other hand, there was a group of designers and racers from the Classe Mini, full of talent and ideas, and fans of sailing at speed and surfing.
"Patrice Carpentier managed to get these two groups, both of which were brimming with what appeared to be incompatible ideas, but which were in fact totally complementary, to work together", explained Pascal Jamet. "There were creative influences and moderating influences... "
Drawings of existing 40 footers, and boats which had yet to be built were put on the table. The brief contained three points: design a simple, reliable and fast boat. "We set ourselves the goal of making the rules fit onto two pages!" recalled Patrice Carpentier.
"It took us about a year to define the rules, but it was fascinating! It isn't easy to get numerous designers around the table at the same time! They are all stubborn but utterly brilliant individuals!" recounted Pascal Jamet.
2005 Paris Boat Show: Class40 unveiled
At the Paris Boat Show in 2005, the Class40 Rules and the broad outlines of this new offshore class were officially unveiled, and a race programme in which the 2006 Route du Rhum was to be the highlight. The conference room was packed. The audience was captivated: Class40 had its first success.
The success of the Class was rapidly confirmed in the following months. The Pogo 40, the Jumbo 40 and then the Akilaria came out of their respective yards. Many designers took to the drawing board. The first prototypes appeared... "It happened very quickly! We were astounded by the enthusiasm generated by this Class!" recalled Pascal Jamet.
And in fact, ten months later (a mere 10 months...), in October 2006, the Class already had 54 members, and 25 Class40s lined up for the start of the Route du Rhum! These 40 footers made up a third of the fleet in this mythical transatlantic race...
Since then, Class40s systematically make up the largest fleet in the offshore races they take part in.
In 2007, the Class40 Association had 129 members, and 30 of them were on the start line of the Transat Jacques Vabre. Since then, the Class has settled at 120 to 130 members per year, and a fleet of 40 or so boats which compete regularly.
Conviviality is the catalyst
In terms of quantity, the Class had made it. In terms of "quality", the brief was answered to perfection.
"We wanted to create a Class for enlightened amateurs, and a race circuit accessible to all. A Class which enables all good sailors to fulfil their dream of offshore racing - easily, for pleasure, and without bankrupting themselves, or spending months in the yard on a complicated prototype," explained Michel Mirabel.
It was spot on. Heads of companies and professionals who have kept a toe dipped in the water and the wind in their hair, make up the bulk of Class40 membership. Young semi-professional sailors have joined the fray.
The end result is a successful mix of sailors. Everyone is delighted with their new-found freedom to do be able to do what they want: take part in offshore races.
Friendships have formed from the earliest Class40 races. Memories are etched for good. This is the glue of Class40.
Diversity: a long-term attribute
In its six years of life, Class40 has found its place in the world of offshore racing. It quickly expanded internationally: South Africa, Germany, England, Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, USA, Holland, Italy, Norway... Today, Class40 is made up of sailors from 22 different countries.
Patrice Carpentier sees this is a strength: "The mix of different types of people and the internationalisation of the Class are very good attributes. What makes Class40 so attractive is its diversity, and that makes me optimistic for the future."
This diversity can also be seen in the lines of the Class40 boats themselves. In five years, designers (since 2005, no less than 20 inventive brains* have worked on designing Class40s) have had a ball finding ways to optimise the Class Rules. Inevitably, boats have steadily become more powerful.
"Class40 is just fine as it is! We got the basics right, because not only have we been able to design very different boats within the same framework... but there are still lots of avenues for designers to explore," enthused François Lucas, designer, and one of the founding members of the Class.
However, Michel Mirabel believes that it is crucial to remain faithful to the founding principles of Class40: "Where the rules are concerned, we need to systematically go for the solution which costs the least. It is the only way to prevent an arms race. We must stick firmly to this principle."
A Class to watch...
With undeniably good beginnings and now well-installed in the world of offshore racing, Class40 has won its first bet. For the future, the Class must find the right balance between performance and accessibility; between "pro" budget, and simply budget; between true offshore races and "grand prix" events open to all...
Class40 is on course. It must make the right tactical decisions: those which enable sailors to fulfil their dreams.
* Designers of Class40s
Jim Antrim - Axel de Beaufort - Luc Bouvet - Réjean Desgagné - Groupe Finot - O. Gouard / Y. Pascal - Humphreys Design - Marc Lombard - François Lucas - Sam Manuard - Julien Marin - Owen Clarke Design - Olivier Philippot - Jérome Renous - Rogers Yacht Design - Pierre Rolland - Jacques Valer - Guillaume Verdier - Joubert/Nivelt - Sito Aviles.