The Class40 is a box rule, meant to encourage the development of boats that are off shore capable, able to be sailed by one or two people, and that offer close and competitive racing regardless of the designer or builder.
The term “box rule” means that the Class has a set of rules that govern the dimensions of the boat, and the types of materials that can be used when building her. Some of those rules are meant to compel the designer, builders and owners to develop safe boats, and some of those rules are meant limit the owners from throwing unlimited amounts of money in the quest for small, incremental gains in speed.
The rule and its parameters are what is thought of as a “box”, and that means that a designer and builder can do whatever they want as long as they stay inside the box created by the rule. The tighter the rule, the less variation there is amongst boats, and the more likely that boats will perform in similar ways. When you look at the Class40 rule, it’s a reasonably snug box. Despite the fact that we have well over two dozen designers that have drawn boats, and dozens upon dozens of different builders across our fleet of almost 160 boats, they all look like they share very common DNA. Wide bottoms, where the width of the boat is carried all the way aft. Twin rudders to accommodate a boat meant to be sailed at about 20 degrees of heel, square top main sails, tillers instead of wheels, cabin interiors that are as stripped down as can be. And the performance of the boats reflect that tight box rule too, where after thousands of miles of racing in any given race, the front of the fleet is often finishing only minutes apart even with different designs and even different generations of boats.
The class started in 2004, by a group of French sailors led by the legendary Patrice Carpentier, who saw a need for a 40 foot oceangoing short-handed racing boat. The Mini 6.50 rule existed to create wildly developmental small boats that were aimed at off shore racing. Their size meant that they are relatively inexpensive, but their size also means that those that sail on them must embrace their inner masochist. Then on the other end of the spectrum there are the IMOCA 60s, the machines used for the quadrennial Vendee Globe Race, the premier offshore solo race that takes its fleet around the world, non-stop and alone. But these boats are monsters to manage, require skills that can only really be gained and maintained through full time sailing and demand budgets in the millions to both build and campaign.
So it was into the gap between the IMOCA 60s and the Mini 6.50 that the Class40 dove in. The original rule was documented in 2004, and the first boat was launched the very same year. In fact, that boat, a Pierre Rolland design built by Jumbo Composites and named Shere Kahn, is racing in the Route du Rhum this year.
The class picked up steam in 2005 with six more boats launched and most importantly a debut at the Paris Boat Show. The response was larger than anyone expected, and while the very first Class40 race, which occurred in June of 2006 from France to Iceland and return) saw a modest 8 entries but by the fall of 2006 there were 25 Class40’s entered in that year’s edition of the Route du Rhum. By 2007 there were 30 boats at the starting line of the Transat Jacques Vabre and since then the Class40 routinely makes up the largest fleet in the offshore races they take part in.
Key to that success is the friendly welcome that owners get from the fleet, the competitive racing, and the ability for owners ranging from amateurs to professionals lining up against each other on the classic race courses. Also key was the Class’s global expansion and diversity, where sailors and boats are spread across 22 countries. While the global recession slowed expansion for a few years, in the economic recovery that followed new builds were also augmented by a thriving second hand market in boats that continually supplies the class with new blood.
Since the first designs, the Class has continued to evolve and later boats have seen a firm deisgn commitment to the racing corner of the box rule. Boats have become more powerful, taking full advantage of the maximum beam and also seen rigs and sail plans move aft in the boat in an effort to optimize for the reaching conditions seen in the classic east-to-west transatlantic courses. Even with this evolution, the racing has remained tight across the generations and its not uncommon to see even second generation boats fighting for advantage against the most recent 5thgeneration designs. The class now numbers 156 boats with several other launched that have not bothered to acquire Class numbers or certification. 20+ boats change hands each year, and races around the world welcome the presence of this proven platform. 14 years after the Class got started, the future looks bright.