Akilaria Class 40

by BWS Staff

Blue Water Sailing
November 2007


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BWS tests the new Akilaria Class 40, the new rage in the shorthanded, offshore-racing world

The breeze on Narragansett Bay (Newport, R.I.) was a pleasant 12 knots, gusting to 15, as we hoisted the huge square top, fully battened mainsail and fell off onto a reach. We rolled out the Solent jib and within seconds the boat was humming along at 8.5 knots. And I mean humming. The twin rudders and the high aspect fin keel, with a huge bulb on the bottom, literally developed a pleasant harmonic that sang the song of true boat speed. If you have ever got a Laser planing you will know what we were experiencing. Out behind us the wake was as smooth as glass. We weren’t going through the water; we were skimming on top of it.

Heading up the bay and steering hard on the wind, the boat heeled dramatically and held the 8-plus knots of boat speed. Brian Harris, the boat’s co-owner, climbed below, deployed the water intake valve to fill the windward ballast tanks and soon the boat was standing nearly upright and the speed had increased to over nine knots. Wow.

A few miles up the bay, we fell off the wind to hoist the huge asymmetrical chute and dumped the water ballast. It was like someone had stomped down on the accelerator. The boat took off instantly and the GPS showed the speed climbing to nine and then 10 knots—in 12 knots of breeze—as that pleasant hum raised a few cycles in pitch.

We were not even testing the boat, however. In 20 knots of breeze, the boat will broad reach at 15 knots or more; in 25 knots, you will see sustained speeds near 20 knots.

What is this sailing rocket ship? It is the new Akilaria Class 40, designed by Frenchman Marc Lombard, that Brian Harris and Joe Harris (no relation) are bringing in from Europe. The first boat debuted at the Newport Boat Show in September. Brian and Joe are no strangers to high-performance, shorthanded sailing. Brian has been a shore manager for several high-end Open 60 campaigns, and Joe owns and skippers the Open 50 Gryphon Solo, which he has campaigned around the North Atlantic.

The Class 40— 40-footers designed to a box rule—has become the latest sailing rage in Europe. In the last two years nearly 60 of the boats have been built and several—the Pogo and Akilaria, in particular—are being built on a semi-production basis. Nearly 20 Class 40s entered last year’s Route du Rhum (a singlehanded race from France to Guadalupe) and 26 entered this summer’s Fastnet Race. By spring of 2008, there should be eight or possibly 10 new 40s on the U.S. East Coast.

The appeal of the Class 40 lies in a well-conceived balance between value and performance. Sailors who hanker after Open Class events in Open 50s and Open 60s, are most often thwarted by the huge costs involved. A new Open 50 won’t leave much change from a million dollars and an Open 60 will be 50-percent more. For most competitors, sponsorship is a must and is readily available in Europe. But on our side of the Atlantic raising money for singlehanded and doublehanded offshore sailboat racing has proven to be difficult at best.

The Class 40 was designed to level the paying field for amateurs by limiting the technology that can be used in the boats—no canting keels, no carbon fiber hulls, and so on. A new Akilaria, which is French built in Tunisia and shipped to the U.S., will run close to $400,000. That’s still a lot of cash but closer to a mere mortal’s budget than the Open class boats.

One interesting aspect of the Class 40 rule lies in the decision to have racing and cruising versions. The boat that we sailed has the racing interior. The cabin has full head room and right at its center is an Open-class-style chart table with an array of instruments. Bench seats that are wide enough to sleep on run down both sides and there is a double berth forward in a separate cabin. The galley has a small sink and a one-burner Origo alcohol stove just forward of the chart table. Aft, two quarter cabins sport articulated pipe berths that can be adjusted with tackles to keep them level. The head is in the starboard quarter cabin. There are no doors throughout the interior, so modesty has to be left ashore.

The cruising version is less Spartan and has a built-in galley to port, a standard chart table to starboard and a pleasant dinette arrangement…and cabin doors. Plus, it comes with an enclosed head. Heavier than the racing sistership, the cruising version probably will not sail boatfor-boat with the racers in highly competitive Class 40 events. It will, however, blow the doors off just about every other 40foot monohull on the planet.

Class 40s are not for the faint of heart. They are for sailors who lust after raw speed in boats that can be singlehanded or doublehanded across oceans or, for that matter, around the world. We can only hope that Class 40s catch on in the U.S. with the same fever that has swept Europe.


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