Invisible Hand one of a new generation of 52-footers that represents a return to the offshore roots of the TP52 class, and a resurgence of level-rating grand prix racing on the west coast of the US. Erik Simonson reports
The original Transpac 52 Class (TP52) left an indelible mark on US west coast sailing, but the few that were left racing in California represented a wide range of vintages and race only under handicap. The launch of the Pac 52, a new offshore-specified 52ft class, in 2017 was an attempt to recapture some of that TP spirit and get level rating grand prix racing started up again in California.
The TP52 story began in 2000, when a contingent of Californian sailors sought a new racing class, something smaller than the 70ft sleds that had been surfing their way to victory in the 2,225-mile LA-Honolulu Transpac Race for the previous two decades. They were after a planing design of about 50ft that was simple to sail, could handle round-the-cans races and scoot across the Pacific in a hurry.
The Transpac Yacht Club, which organises the biennial race, proposed a new class to a few local naval architects, including teams from Alan Andrews Yacht Design, Nelson Marek and Reichel/Pugh. The club settled on a 52ft box rule concept, and enlisted designer Bill Lee to help form the rule. Their aim was to have new boats on the start line of the 2001 Transpac Race: the TP52 was launched.
For the following five years there was glory aplenty for west coast TP52s both inshore and offshore, including trans-Pacific races. But the TPs evolved rapidly, adopting square-topped mains and bowsprits. The first generation boats aged quickly as the costs of remaining competitive spiralled, and with no formal organisation or class association, west coast orders slowed.
In Europe, however, the Mediterranean circuit had surged in popularity. By 2006 the Audi TP52 MedCup had become the pinnacle of grand prix racing, with the original offshore element set aside in favour of hardcore inshore racing. The boats got stiffer, lighter and faster. They were largely built in Europe and sailed with European professional crews. If you wanted to race TP52s on a level rating, the Med was the place to be.
Enter the ‘core of four’: American owners Manouch Moshayedi, Victor Wild, Frank Slootman and Tom Holthus. These founding members banded together to form the Pac 52 Class Association, primarily to bring grand prix level rating racing back to the west coast of the USA. Although each owner comes from a slightly different yacht racing background, they all wanted to eliminate the handicap element in the new class.
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The first Pac 52 started life as a new 52-footer for Beau Geste Racing team. When Manouch Moshayedi, owner of the 100-footer Rio, heard that a new Beau Geste was in build at Cookson Boats in Auckland, he contacted Victor Wild, who was also keen to get into some grand prix level racing.
With the tooling already in place, a second boat could be built cost-effectively (now sailing as Wild’s Fox). If they bulk ordered material and found a couple of other perspective owners, they could save even more and have the nucleus of a new class. The Pac 52 Class was born.
The association was formed with three main elements at its core: a level rating class rule; cost effectiveness; and a mutually agreed schedule. The boats are intended to be lighter and faster than the Super Series TP52s (the current crop of TP52s that race on a purely inshore circuit including the Med, Miami and Key West) but capable of racing offshore and costing much less. Getting into the class with a new boat can come in between US$1.8-2.2 million, compared to a Super Series boat at about $3 million (£2.32 million).
Four of the Pac 52s were built at Cookson’s, the sole exception being Moshayedi’s Rio, which was built at Premier Composite Technologies in Dubai. Rio utilised the existing plug made for Super Series boat Platoon, a Judel/Vrolijk design, while Provezza (another Judel/Vrolijk Super Series design) provided the mould for Beau Geste, which in turn led to Fox, Invisible Hand and Bad Pak. Theoretically any of the recent Super Series moulds would work, with a deeper keel and taller rig added.
While Beau Geste, Fox and Rio are set up for inshore racing, Invisible Hand and Bad Pak opted for an offshore package. By modifying the Vrolijk deck and adding 150mm freeboard to the bow and 125mm to the stern, Mick Cookson created enough room to allow crawling access to the aft cockpit bunks and make space for a navigator. The two offshore boats have removable galleys and bunks, and can carry watermakers.
The hull of the Pac 52 has a core of foam. The deck has a honeycomb core, which is a slightly less expensive yet more robust alternative to the Nomex construction of the Super Series sisterships. The offshore-moded Invisible Hand and Bad Pak run lines above deck and have eliminated most through-hull protrusions, making them much dryer. Invisible Hand’s steering can be switched from wheels to tiller with minimal effort, while Bad Pak’s owner chose a two-wheel configuration.
One of the biggest weight savings was in the engine. Pac 52s have Lombardini 40hp models, which provide a little less power than the Yanmar 57hp models specified for the Super Series TPs, but weigh 100kg less.
The new class sports a 600mm taller mast, which is placed further aft, increasing the J measurement (jib foretriangle). The smaller main improves the Offshore Racing Rule (ORR) rating when competing in non-class events. Brent Rhune, pro bowman on Bad Pak, says this configuration gives the boats increased power at the lower end of the wind scale.
“The Pac 52 starts planing in 14-15 knots, adding an extra gear or two,” he says. For quick-response rig tuning, Pac 52s have hydraulic headstays, mast deflectors and mast-foot adjusters, powered by a hydraulic rotary pump on the aft coffee grinder.
“Set-up on the Pac 52 is all-important: rig tune, mast butt [foot] and rake,” adds Rhune. “Figuring out the crossover of leaving the jib up versus taking it down and hoisting the staysail, thus keeping two guys off the bow at the top mark and three guys at the bottom, ends up earning you boat lengths.”
Deck gear packages vary. Fox sports an array of top-end Harken ceramic winches, a hydraulic mast ram and forestay, carbon fibre gearing, and aerodynamic coffee grinders. Invisible Hand and Bad Pak carry a more conventional package with corresponding cost savings.
A key aim of the class association is keeping costs realistic, with an owner-driver rule and limit on seven professional sailors per crew. There are also limitations on new sails, use of support RIBs, and a ‘blackout’ period before each regatta to discourage expensive and lengthy pre-regatta training.
Five Pac 52 Class events were scheduled for 2017, the inaugural year, including the Rolex Big Boat Series in September, with a break in the middle to allow the offshore boats some bluewater time.
Brent Rhune says the fleet is living up to its promise from a sailor’s perspective: “The boats are a blast to sail, just like their predecessors. Although we have just five boats at this point, the racing is close, with nose-to-tail mark roundings, lead changes, camping [sitting] on opponents on the beat, and so on.”
Ruben Gabriel, who races on Invisible Hand, says the pro-am ethos of the fleet is also a big draw. “It’s half-pro, half-amateur racing against each other in a very competitive environment. Everything is rapid fire, everything rises another notch. Every action is precise and deliberate; there is no wasted effort.
“Even the pre-race and post-race debriefs are exacting. Sharing stories and hearing tales from the pros is a great learning experience.”
LOA (max): 15.85m (52ft)
Beam (max): 4.5m (14ft 9in)
Draught (max): 3.6m (11ft 9in)
Displacement (min): 6,900kg (15,200lb)
Sail area (upwind max): 171m2 (1,840ft2)
Asymmetric (max): 272m2 (2,927ft2)
TCF (max): 1.208
A version of this article was first published in the September 2017 edition of Yachting World.