Racing for the high-performance M32 catamarans starts promptly in 2015 with sailing getting under way on 8th-11th January for the M32 Miami Winter Series. Now in its second year in the warm Florida climes, the M32’s have started to become a regular sight in the US. During the summer in Newport, Rhode Island, five M32s have been regularly competing in Thursday night regattas. The fleet has also been accepted by ‘the establishment’ and has sailed in both the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta and Newport Race Week.
The 2015 M32 Miami Winter Series is made up of four regattas. Following on from the 8th-11th January season opener, the Series moves on to back-to-back events on 5th – 7th March forming part of the Bacardi Miami Sailing Week. On 30th March-3rd April, the Series culminates with what has historically been the pinnacle of all global M32 racing, the M32 Gold Cup. In Miami, the M32s are based at the Miami Rowing Club, located on Virginia Key, close to Key Biscayne. The boats will be racing the new ’America’s Cup’ course on Biscayne Bay with reaching starts and finishes and windward-leeward legs between.
M32 Gold Cup 2014
For the first event, five teams are currently confirmed, with more expected to follow in the coming days. The first event has drawn a range of competitors including the reigning Match Racing World Champion, two Melges 32 teams, another from Chicago Match Race Centre and a fifth best known for its offshore big boats campaigns.
Melges 32 skipper Malcolm Gefter was one of the original owners who, with North Sails President Ken Read, was responsible for introducing the Swedish M32 catamaran to the US when the first four boats arrived in 2013. Gefter originally bought Lift Off with co-owner Ron O’Hanley, who usually races a Cookson 50 monohull Privateer, winner of the 2013 RORC Caribbean 600. They enjoyed sailing their twin-hulled speedster so much that they decided to buy a second M32, Escape Velocity, which O’Hanley now campaigns.
“Having been a keelboat sailor, switching to a catamaran has been a magnificent, exciting, delightful, informative and sometimes scary experience,” enthuses Gefter. “I like the M32’s high performance, but also its simplicity, due to it only using a single sail upwind and two downwind.”
He continues: “It is not an accident that the America’s Cup went to catamarans because they are more exciting to sail than a keelboat of any shape or size. Sports boats are fun – there is nothing more thrilling than sailing one downwind in 30 knots, holding on for dear life, but the M32 is like that 100% of the time, upwind and downwind. You constantly have to be on your game, constantly paying attention to all aspects of the boat, trimming, driving, crew weight, etc. Plus the action happens at two-to-three times the speed of a monohull. The acceleration of the M32 will throw you off the back if you don’t hold on. You simply can’t get that thrill on a keelboat.”
On board Lift Off, Gefter’s crew includes multihull ace Lars Guck, Max Kramer (son of America’s Cup engineer/designer Dirk), ex-Tornado/Extreme 40 sailor, Jonathan Farrar, and Dave Douchett while O’Hanley’s team on Escape Velocity includes multihull expert, Stan Schreyer, plus crew from Privateer.
Douchett, the team’s boat captain, enjoys the crew mix. “You have big boat, offshore sailors, Tornado Olympic sailors and kite sailors plus business executives all converging and they all have an awesome time.”
Also making the trip down to Miami from Newport is Micheal Dominguez and his Bronco team. Dominguez became hooked on yacht racing after sailing the Puma VO70. Since then, like Gefter, he has campaigned a Melges 32 before moving to the M32 catamaran. Dominguez is an enthusiast skier and, according to boat captain Tom Loughborough, it provides him with the same adrenalin rush as he gets on the slopes.
Coach and team leader for Bronco is top Moth sailor and Melges 32 World Champion, Anthony Kotoun who will sail the highlight of the M32 Miami Winter Series, the M32 Gold Cup. Otherwise Melges 32 tactician, Jeremy Wilmot will be calling the shots, backed up by Loughborough, US Virgin Islands Olympic Laser sailor, Sy Thompson and multiple F18 catamaran US National Champion, Tripp Burd.
Loughborough points out that the speed of the M32 and its ability to perform in the lightest winds makes it an efficient boat to race for private owners, whose time is typically limited. “Rig up-rig down and general mucking about time is reduced, plus the time to and from the race course is significantly reduced because the boat is so fast. It is quite easy to hit 28 knots when you are right at the limit of one reef, but equally you are still hitting low 20s in not much pressure. You also get a full work out the whole time you are out there, even if there’s only 5-6 knots of breeze.”
Two newbies to the M32s both have backgrounds in the Chicago Match Race Centre (CMRC). Taylor Canfield is one of the most high-profile skippers taking part. Despite being just 24, the US Virgin Islander is the reigning Match Racing World Champion.
Before becoming a pro-sailor, Canfield was Sailing Director of the CMRC, but admits he is still new to catamarans: “Last winter, my eyes were opened to another world of sailing. I was offered the opportunity to train against the members of the Nacra 17 US Sailing Team and also to sail Mathias Rahm’s M32. After that, I was hooked! Obviously we have been following the catamaran movement. As a team, we have to carry on our momentum and make sure we stay current, so it’s exciting to be moving into faster, more action-orientated sailing.”
For the owner of the CMRC, Don Wilson, the first M32 Miami Winter Series race will be an exploratory event. As his boat captain Tod Reynolds explains: “Catamaran sailing is taking off and we thought it’s worth giving it a try.”
Wilson’s Convexity Racing team has chartered the former Wallén Racing M32 which won this year’s Gold Cup and its original skipper, Hans Wallén is returning to help Wilson’s team get to grips with the twin-hulled speedster. Also on board will be leading match racer Matt Cassidy, now with Oracle Team USA.
The Miami-based M32s are to be joined by other international teams in the build up to the Gold Cup, but the school remains out over which group will dominate.