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An interview with Mike Coe on the 2020 Ida Lewis Distance Race

by David Schmidt 12 Aug 08:00 PDT August 15, 2020
Jeanneau America has become the Presenting Partner of the 2020 Ida Lewis Distance Race, which starts Saturday, August 15. Three of its new Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300s are expected to join the racing in the new Mixed Double-Handed class. © Billy Black

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics may have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that’s not stopping sailors, sailboat manufacturers, and sailing events from starting to gear-up for the new Mixed Two-Person Offshore Keelboat event that will debut at the Paris 2024 Olympics. One great example of this is the 2020 Ida Lewis Distance Race (ILDR; August 15), which will unveil a brand-new Mixed Double-Handed class. While this class isn’t designed as a feeder for the Olympics, it is an opportunity for New England and Eastern seaboard-based sailors to try their luck at shorthanded sailing.

In addition to the new Mixed Double-Handed class, the ILDR has announced that Jeanneau has jumped onboard as the presenting partner of this year’s event, and three of the French builder’s new Sun Fast 3300s are expected on the starting line. This performance-minded 33-footer was designed to be easily sailed with crews of two—making it an ideal training platform for sailors interested in qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics’ Mixed Two-Person Offshore Keelboat event—or with a bunch of friends in the yacht’s fully crewed mode.

The ILDR is open to boats that are 28 feet and larger and will use courses ranging from 33 to 169 nautical miles, depending on the classes and the forecast involved. The new Mixed Double-Handed class is expected to sail one of the four longer courses, along with the boats that are racing under IRC.

Also new this year is a day-racing course that will unfurl on the historic waters of Narragansett Bay. This course will round Conanicut and Prudence islands (direction will depend on the wind) and will be sailed by the PHRF and Cruising Spinnaker classes.

I checked in with Mike Coe, Jeanneau America’s sailboat product specialist, about Jeanneau’s Sun Fast 3300 and the Ida Lewis Distance Race’s new Mixed Double-Handed class.

Building a boat for doublehanded distance racing seems like a rather prescient move given the events of 2020. Can you give us some more insight into the Jeanneau’s Sun Fast 3300? Was the boat specifically designed for the Paris 2024 Olympics?

I won’t say that the 3300 was designed specifically for the 2024 games, but instead we wanted to design a boat that would make double-handed sailing accessible to as many people as possible, helping to grow the discipline.

As the Olympics are demonstrating, double-handed offshore sailing is on the rise in the U.S. and worldwide, and we wanted to bring a boat to market [that] helps make that type of racing mainstream.

That being said, we definitely worked within the parameters of what the [Olympics] selection committee would choose from, so our boat would be a great choice for the games…it just wasn’t our #1 design goal.

In that same vein, are most Sun Fast 3300 prospective buyers specifically focused on the 2024 Paris Olympics and the new offshore event, or are you also seeing interest from sailors interested in socially distanced or shorthanded sailing?

We are absolutely talking with several teams who are focusing on the [Olympic] Games. Our boat is definitely on the short list for selection, so those teams are doing their due diligence and strongly considering our boat for their training and eventual campaigns. However, primarily the boats that we have sold in the US.. so far have been father/daughter teams, friends who want to race together in doublehanded [mode], and a husband and wife team.

Our guiding principle at Jeanneau is to make sailing more fun and easier to do, and we are definitely applying that to this project. If we make it fun, a 3300 fleet will grow around the people involved and good times had together. If we can grow that group in the U.S. and worldwide, having the boat selected for the Games based on that critical mass is a natural progression.

What makes the Sun Fast 3300 a great choice for Ida Lewis Distance Race’s new Mixed Double-Handed class?

Well, the boat is fast, fun, and versatile. When reaching or running, the boat lights-up and is an absolute blast to sail. When you combine the performance of this boat with the course selection for this race and the conditions around Newport, it will be an absolute glamor of a race.

With water ballast in, the reach to [turning mark] MoA out of Newport, or the leg from Montauk to Buzzards—or Block Island—would be a scream, as the boat will be in its sweet spot—hard reaching in the sea breeze.

What drove Jeanneau’s decision to become a Presenting Partner of this year’s ILDR? Also, was this decision made before the event announced its new Mixed Double-Handed class, or was the inclusion of the new class part of the sponsorship arrangement?

Well, I have done the race three times, always in the big-boat division, so I know that this race is one of the most fun races you can do in Newport in the summertime. The low-key atmosphere (yet gorgeous setting) at Ida Lewis is the perfect environment for what we want the spirit of the class to be.

In addition, the course length and conditions are perfect for a team that wants to try out double-handed racing without needing to commit to a 300-mile race.

When you add in the great race management and welcoming nature of Ida Lewis, what’s not to like?

Funny story-we were interested in approaching them before they announced the double-handed division—and [we] were planning on asking them to add it to their list of fleets—but they beat us to the punch! It’s a great partnership and we are truly excited about it.

What can you tell us about the three teams that will be racing Sun Fast 3300s in this year’s ILDR? Are they all owners, or is there some sort of charter program available to help promote the new boat?

We are going to have two owners racing, with the factory boat being raced by [North Sails president and Volvo Ocean Race veteran] Ken Read-someone you may have heard of. [Read] has been helping us work on promoting the boat and doing some small tweaks to make the boat as desirable to the North American market as possible. He’s been a great partner.

The owners of the two boats are both great people, and we are excited to have them in the family. One is from Long Island Sound; he’ll be sailing with family. The other is a Newport local, sailing with a friend he has done some double-handing with in the past.

How do you think the Sun Fast 3300 will stack-up to the other boats that are entered in the ILDR’s Mixed Double-Handed class?

Oh the 3300s will go 1,2,3!

Just kidding. . . You know, the boats on the entry sheet (so far) are a Swan 47, a Class 40, and a Quest 33. They are bigger boats, and boats with long histories of racing double-handed very well. I certainly expect our boats to hang with them and give them a run for their money. Obviously, you need the right conditions, but the 3300 around the world is garnering a reputation as a giant-killer, beating boats larger than it in a lot of races. We’ll see what August 16th brings.

What parts of the Sun Fast 3300’s design required the most work from Jeanneau? And how do you think this effort will be rewarded on a course like one of the four that the Mixed Double-Handed class will compete one?

For this boat, we worked with Guillaume Verdier on the hull shape and sailplan. The boat is astoundingly innovative from the keel up. [Verdier has] come up with a double concave hull design, which allows a sailor to manipulate the waterline and wetted surface to maximize the performance of the boat in all weather.

Immerse the forward concave, and the waterline shortens dramatically for light-air performance. Immerse the aft concave, and the boat locks in for fast planning in running conditions. It’s taken a huge amount of effort to get right, but it’s amazing to see it in action.

Looking bigger picture and beyond Olympic circles, do you think that Sun Fast 3300s will pluck some Class 40 owners and sailors away, or do you imagine the boat as more of an intermediate step for shorthanded/singlehanded sailors between a Classe Mini and a Class 40?

Our goal is [to] have a large class with a wide footprint.

Class 40s are truly awesome boats to sail, but the budgets are quite high when properly sailed. The 3300 is far more manageable from that perspective, keeping the loads on the equipment low, prolonging their life.

At the same time, the 3300 is larger than a Mini 6.5, so those owners should find it more comfortable and faster.

Our goal really is to carve-out our own space, getting involved with fun races like Ida Lewis and drawing enough people in to create a class that anyone would have fun sailing in.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

I am just super excited for August 15th-16th when the Ida Lewis race kicks off, and our owners hit the racecourse together! Thank you for the interview!

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