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Sam Holliday on The Race Around's new singlehanded class

by David Schmidt 20 Apr 08:00 PDT Summer 2023
The Race Around © Sam - The Race Around

The Class 40 rule was created in 2004, and since then more than 160 monohulls have been built to its box-rule dimensions. More importantly, countless offshore miles have now been sailed in these can-do 40-footers, from circumnavigations to transatlantic "sprints" to much more casual distance-racing affairs. The class has long been a popular platform for singlehanded skippers coming out of the Classe Mini, or for doublehanded sailors who are interested in testing their offshore acumen against some of the world's fastest bluewater sailors. Now, thanks to a recent announcement from The Race Around, which is slated to begin its inaugural circumnavigation race in the summer of 2023, both singlehanded and doublehanded Class 40 sailors can get involved in the event's offshore action.

A bit of backstory. The Race Around will begin in France in the summer of 2023 and will take singlehanded and doublehanded crews around the world via the great capes. The event will be run as a series of (up to five) stage races and will give each sailor or team a lengthy steeping in the Southern Ocean.

While The Race Around was always going to feature doublehanded teams, the solo class is a recent addition that will only add to the event's gravitational pull. The new solo class will also likely be of great interest to future (and potential) Vendee Globe sailors who are looking to gain experience and earn race accolades aboard a more manageable program before stepping up to the costs and complications of an IMOCA campaign.

I checked in with Sam Holliday, co-founder of The Race Around, via email, to learn more about the race's exciting new singlehanded class.

What was the impetus for adding a single-handed division to The Race Around?

To be honest it's always been in the back of our minds. Upon announcing the race, we received a good amount of feedback from some pretty big names that expressed considerable interest in competing but competing within a solo class.

To race solo around the globe you have two options, The Golden Globe Race or the Vendée Globe.

This leaves out a considerable amount of very good professional sailors and seasoned amateurs that cannot obtain the budgets required for a Vendée campaign, or [who] want to complete a solo lap that harks back to the BOC Challenge and Around Alone—races that had everything!

Realistically, how many single-handed boats do you expect to see on the race's starting line?

It's always a tricky question but with the interest we're seeing from real teams, it has led us to increase the fleet size from 25 to 35. For now, I'll say enough [boats on the starting line] to put on a good show!

Which division do you see as being more popular with competitors—solo or doublehanded? Also, why?

This is an interesting one and I think the answer depends upon whether you live in France or not.

The traditional French sailors will of course favor the solo category. They've been brought up on it. It's within their sailing DNA.

Outside of France, I expect the doublehanded fleet to attract significant interest with the international gang. Let's not forget that the doublehanded sector is the fastest growing within our sport (please take note World Sailing/IOC).

Doublehanded [racing] offers the opportunity for pro/amateur teams and one thing we're seeing is a good number of big names looking for younger co-skippers. Take Lalou Roucayrol for instance, his program will involve the transition of knowledge to younger sailors. I think we'll see a real talent-development program within the doublehanded class.

What do you see as the harder win—The Race Around Trophy or The Race Around Cup?

It's a race around the world, both are bloody hard. I really do expect it to be even.

Racing solo has its disadvantages compared to when sailing two-up, but it also has a simplicity that cannot be taken for granted. Of course, should a boat sustain damage, an extra pair of hands will make life easier but it's exciting.

Both classes will create [their] own story.

I do expect the solo class to perhaps have a higher level of professionalism so the racing itself should be tight, that'll create a great race but, to answer your question, perhaps [it will be] a harder class to win.

What pre-race qualifications are required to enter the race as a solo skipper?

The Race Around is a race that takes the safety of its competitors exceptionally seriously so the qualification process will echo that: We will ask tough questions of our competitors and their boats.

Further information will be released shortly within the Notice of Race but expect to see X amount of miles raced within a solo format on the boat in which they intend to compete on. We'll certainly take a common-sense approach to things, too. Let's say a 2020 Vendée Globe sailor wants to compete, their qualification might look slightly different to someone coming off the back of a 2021 Mini Transat.

Do you expect that most solo skippers will be coming off of events such as the Mini Transat or the TJV, with their mind eye's set on an eventual Vendee Globe campaign? If so, won't the race's 2023/2024 schedule conflict with the start of the 2024 Vendee Globe cycle?

I do, we're seeing a huge transition within Class40, the age of competitors is getting slightly younger and many are coming from Classe Mini. It's exciting and when you consider [that] in this most recent Vendée Globe, 18 of the 33 competitors came from Class40, [so] it's clear some [entrants] will be gunning for the 'Everest of the Seas'.

For others though The Race Around will be the pinnacle of their amateur and professional careers.

From a calendar point of view, those racing with us in 2023/2024 will be looking at the 2028 race. Let's keep in mind just how difficult it is to start a Vendee Globe campaign and with their new regulations, if you want to guarantee your place on the start line in 2024 you must have started yesterday.

Are Class 40s tough enough for the Southern Ocean, especially when sailed by a crew of one?

Absolutely. Through my role with Miranda Merron's IMOCA60 team this Vendée Globe has been fascinating. A lot of my time in Les Sables d'Olonne has been spent talking with those guys and girls who have just been in the South, getting their thoughts and understanding the problems they faced.

All of that expertise and the conversations we've had with numerous people confirmed to us [Class 40s are] tough enough. Let's also remember that speed is your friend in the South, [and] new Class40s are posting 400 mile plus days, faster than many of the older 60s. The SCOW bows are fascinating and the lack of a swing keel and foils keeps a nice simplicity to the boats.

Many of the Vendée skippers I talked with longed for Southern Ocean conditions when in the midst of the numerous North Atlantic lows!

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

I think I'd just like to publicly state how proud we are to be [the] Class40's Official Round-the-World race. The Class [has] done an amazing job of controlling costs and bringing new people in, the secondhand market is booming and it's looking likely a total of 19 new Class40s have been, or will be, built this year. All for 10 percent [of the cost] of an IMOCA build... That's exciting.

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