Everyone knows of the Kraken, the legendary long-armed giant squid storied to have tormented ancient mariners off the coasts of Northern Europe and Greenland with its tentacles grabbing hold of unsuspecting seaman and ship. And much like its namesake, the Beneteau 36.7 raced by Thomas Shepherd and his crew, this fiberglass Kraken has a mental grip on the team as they make their climb to the top of the Southern California Beneteau 36.7 class.
Shepherd bought the boat five years ago, intent on sailing it with his young and growing family and racing it with his Oceanside, California, locals. While he does cruise it come from time to time, it’s the racing demand that the Kraken has taken too best. For Shephard, it’s been a humbling, but consuming path to the top of the fleet.
“Our first NOOD regatta was our first one-design regatta and it’s fair to say we got our asses kicked,” says Shepherd, a gaming software developer. Since then, Team Kraken has focused on improving the crewwork and collectively getting better around the buoys.
“We started with a lot of inexperience, which was fine in PHRF,” he says, “but racing one-design was a big problem. We’ve been working on building a comfortable but competitive atmosphere on the boat.”
The Beneteau 36.7 fleet in Southern California, says Shepherd, is extremely congenial, one with a robust Corinthian spirit. “When I was learning and making a lot of mistakes, I was given a lot of forgiveness by the other skippers,” he says. “I still do, but I think I’m giving some of that back now.”
Over the years, others in the fleet have taught him how to optimize the Kraken and make changes that ultimately made the trim-sensitive boat easier to sail. There’s one problem though: as the whole fleet continues to improve, it’s getting progressively harder to get to and stay at the top.
Starting in the Beneteau 36.7 is a challenge because the boat needs momentum and full speed across the line. “The starting line has gotten more crowded and everyone’s right on it now,” says Shepherd. To improve their starts, accordingly, team Kraken puts in practice days to work on its timing. Still, the Kraken prefers a tried-and-true late port-tack approach.
“We typically sneak in on port and find the gap,” he says. “There’s nothing unique about that, but we do know we need 30 to 40 seconds to accelerate once we’re pointing the right way.”
Shepherd crews on other raceboats, his lightweight frame perfect for the bow, so he does appreciate the occasional chaos he himself can create from the back of the boat every so often.
“I do appreciate the bow relying on the back not making mistakes to pull the maneuvers off smoothly,” he says. Still, that doesn’t stop him from throwing a few surprises on his bow team.
“I do occasionally project my voice…maybe they don’t hear it,” he says. “But we plan the moves as much as possible and know when things will happen.”
As far as tips on getting upwind, Shepherd’s best advice is to keep it rumbling. “Unless you do, it will side sideways at 5 knots. When it’s light and sloppy, a lot of twist in the headsail to get the power up to get through the slop. With one-design racing, it’s not always about getting to the mark fastest, but about the right position to the boats relative to you so you can take control of the positioning whenever possible.”