He’s going around, again. That’s the plan at least, for Joe Harris, 60, the American solo racer who completed a 2016 solo circumnavigation record attempt onboard his Class 40 GryphonSolo2 (“What was supposed to take four months took six,” he says). For Harris, a semi-retired real estate financier and father of three, enough time has passed since he last pulled into Newport, R.I. on May 15, 2016, tired and salt encrusted, for him to seriously consider another lap of the planet.
This time around, however, Harris’ second lap will be doublehanded, as the sole American entrant (to date) in the new Globe40 Race for Class 40s. He has a year to prepare himself and his yacht before the race’s June 2021 start from Tangiers, Morocco, and as one might imagine, the to-do list is lengthy and exhaustive.
But Harris knows the drill, he has done this once before. He also knows the tug on his heart strings, of unfinished business and the allure of a competitive around-the-world race in the physically demanding Class 40. Try as he may to remain physically fit and wish to turn back the biological clock, he knows an opportunity when he sees it: this Globe40 thing is his best shot to race around the world again. “I feel lucky to have done it (a solo circumnavigation) once before,” says Harris. “I know what it requires in terms of commitment—mental, physical, financial, spiritual and family.”
Harris will partner for the race with Class 40 veteran Rob Windsor, who is highly experienced with preparing and maintaining Class 40s. GryphonSolo2 lives at the Maine Yacht Center, in Portland, Maine, where Windsor and MYC General Manager, Brian Harris, (no relation) are overseeing the boat’s refit. Last year, during a delivery from Maine to Rhode Island, the boat was struck by lightning, frying the electronics. On another outing, the headstay broke and Harris nearly lost the rig. Then, he battled with engine issues. “I was feeling kind of cursed,” Harris says, “but, in hindsight, it was as if the boat was telling me it needed an overhaul.”
The work-list at MYC is extensive, he says, and that should be expected of a boat with so many sea miles. Electronics are being replaced and upgraded, both keel and rudder will be removed, inspected and refurbished while the rig will be improved from tip to butt, with new spreaders and standing rigging. He’s in the process of getting a new sail wardrobe, too, working with the Italy-based startup sailmaker OneSails, through their North Atlantic based team on Long Island. The list goes on.
Harris says he originally bought his boat for the 2013 edition of the Global Ocean Race, which was ultimately cancelled, leaving a void in the Class 40 doublehanded round-the-world space, with no true global test, non-stop or otherwise. So, in 2015, Harris made his own solo, non-stop, around-the-world record attempt, and while he did not break the record of 137 days, he did complete the solo circumnavigation—with two stops—in 152 days.
Harris says he never lost his desire to race around the world against Class 40s, and last year two organizations came forward to organize races. The first, Sirius Events, led by Manfred Ramspacher, proposed the Globe40. The second, organized by Hugh Piggin, of Manuka SEM, which created and manages the U.S. Eastern Seaboard-based Atlantic Cup, lodged a bid for a Class 40 circumnavigation race of his own, called “The Race Around.” Faced with conflicting events, the Class 40 Class Association brokered peace between the two organizations and set the Globe40 on the 2021 calendar and The Race Around for September 2023.
With that settled, Harris confirmed his intentions: “I’ve been impressed with the management and diligence of the Globe40 team in setting the course and the calendar,” he says, “with eight stopovers, twice more than the traditional four stops, the race goes to more interesting places, which to me was one of the appeals.”
The Globe40 sets off from Tangier, Morocco in June 2021, with stops in the Cape Verde Islands, Mauritius, Auckland, Tahiti, Argentina (Ushuaia), Brazil (Recife), and Grenada before finishing in Lisbon in March 2022.
According to race organizers, 16 Class 40 teams have entered the race to date. It’s a truly international cast, but with an expected majority of French entrants. “I know that some people are looking for boats, and activity is beginning to pick up again after things shut down for a few months, Harris says. “Certainly, the pandemic derailed a few campaigns, but out of the ashes have risen a few more new guys.”
More than 160 boats have been built to the Class 40 box rule, and while in the past there has been production runs of 20 to 30 boats built by Structures/Pogo (Finot-Conq design) and Akilaria (Marc Lombard design), newer boats are million-dollar-plus one-off design/builds. “Each one takes a leap forward,” Harris says. “The newest boats are super full in the bow and just pick up and plane very easily.”
GryphonSolo2 is Hull No. 106, and it is not really on a level playing field with the latest designs. Depending on the ultimate composition of the 2021 Globe40 fleet, there could be a “vintage class” type of trophy for boats built before 2015. While he’d love to have a new boat come next June, Harris is funding his own campaign, so he will go with his trusted steed GryphonSolo2, lighter, faster and more reliable. “With the fixed schedule of the stops, the ramifications are that if you’re a fast boat, you get in early and have more time to repair and prepare for the next leg,” Harris says. “With a slow boat, you get in late and have a lot less time to recover.”
He says he feels much better prepared today, having completed a circumnavigation once before, with the help of Windsor and Harris. “We know what we have to do,” he says, “and we will be ready.”
Having an older boat is not ideal, Harris says, but being well-prepared should keep them competitive. He will have to see what the rest of the fleet looks like when the time comes and go from there. Either way, Joe’s going again, and he’s going for the win.