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Ken Read - photo courtesy of Team DC

Ken Read - TP 52 Class Review

(September 20, 2004) The emergence of the TP 52 class both in the US and now in Europe is attracting attention. In their latest class event, the San Francisco Big Boat Series held last week, they literally stole the show, showing both close racing and amazing performance in the breezy conditions. As North Sails VP Ken Read tells us, “Going 23 knots downhill on the windiest run is pretty fun stuff.”

Ken has been very involved with Makoto Uematsu’s Esmeralda, so we thought we would check in with him about the TP 52 class following their win at the BBS.

What has been the TP 52 class buoy schedule been like in 2004?

Ken Read: BBS was the second official buoy racing event of the season. These buoy events have sandwiched the two offshore races that the class did (Newport/Bermuda and the Chicago Mac). The first inshore event was the East Coast Championship held by the New York Yacht Club in early June. There we had five boats sailing as our own class, and we were just getting a glimpse of what was to come for the year.

How are the design rules holding up so far? Are we looking at open development with plenty of variance and performance range, or small variance that is negligible on the closed course?

KR: The rule is holding up really well. The designers, owners and teams work together to find quirky, little loopholes in the box rule that we have tightened up permanently. The owners association is strong and organized. All the boats are performing very similarly around the track. On Esmeralda, we seem to have a tiny speed edge over the group right now, but it is amazing to see that all the boats have such similar performance characteristics both upwind and down. Regardless of age. The rule is solid.

Karl C. Kwok‘s Transpac 52 Beau Geste at BBS
Photo by Dan Nerney/Rolex

What is the crew count to sail a TP 52?

KR: Crew restrictions are simple both inshore and offshore. There is now a 2800 lb crew weight limit. Most boats are sailing right to the limit inshore (which was 2600 this season but the owners just voted to increase the limit permanently) but are probably quite a bit lighter offshore when you have to carry all kinds of extra stuff that tends to sink the boat artificially.

What was the biggest surprise in the TP 52 class at the BBS?

KR: Well, we won the two other events that this boat had entered, the East Coast Championship and then the Chicago Mac Race, so we entered this event feeling like we had a better than good chance to continue our success. But, we never dreamed that we would win all the races but one (Esmo was second). It was a week of amazing sailing and terrific karma. We had it all going. Kind of felt a bit like the Etchells Worlds last year (which Ken dominated). The whole crew got tickets to the San Francisco Giants game on Friday night, and sure enough Barry Bonds hits home run #700! It was all happening for us. Just one of those weeks!

Compared to the Farr 40, do you think the TP 52 owners are looking for a class with some development, or just a bigger boat than a forty footer?

KR: This is potentially a great class for existing offshore one design owners who want to consider a more grand prix type class, who love the close intense racing but want to add a development feature to their projects. Personally, I think it is really fun to tweak boats more than a very tight one design rule allows. To be a bit unique and work hand in hand with designers, builders, spar makers and sail makers… it is a great thing for a lot of the owners in this class. And they get to go 20 plus knots downwind!

TP 52's crossing tacks up the city front at BBS.
Photo by Dan Nerney/Rolex

What is the coolest feature on Esmeralda?

KR: Esmeralda is the epitome of simplicity. The layout, the rig, the design, the interior… we worked really hard to keep the boat light and simple to work. I love how this boat works. There was a lot of thought that went into it, believe me. Bob Wylie and the Farr office deserve a lot of the credit for this.

What is being done to keep a lid on costs, if any?

KR: Construction costs are kept under control by the VCG limits (vertical center of gravity), which essentially limit radical and extreme construction techniques that would be hugely expensive. A bit of common sense is necessary, but by no means is this a poor man’s class. We had 8 boats at Big Boat Series that all went there to win, and all were very well prepared.

How does the TP 52 class compare to other 50-foot classes that we have seen?

KR: The biggest difference with this class versus the IOR 50’s or the IMS 50’s is that it is well organized right now, with Executive Director Tom Pollack deserving a lot of credit for making this all work. But, the boats sell themselves. The owner of Esmeralda, Makoto Uematsu, said that this is his 15th race boat and he claims it is by far the most fun to sail. 23 knots downwind in 28 knots of breeze with no hint of control problems. Going 16-17 knots downwind the next day in 20 knots of wind seemed downright boring. They are amazing boats both upwind and down. This class is taking off for the right reasons. Great rule, great boat, great batch of initial owners. New boats are being built for owners in Spain, Italy, England, Ireland, and the US and those are only the ones that I know of. I see a great future for this class.

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