The best prepared boats don’t always win offshore races, but a boat that’s been methodically improved will be in a much better position to do well when the opportunity arrives. By Nate Williams, GMT Composites
Success in a race like the Newport Bermuda Race is usually the result of doing many things well, and that includes boat preparation and boat improvement. At GMT Composites, an official supporter of the 2022 Newport Bermuda Race, we have supported this practice among many winning customers, including the Hinckley Bermuda 40, Actaea, winner of the 2014 St. David’s Lighthouse Trophy; the Hinckley 51 Kiva, Double-Handed Division winner in 2016; and the Columbia 50 Grundoon, winner of the 2018 St. David’s Lighthouse. Each boat had one of our carbon rigs, but that’s only part of their story. In this article, let’s revisit the tale of Mike and Connie Cone, owners of Actaea, who finished last in 1996 and won overall, 18 years later.
Mike and Connie Cone were ready to call it quits after finishing last in 1996, until Mike heard the winner’s speech that year, inspiring him to re-think their approach. As he described for Carbonics (GMT’s newsletter) after their 2014 victory, they adopted the philosophy of “analysis of past errors will lead to the elimination of future flaws,” beginning a process of methodical planning, tweaking, and strategic equipment upgrades. In the process, they turned Actaea into a very competitive boat that consistently produces winning results.
“The goal has never been to make Actaea a faster boat,” explains Jim Ryan of Locus Designs in Maryland. “She is a full-displacement, full-keeled, 8.5-knot boat, and that is what it is. The goal has always been to make it easier for the boat to sail to her rating.” Jim has been working and sailing with the Cones for years, and his guidance has helped steer many of the decisions made along the way.
Jim says that Mike and Connie have been open to all ideas for making improvements to the boat, but they have been very smart about what moves will actually make an impact. When we asked Mike what upgrade advice he has for other owners he says, “If you have a centerboard, fix it; otherwise, go with a carbon rig. You are not competitive without it.”
After putting in the new GMT carbon mast, Mike said that everyone immediately felt the difference. “The boat was just so much easier. It had a bigger groove, lighter helm, and a more direct feel. It changed the heeling angle, and the boat is just happier.”
In the case of Actaea, the new rig and centerboard worked together harmoniously. Moving to lighter and stiffer carbon masts allowed the Cones to take 300 pounds of lead out of the keel and take 12 inches off the length of the centerboard. The shorter centerboard gave them a rating bump, which cancelled out the rating hit from the addition of a second set of spreaders. By replacing the old single spreader design with two shorter spreaders, the jib leads could be moved inboard, improving the sheeting angles.
A new rudder was also put in the boat, but just like everything else, the pros and cons were weighed. It was decided that a move to a carbon rudder and post was not going to result in a net gain, so the rudder was built with a stainless post and to the same profile. They did bring the top of the rudder blade closer to the hull, which resulted in improved upwind performance.
All of these changes were done with rule optimization in mind, with the goal of increased performance in offshore distance races. Actaea sails with 18 different sails on board and often reaches with five sails aloft. Mike and Connie have spent a lot of time working with their sailmaker, Tad Hutchins from Quantum, and attention has been paid not only to the primary sails, but also to staysails. They entertained the idea of sailing without a traditional spinnaker and pole, but it didn’t make sense from a performance standpoint. They do, however, have an A sail they fly right from a strop at the bow.
Many of these changes are minor, but as mentioned, Mike believes in careful analysis. Actaea runs a B&G system and logs all the data into Expedition, a program that allows them to analyze the data and identify areas for improvement. Over the years, this has helped Mike and Connie decide what areas to focus on. The latest round of improvements, with the help of GMT, was a new set of carbon spreaders to replace the aluminum spreaders, and all-new carbon EC3 side rigging. Jim Ryan ran the numbers for the different rigging options, and they determined that changing just the side rigging to carbon would result in the biggest net gain. Toss in a pair of custom titanium u-bolts to replace the stainless ones for the spinnaker halyard blocks, and the numbers get another small bump. The team is now looking forward to hearing what the real-world data says after this is all put to the test.
When asked to share a little more about what has made Mike and Connie successful with the program, they are quick to credit the crew. Mike says “cultivation of like-minded sailors will generate a dedicated team.” Jim is also quick to say that Mike and Connie’s fastidious planning and thoughtful approach to all aspects of the program has been the underlying theme that brings success and makes it a pleasure to be a part of. Everything from meals to travel logistics is well thought out and predictable, which makes the experience really nice for the crew. They always show up early for major events to prepare, and while the boat has always been kept in top shape, a lot of focus is put on practice and prep. The crew does a lot of cross training, beginning in early April every season. With 18 sails on board and a lot of sail changes happening often, that cross training benefits everyone and produces results.
Actaea is registered for the 52nd Thrash to the Onion Patch next year. GMT wishes the team—and all competitors—a safe and quick trip to Bermuda.