North Sails NEWS

Story Contributors: Rome Kirby, Taylor Canfield, Dave Doucet, Doug Newhouse, & Ryan McKillen


Closing The Gap

📸 M32 World / Stephen R. Cloutier

In the M32 class, the knowledge gap between pros and amateur racers gets smaller. 

In the highly competitive M32 Newport fleet, not one of the high-speed catamarans is sailed by a professional skipper. Instead, the owner-driven class has tapped some of sailing’s household names, including Rome Kirby and Taylor Canfield, to sharpen the skills of the skippers. They have also managed to snag their own pier space behind Midtown Oyster Bar in downtown Newport to serve as a summer base for the North American fleet. Their model has proved excellent for fleet building and kept high-performance racing from feeling unattainable to the average sailor. 

“It’s been a blast sailing down at Midtown Sailing Center, down at the pier there.” Says Rome Kirby who sails on Midtown Racing as crew for driver Larry Phillips, “Larry has created a cool little haven in this crazy world we’re living in right now.” 

Kirby has a Volvo Ocean Race and two America’s Cups to his resume. When the pro could pick up a ride any given weekend this summer, he chooses to spend his time sailing on the M32. 

“Racing the boats within inches of each other at 20+ knots is probably not normal for some guys, but when you’ve got pros on each of the boats you take that fear away.”

📸 M32 World / Stephen R. Cloutier

While the M32s are not foiling, they are high-speed, and the transition from a monohull is not an easy one.

Taylor Canfield is one of the most seasoned M32 sailors in the fleet, racing onboard Convexity, “I think the class kind of started more as a pro-driver class and has slowly migrated into an owner-driver class, which is awesome. I think a lot of people saw the boats as super intimidating, they are high-speed, everyone’s wearing helmets. If you go for a first sail with the right people and trust in your crew, the boats are very safe and they’re built well.”

The fleet boasts an all North inventory of a 3Di main and a Carbon Fiber code zero we have kept the same design for the past 4 years. M32 and the M32 class association has been working closely with North to deliver the most consistent and highest quality product. At the request of the class, the sail shapes are remaining unchanged in 2020 with only changes to ensure increased durability and smoother finishing. 

“My immediate impression getting on the boat was just the sheer speed,” says Doug Newhouse. “The boat will accelerate from zero to 20 knots very quickly. The boats only weigh 1300 pounds. They have a huge sailplane.” 

Doug Newhouse is no stranger to the sailing scene, but he is the latest team to join the M32 fleet with his boat, Yonder Racing

“You don’t have a cockpit, you have a trampoline. Literally moving on the boats, there’s a different movement pattern and there’s a different level of physicality to sailing an M32 that you just don’t have on a monohull.”

Newhouse says that any given event in the fleet feels ‘like a pro-am’ with the sharing of knowledge from the high caliber competition on Narragansett Bay. 

“The pros on the M32s  are at the top of the game, and the drivers are quite skilled but aren’t full-time professionals like these other guys. Having them involved on the boats really gives you the confidence that you actually can sail these kinds of boats.” Newhouse credits Jeremy Wilmot with his M32 education. “Jeremy’s a very, very talented sailor and he is great to go out with, and he’s a lot of fun, but he’s also very strict. My goal with Jeremy is to see how little he can correct me. The better I do the less he has to say.” 

📸 M32 World / Stephen R. Cloutier

The fun and physicality are just two of the reasons that the class is attracting new owners and competes at a high level. The M32 class association itself has made entry into the class easy by managing their own races, not relying on a yacht club. The organization of the events is phenomenal, with professional race committees, safety ribs and umpiring on the water means no flags, no yelling, and no wasted time in the protest room. 

Ryan McKillen is the owner/driver for team Surge, who made the transition from the J/70 fleet to the M32, they most recently finished second in the Midtown Surf Cup, despite McKillen having only a few years of experience in the sport at all. 

“It’s like night and day from the J/70 where you’re pretty much on your own,” says McKillen. “Dave Doucet, Who Is the fleet Manager and Director of M32 North America, really held my hand through the whole thing and they made it super easy to get set up. You get good help from the class at the individual owner level. Most one-design classes set the rules and put the events on, and as an individual owner, you’re not going to get help from the class. It’s not like that with the M32.”

📸 M32 World / Stephen R. Cloutier

The racing itself makes it easy and exciting for teams to get on the water, the races are fast-paced and short, only around 17 minutes. Teams are pushing off the dock around noon, meaning they can log 5 or 6 races before they head in for the day. 

Newhouse testifies that it’s hard to have a bad day of M32 racing, “Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to be on the podium, but the boats themselves are so much fun. And they’re so exhilarating that even if you came in last place, you’re probably going to come in with a smile on your face because you’ve had a good time. You’re just flying across the water and that by itself as special.”

The class has two more events planned in Newport, Rhode Island for September and October.