Overall winner of the 2021 Transpac Race, Chris Sheehan’s Pac 52 Warrior Won worked hard on developing their sail program with offshore sailing legend Stu Bannatyne, from Doyle Sails New Zealand to deliver the ultimate sail package and boost in performance.
In this Q&A session, Bannatyne talks through his involvement with the Warrior Won programme, sharing how he transfers his wealth of knowledge and experience into every campaign with which he works.
The 51st edition of the Transpac race provided champagne sailing conditions to the majority of the fleet with a near-perfect breeze for the 2225nm downwind ride from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Chris Sheehan’s Pac 52 Warrior Won, was the third yacht to cross the finish line (second fastest overall elapsed time) at 2:18 am on the 24th July 2021. At the prizegiving, Warrior Won won Transpac 2021 with first place overall, first place in Division 3 and the Merlin Trophy as the monohull with the fastest elapsed time, with all manual powered systems.
Q: How did you become involved with the Warrior Won programme?
I raced on the boat with the previous owner, Tom Holthus, when it was known as Badpak – Chris and his project manager, Collin Leon, were happy to keep some of the existing team to continue campaigning the boat as Warrior Won.
Q: What is your role within the team? Both on and off the yacht.
Onboard my role is tactician and watch leader (on the races long enough to warrant a watch system). Off the boat I help with guiding the medium term and day to day schedule as relates to sailing priorities and working hard with the other team members on pushing forward development of our sail programme, polars and sail crossover chart. I also manage the rating optimisation process for the team which is complicated with so many different rating rules in play for the varied racing schedule.
Q: As one of the most successful offshore sailors in the world, how do you bring this experience to a team like Warrior Won?
I am fortunate that Chris and Collin have assembled a very experienced and skilled team who already have great depth of knowledge and talent. We have a nice base to build from and I can bring some ideas into the mix on sail inventory concepts and then work as liaison between the Warrior Won team and the Doyle design team to ensure that the sails we receive on the boat are just what we need to optimise the inventory for each race (and rating system) and meet the expectations of the team in terms of performance and durability. And then onboard just a few tricks here and there, about driving and trimming techniques, boat setup and even a few mechanisms for coping with living onboard for the longer races.
Q: You have been heavily involved with Warrior Won’s sail programme and their changeover to Doyle Sails. What do you think was the driving force behind the teams decision to use Doyle?
I think Chris and the team have confidence in what I bring personally in terms of sail concepts and inventory planning and then of course the fact that Doyle Sails are the industry leaders in Cableless and Structured Luff sail design and construction made the decision a logical one!
Q: How do you manage the collaboration between yourself, the Doyle design team and the owner, in this case Warrior Won?
It is very much a team effort and firstly, I bring my ideas to the table, as do the other members of our very experienced sail team. We discuss and finalise together what we would like to see on the boat, taking into account rating implications, handling, performance and number of sails onboard. We do this early to allow optimal design and build time but most importantly, enough testing time to verify the performance of the sails and where they fit into the crossover chart. The job is never complete but we endeavour to start each race with high confidence in our crossovers and polars which I know really helps in managing the sail changes and choices we make during each race.
Q: Fellow professional sailor Hartwell Jordan, sails with you on board and helps to manage the sail inventory. How do you decide what the boat needs in regards to sails?
Along with my answer to previous question, we also look at other boats and compare rating certificates to ensure we are not out on a limb with our sail inventory. We are always pushing the boundaries with ideas on sail concepts and setups. The other key guy in our sail team is Mal Parker, who is always pushing us with new and sometimes crazy ideas – that often work! Between Hart, Mal and myself we thrash around the ideas and come up with a plan to present to Chris. More often than not he is happy to go with our recommendations!
Q: Sometimes sail inventories can be very extensive, how do you design and deliver a complete sail inventory to maximise the yachts potential covering all angles and wind ranges with the least amount of sails?
The key to this is experience and knowing what has worked on previous sail programmes and to use that as a baseline to build from. The next important factor is testing time and Chris has allowed us plenty of this within the sailing programme to ensure we validate our sail choices and start each race with proven crossovers and performance knowledge.
Q: How does a yacht’s schedule dictate a sail inventory and how do you work through that process?
It is complicated! The schedule of races dictates the rating systems applicable and the time available to design and test different sails and sail inventories. So we need to be planning well in advance with our design and building of new sails. It takes time to design the sails, run test certificates for different rating configurations and finally to build, deliver and test the sails. So any time we can plan with around 4 – 6 months of lead time we are happy!
Q: What does Warrior Won carry currently as part of their standard wardrobe?
For the Transpac we carried a one reef mainsail, a single “jib” and then a specialist reaching inventory consisting of R1, R2 and three different staysails. Add to that the usual package of downwind sails and we were well equipped for the typical Transpac run.
Warrior Won training off the coast of Southern California in the lead up to the Transpac 2021. Q: Doyle Sails is renowned for the ground breaking Structured Luff and Cableless technology. As Warrior Won wasn’t a new yacht when their Doyle sails were designed, were there any modifications to the existing systems/rig required to retrofit/incorporate the Doyle technology?
There were zero modifications required to the yacht to suit the Cableless and Structured Luff technology. As is typical with these slightly older designs (2015), the maximum allowable loads on the rig and structures are less than ideal and less than more recent 52 designs. But with our technology we are able to use the existing load limitations and achieve a much greater performance than was possible with the old technology sail designs.
Warrior Won on her way to win Transpac 2021 with first overall and the Merlin Trophy. – photo © David Baker
Q: In light of the previous question, how easy is it for other yachts to add this race winning technology to their inventory/yacht?
Very easy! And with some very simple small modifications the gains can be even bigger, for example just adding a purchase to your jib tack arrangement can allow for a significant reduction in forestay sag when utilising our Structured Luff headsail technology.
Q: You spend quite a bit of time working with navigators and the afterguard on race strategy. From your standpoint, where and how was this year’s Transpac won?
It is a bit of a cliché but for us this race was won before the start. We had developed a superior sail inventory, assembled a great crew and prepared the boat exceptionally well (thank you Collin Leon). Chris Lewis as navigator, is one of the best and very experienced with the Transpac Race in particular. His impeccable preparation and knowledge of the race was key to us in having the confidence to execute the strategy required to build our lead as the race progressed. Perhaps a key point in the race was having the patience to maintain our windward position early on while the synoptic breeze fully established. Then choosing the right time to set our R2 triple head setup to reach across the fleet and convert our gauge to miles forward down the track, while simultaneously establishing a nice leeward position to take advantage of the best wind field for the ensuing few days of VMG running.
Q: With your experience in a programme like this, do you take on a coaching/mentor role with the crew? We know Warrior Won spent quite a bit of time training offshore in the lead up to the Transpac.
I do end up taking on that role, with some of the crew at least. I can’t say often enough how great it was that Chris provided sufficient sailing days in the programme to allow for testing, training and lead up races. This was vital to our Transpac success and allowed the time for myself and others to share our experience and for us all to work together and grow as a team. I have learned plenty along the way too, one is never too old to learn a few new tricks!
Q: Naturally when you spend time at sea you develop relationships with owners and their crew – what is the biggest asset you bring to the table do you think?
I like to think I have a calming influence and keep fairly level on the emotional side which can be important when things don’t always go to plan. Also, providing some input on when to push hard and keep extra guys on deck – for example, the last few days we saw a bit more squall activity so kept a standby system going on our watch system to have extra crew on deck.
Q: Where to from here? Is Warrior Won remaining in California or will it be heading offshore again soon?
The plan is not yet confirmed but likely that Warrior Won will next take on the Caribbean 600 in early 2022, followed up with a Bermuda Race campaign.
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