McConaghy's Ker 40
Signal 8, the latest Ker 40 from McConaghy Boats, goes through its paces in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour with co-owner Jamie McWilliam excited about the coming races in the UK.
The sun broke through the clouds just as Peninsula Signal 8, a Ker 40 built at McConaghy’s in Zhuhai, left the dock for sail trials along the Hong Kong waterfront. After more than two months of rain, it was a welcome respite to begin putting the boat through its paces in ten to 15 knots of breeze. The boat proved to be seriously quick in these ideal conditions. After a short beat, the crew put up the asymmetric kite, which resulted in a huge surge in speed. The boat gybed its way past a couple of Star Ferries, with the skyline of central Hong Kong providing the backdrop. Peninsula Signal 8, co-owned by Jamie McWilliam, Keith Jacob and Patrick Pender, had just signed a sponsorship deal with The Peninsula Hotels group and would soon be on its way to Europe for a summer campaign.
The 40-footer racing scene is very competitive, so why a Ker 40? According to McWilliam, it came down to a question of crew size and price against the cost of a 50-footer. “We decided to go with a boat with a high power-to-weight ratio so that we could have thrills not just from great racing, but from simply going seriously fast. Obviously this comes with the penalty of a high rating.”
Another important reason was the boat’s designer, Jason Ker, who has an outstanding track record designing IRC-rated boats. The Ker 40, at 4,800 kilogrammes, is a lot lighter than similar sized boats. It has a four-metre beam but a narrow waterline, which gives it form stability very early by utilising the crew weight on the rail. While the unusual foils are not revolutionary, they are also not too skinny either, which gives the boat lift quickly, especially coming out of the tacks. The keel is an iron fin with lead T-Bulb into an anodised alloy keel box system.
It is fairly rudimentary down below, but still in keeping with boat’s ISO Class A regulations and general IRC and ORC requirements. There are four pipe cots, a two-burner stove, sink, fully-plumbed head forward of the mast and a 30-horsepower Volvo Penta with sail drive underneath. Above deck, it’s all carbon fibre. The boat has an asymmetrical spinnaker system with a detachable bow prodder. Hall Spars have built a strong rig, consisting of Hi Modulus carbon-fibre autoclaved mast and carbon boom. There is a Harken head foil and deck hardware as standard. The hull is a vacuum-formed, resin infused E-Glass foam sandwich construction.
However, with Peninsula Signal 8, there have been a number of modifications from the standard Ker 40. “The ergonomics on these boats are very important, especially so that manouvres can be carried out as efficiently as possible, and the crew weight can be put in its most efficient position as quickly as possible – Apart from the pedestal, the major changes from standard were that we put the nav station aft of the companionway steps, and the guys at McConaghy made us a sliding front hatch like on the TP52s (sealed by a rubber tube and a bike pump), says McWilliam.
“We selected a tiller as opposed to two wheels because we like the driving position, and Patrick Pender and I, who will be doing the bulk of the driving, really like the feel that you get from a tiller. All the other modifications we did are just little things, such as a transverse hobble to help manage the jib at mark roundings, a few extra deck eyes for sheet leads, especially when reaching, and a change in the traveller system to eliminate friction.”
When the Ker 40 was first launched, the new owners were quoted as saying that one of the things they liked about the boat was that – unlike similar 40s – it did not have a pedestal. Peninsula Signal 8 took a completely different tack and added a pedestal that is mounted aft of the tiller.
“We went for the pedestal in order to keep weight aft when in pressure offwind, and to enable us to generate enough line speed on the primary winches to execute driven hoists (to avoid having to send a man forward to bounce at the mast), string drops (again, to avoid extra people forward and to keep the kite up as long as possible), and to make gybing easier in pressure,” McWilliam said. “We got a lot of input from Tom (McWilliam’s brother) and other friends on the MedCup circuit – both Soto 40s and TP52s – which indicated this would be a good idea. I guess we’ll only find out how good it is when we actually sail in some wind.”
So far, Peninsula Signal 8 has had a mixed performance on the water since it was launched in Hong Kong earlier this year. However, the owners feel that will change in the hot-house atmosphere of summer racing in Ireland and England, not least because they will be racing against up to three other Ker 40s.
“We have not yet got the results that we believe the boat is capable of, but we can’t blame the boat for that,” McWilliam said. “The simple fact is that the boat has massive potential (hence it rates two to six minutes an hour above other modern IRC 40s) and in order to achieve that potential we must sail the boat very well.”
“We’ve seen that we can achieve Velocity-Made-Good improvements of anywhere up to five percent based on different trim, rig set-up, crew position, and simply sailing style. So far we have not done that consistently, but we’ve definitely had moments,” he said. “We didn’t make any major obvious mistakes in any of the races, and nor did our competition, but one day we found the groove and the next we lost it,” he said. “This quest to unlock the boat’s potential is very exciting,” says McWilliam.
Peninsula Signal 8 has a strong campaign planned for the summer in Europe. The boat will be competing in Cork Week, Commodore’s Cup and Cowes Week. This year is the third consecutive challenge from a Hong Kong team for the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup. The Hong Kong team was second last time (2010) to a strong Irish team, while it placed fifth in 2008. In an earlier foray in 1992 the team came seventh. Besides Peninsula Signal 8 there are two other chartered boats as part of the Hong Kong team: Nick Burns, who campaigned his own Mills 40 EFG Bank Mandrake in 2010, has chartered Erivale, a Ker 39. Hong Kong-based Etchells sailor Ante Razmilovic has chartered a Grand Soleil 43, Quokka 8. Team coordinator is champion sailor Laurence Mead.
For co-owner Keith Jacobs, it is a return to old hunting grounds. He and his Dubois-designed Bimblegumbie sailed in several Admiral's Cups in the 1980s. "Our big advantage this time is that we are supported and sponsored by The Peninsula Hotels," says McWilliam. "We are delighted to be associated with such a Hong Kong icon and I hope that they enjoy it as much as we will. They have helped us do it and it has helped us complete the Hong Kong team."
- with special thanks to Jamie McWilliam and The Peninsula Hotel
Technical Specifications – Ker 40
Fresh water: 70lts
Fuel capacity: 40lts
Engine power: Yanmar 30hp
ISO structural: Category A
ISO OSR: Category 1
Sail plan: P 16.4m; E 5.54m; I 16.02m; J 4.84m; SPA 170m2; STL6.75m
Hull and deck construction: Vacuum consolidated Eglass/epoxy/foam sandwich
Deck gear: Harken