North Sails NEWS

DENALI3: A Team Effort

Reflecting On Double Class Wins for Denali3

Denali3 has had a good year, a very good year. “Just being on the water with the team again was a joy for sure,” said Bill McKinley, her owner. He was reflecting on returning to racing after suffering – along with many other teams – a couple of difficult seasons. “The last two years really kicked us in the butt,” he added, but they went into the 2022 season with a new sail inventory targeted at the classic Great Lakes events and, “a lot of freaking hope.” It turned out to be a well-founded hope. McKinley and his crew – mostly made up of his friends – have achieved a remarkable double; class wins in both the 2022 Bayview Mackinac and Chicago-Mackinac races.

“We were fairly confident in the rig and sails as we had some solid practice days with the team, but actual race results take a lot of factors coming together at the same time,” he explained. “The Mac races couldn’t have been more different: The Bayview Mac was light air beating, reaching and running. The Chicago Mac was mid- to high- wind reaching and running mixed in with massive squalls. Winning our section in both races sailing against an incredible group of competitors and some of the best TP52 sailors in the world was epic… literally a dream come true… something you dream about but don’t expect to ever happen.”

It was a dream built on some smart thinking and very sound preparation, all of which reflected McKinley’s long experience of the sport, and those two races. “Sailed my first Mackinac at age 11, have sailed in over 60 Mackinacs,” he explained. He’d previously owned a Nelson/Marek ULDB 70 and a Carkeek 40, hitting the podium in plenty of big races. So, McKinley was very clear right from the outset about what he wanted from his third boat, designed by Jason Ker and built by McConaghy’s in China in 2017-18. 

“My goals when I commissioned Denali3 were an all-around boat that was fully sorted for offshore sailing,” he said. “Aside from mode-ing the boat for Macs, I wanted to go back and run the TransPac, the Bermuda Race, as well as the Caribbean 600. Specifically, I wanted a boat that excelled in light air reaching as well as big breeze reaching and running.”

“Obviously the ‘target’ races are pretty different and require different sail inventory approaches. The first goal was creating my vision of a ‘Mac boat’ for light wind reaching in 40 to 80 [degrees] TWA [True Wind Angle] and high AWAs [Apparent Wind Angles] due to the traditional light breezes. I was fortunate to hook up with Wade Morgan and Magnus Doole who had sailed and outfitted Alpha+ [the first boat built to the Ker 46+ design]. They were super receptive to my vision of an upwind J-Zero.”

Wade Morgan specializes in the management of custom yacht builds, and includes Mālama, 11th Hour Racing’s IMOCA 60 on his CV. Morgan had already worked with Magnus Doole on several projects, including the construction of two previous Ker designs. Doole has been a sail designer for North Sails since 2007 and has a strong background in the TP52 class and maxi boats, but this was a different challenge; because of the offshore and reaching emphasis that Bill was putting on the boat. 

“We went through the process of working with Southern Spars and with Ker Yacht Design to optimise the sail plan for what Bill wanted to do,” said Doole. They had an advantage with the sails and the mast all coming from within the North Technology Group, so a range of expertise could be drawn upon, and the integrated tools of the North Design Suite could be used to full advantage. “We also worked with Greg Stewart from Nelson/Marek Yacht Design to look at the rating side of it for the specific races,” added Doole. “The boat captain, Norman Berge is also part of that communication loop… he’s a Harbor Springs, Michigan native, who does a fantastic job of preparing the boat to a Super Series level of preparation.”

Denali3 was launched during the 2018 season, competing on the Great Lakes her first couple of years. There were reservations about the rudder position, which seemed more optimized to upwind / downwind sailing, rather than reaching. “It was clear at the end of that, that the boat over performed in some conditions, and it was difficult to sail in others,” said Morgan.  

Bill McKinley picks up the tale, “After two years on the Lakes, collectively Wade, Magnus and myself determined that in order to really enhance our reaching capabilities we need to move the rudder aft and enlarge it… In late 2019, the boat was shipped to Newport to effect the rudder mods with the goal of racing the 2020 Newport to Bermuda Race… Needless to say, that race got cancelled due to Covid-19, so we lost a year in the program.” It was the first of two tough years. In 2021 they went to California for the TransPac but were forced to pull out early. “So 2021 was a bust.” 

McKinley had already sowed the seeds for a dramatic comeback. In 2019, during their planning for the Newport Bermuda Race, he had commissioned North Sails Design Services to produce a report on the optimum sail inventory for the (eventually abandoned) 2020 season. It was typical of his thoughtful approach, an approach that meant Doole was able to constantly innovate with the sail inventory. “You’re lucky when you have an owner like Bill who will invest in that kind of tech,” commented Doole.

The study was done by Jeremy Elliot, who has been head of the Design Services team since its inception in the mid-2010s. “The bulk of our consultancy work is to help the naval architect, and the owner and their team, fully map out the performance and the loading of the boat, so that it can be fully engineered,” he explained.

The Design Services investigation into the optimum sail plan for Denali3s 2020 itinerary provided several important insights and, in particular, had this to say about McKinley’s vision of an upwind J-Zero. “The J-Zero provides a particular advantage not only upwind in light air to hit heel target, but this was maintained to a much wider apparent wind angle.” Design Services identified that for Denali3 the J-Zero was a weapon. The remaining concern was whether it would justify the additional rating it would attract. 

Fast forward two years, and the team were preparing for the 2022 campaign. The Design Services report was dusted off, and a new question was asked of the data that had been supplied by Elliot: now that the Mackinac Races were being run under ORC [Offshore Rating Congress rating rule], how will the J-Zero stack up against the rating penalty? “For this year, again with Greg Stewart involved, we looked at how ORC would work for the two Mac races. It became quite evident that where the boat sat in the rating bands, we could sail with the J-Zero,” Doole explained. 

“Bill’s not afraid to be an outlier if you can justify the performance gain relative to the weather systems that you’re working with,” said Doole. “And that’s why we rated with the J-Zero for the two races this year. We figured that it would allow us to keep up with the faster boats… As the weather systems roll through the lakes, you invariably have a point where you’ll stop or there’s a significant wind shift. And having the sails to deal with the wind shifts, to get you through that transition was important. If we hadn’t had the J-Zero on in the second race (the Chicago-Mackinac), the win would have been harder to achieve.”

Another important factor was the use of the new Helix technology to create a J-1.5 that could cover the rest of the wind range. The Helix Structured Luff is a development in the 3Di technology that allows the trimmers to get more wind range out of the sail. “We had a new Helix J-1.5, so that we could eliminate a jib off the boat,” said Doole. “In the first race [Bayview-Mackinac] we only sailed with the J-Zero and the J-1.5… it was punchy but we built a jib that could do from J-1 through to J-2 conditions.” 

“I’m thrilled to hear that eventually it worked out,” said Jeremy Elliot of Design Services. “I think the performance that we found with those sails was there. It just found a slightly different home, in a slightly different racetrack, and on a different day. But I think that does validate the exercise that he [Bill McKinley] was smart enough to commission.”

“We absolutely wouldn’t be where we are without North Sails and Magnus,” concluded McKinley. “The energy and creativity that was put into designing a ‘world beating’ inventory is incredible. We literally have an arrow in our quiver for anything we might encounter. Aside from Magnus and Brian Janney [the North sailors onboard] being incredible sailors, they are incredible people and just plain fun to sail with.” And for the future? “We are headed back out to Cali and the 2023 TransPac… redemption!” said McKinley.

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