AT THE FRONT The Harken Newsletter - October 2020

“Make the best products at a fair price.” That’s the first part of the weather mark we use to navigate Harken. Success depends on making a series of detailed decisions correctly. Since the first ball bearing blocks that started the company, we’ve gotten it right a lot. But…not always. Welcome to the October issue of At The Front.

Winning is in the details. So we tend to think a lot about them.

By Peter Harken, Harken Chairman

I was looking at some photos a couple days ago, taken by American Magic at speed aboard “Defiant,” their first AC75 boat they’ve shipped to Auckland. It’s sailing on the same race courses that will be used in the America’s Cup match next March. Those first-generation boats are really impressive. It’s amazing that not one of them blasting around out there will even be racing next spring, the learning curve in this new class is so steep. The Gen-2 boats will fly more consistently and maneuver even better--bet on that. It’s incredible how much learning has been going on behind the scenes.

These days, so much of the rigging is below deck-level that we usually can’t see what’s rigged where when we look at photos taken from off the boat. Even the winches with Harken on them we formerly saw on every tack are invisible, now down out of the airflow. But these images were good for our engineering souls. There were shots of one of the several custom, titanium main traveler cars we’ve made—and re-made. There were several of our white Harken Air winch 550s with grinders at full speed. But then, there was one shot in particular that caught my eye. It gives incredible insight into the detailed attention the riggers pay to EVERYTHING on the boats at this level.

That picture was not of our most sophisticated grand prix gear. It was just two of our 29 mm Carbo blocks soft-attached simply, with a custom-spliced soft loop shackle inside the aft end of a soft fairing of carbon sailcloth extending between the boom and the top of the deck where it must reduce turbulence and provide endplate effect between sail and deck. First things first: It was clear that this fairing has seen a bunch of very fast passes! Looking closely, the thread’s ends are all frayed. Weeks and miles of blasting around at over 40 knots will do that. Ahh, the life of a piece of practical equipment on the development boat! More details: The tail on those soft loops is a little longer than it probably needs to be. But that tail is wrapped with clear tape so the extra length is intentional. They might need to extend the loops to lower the blocks…after all, everything is a work in progress three months out from the first test event.

Through the blocks, the team rigged thick shock cord. We can’t see where that shock cord goes, but I’m going to speculate…they probably want constant tension to make that fairing fit consistently as it moves across the boat in the tacks and as those two-sided soft foil mains invert, so maybe the bottom end rides on a car on the traveler track. That probably seems a lot of attention to pay to just one picture. But this is the stuff we wonder about in the run-up to the Cup when New Zealand is in lockdown, and all we can do is…wonder.

That picture tells you a little about how we do things within our company. We don’t look at pictures like ‘normal’ people. We don’t look at equipment the same way either. We kinda look through what’s in the shots, past the outside of the cleats or the blocks, and see the thinking that’s gone on underneath—right to the solution to the problem.

This October issue of At The Front is a tribute to the attention paid to precise execution—at Harken and by the sailors. You’ll see how much care US Olympians Riley Gibbs and Anna Weis, who are sailing the Nacra 17 in the next Olympics, devote to their rigging decisions. You’ll see how we make custom stuff. And I’m in there later thinking about our “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” where we thought our detailed thinking was going to result in breakthrough products the public was going to love, and we were very wrong! We were thinking a generation too far ahead and the present public didn't care--and didn't buy. So a 'dream' was designed, built, and it worked but swiftly died. Yeah, let’s go with that! Hope you enjoy the issue.

Look under the hood of an OLympicS-bound Nacra 17

Meet Riley Gibbs and Anna Weis, the US Sailing Team Nacra 17 duo that's headed to the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. In this video for Harken Blockheads (Harken's club for kids who want to rig better), they bring you along for a tour of their ride -- MTV Cribs style. If you're ready to nerd out over rigging systems and the technical details of sailing, this one's for you.



Building equipment unique in all the world never gets old.

In the Details:


How the First Plastic Balls Got into a Block

When you talk to Peter, incredible stories come out. Here's one we couldn't leave out. How a single detail (the bounce of a plastic ball) launched an entire company. This detail made all the difference.


Peter has been here through it all. Over the years, there were plenty of times we thought our detailed thinking was going to result in breakthrough products the public was going to love. Sometimes that just wasn't the case. Add 'em to the Boulevard.


American Magic Photos by Will Ricketson