Hans Henken Sails The World - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado Island News

Hans Henken Sails The World

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Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2019 3:01 pm | Updated: 10:10 am, Tue Jun 11, 2019.

It would probably be a good idea to create a new term that encompasses the talents of Hans Henken (CHS ’11). Something along the line of Sailor-Scholar-World Traveler might work, as all three of those elements loom large in his life. 

Henken is part of a new sailing circuit called the SailGP League, which was the brainchild of Oracle Corporation Co-Founder, Executive Chairman and Chief Technology Officer Larry Ellison. Running the day-to-day operations of SailGP is world renowned sailor Sir Russell Coutts. 

The concept is there are six identical F50 Catamaran boats, weighing nearly two tons each, with a 78-foot mast for the main sail, that are capable of reaching 60 miles an hour (or 50 knots) on the water. They are considered to be the world’s fastest race boats. The six teams in the league represent the United States, Australia, China, France, Great Britain and Japan. Henken is a grinder on the U.S. boat, which is skippered by Rome Kirby, himself an accomplished sailor. 

“I first heard rumors of SailGP after the America’s Cup Races finished in Bermuda, that there was a possibility of a professional league that would race F50’s. I was super interested because it’s pretty cool to watch that form of racing from a sailor’s point of view. I never imagined myself as part of that. In 2018 I got a call from Russell Coutts about a tryout Rome Kirby was holding and he asked me if I was interested. I said yes, I would love to be involved. I was sitting in math class when my phone rang. When I get calls, I usually pick them up. It was a cool experience for me for sure. We had the tryout in Newport in August 2018. There were probably 20 of us asked to tryout and five made the team.”

Five races are planned for SailGP in 2019, with Sydney, Australia in February and San Francisco in early May already in the books. Future stops include New York in June; Cowes, England in August; and Marseilles, France in September. The Sydney event had 26,000 spectators. According to Henken, SailGP founder Ellison has been on site at both of the circuit’s first two events. 

“Sydney was a big learning experience,” Henken said of the U.S. boat. “We were in the hunt for a good finish, but we finished sixth. In San Francisco, we did very well and finished fourth. Looking at the data, we know we can win, and we had a big improvement over Sydney. For the third event in New York, we hope to get ourselves on the podium.”

Speaking of data, each of the six F50s has a total of 1,200 sensors attached to the boat parts and crew members. That results in 45 megabits of data sent over a 100-mbps wireless LTE network to an Oracle Exadata machine located onshore. The data is then uploaded to the Oracle Cloud for further analysis. Another use of the live data is sailing fans can get an information feed on the SailGP mobile app and on SailGP.com during the races. The data is also used on the television broadcast for on-screen graphics. The data also allows each team to monitor the heart rates of their athletes and track their movements on the boat. Henken said, “Oracle plays a really big role in the data collection. It helps us improve our sailing every day. From the data we are able to improve how we sail the boat and allows us to maneuver around the racecourse efficiently.” 

“I’m part of the grinding team, that trims the wing sail that powers the boat,” Henken explained. “I’m grinding on the pedestal that allows our trimmer to pull the wing sheet when he has to. On the F50, the wing sail creates so much thrust from the wind going around it, that it’s impossible for one person to trim it by themselves. I’m on the boat to help supply the power to help the trim.”

There are five people on an F50 when it sails, with a sixth man in a chase boat, who is switched in between races, if necessary.”

Although he hasn’t taken one of the F50s out himself, Henken knows his way around the boat. “I have learned the flight control and wing trim positions so I could be switched in and handle those roles. I had a day of training in the simulator for the boat on land in London. I wear many hats on the team and it’s an absolute blast to be part of the boat and help sail them.”

Henken discussed how the SailGP circuit works from a scheduling perspective. “During the five championship events, a week before the event starts, we show up and train on the boat. Each day is scheduled out by the hour, with team meetings and when we put the boat in the water. After the event, we pack up and leave to pursue our other sailing endeavors. Between SailGP events, everybody is doing their own thing. The Grinding Team is going to the gym and staying in shape.” 

Henken’s ‘other’ sailing revolves around his pursuit of a spot on the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team which will compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Henken and his sailing partner Judge Ryan have sailed together for four years in the 49er class. During the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Henken and Ryan served as the alternate team in the 49er class. 

“We started sailing in 2004 and we have been sailing together since,” Henken said of Ryan. “We started in 420’s and 29ers and we went to the Youth Worlds and did well. After college we jumped back into it. We campaigned for eight months in 2016. Since the end of 2016, we have been campaigning on and off. We have spent almost all of 2019 on the road campaigning.”

The qualification process for the Olympic Sailing Team in the 49er Class is complicated and comes down to five teams vying for one spot. “There are a couple of steppingstones,” Henken said. “First the U.S. needs to qualify as a country, and we can do that at the Pan American Games. Actually there are five teams competing for the U.S. and we are able to train together, which helps us to get better as a squad. If Matthew Mollerus and Ian MacDiarmid get it done at the Pan American Games, then there will be a team selection to see who gets to go to the Olympics. That will be decided by who the top finisher is at the 2019 Worlds and the 2020 Worlds. It’s an even playing field and really anyone’s game at this point. The U.S. Sailing Team will be announced in either February or March of 2020.” 

The math class reference by Henken in an earlier part of this article refers obliquely to the fact he has an undergraduate degree from Stanford University (2015), and a Masters (2018) both in same fields of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. It would be fair to say his first explanation of the propulsion of the F50 boat was more complex than recorded here. 

Henken in the son of Ed and Tamra Henken of Coronado and Hans credits his mother for the start of his sailing career at the age of five. “I started sailing when we lived in Dana Point and Mom got me into it as a kid. I started to race and race some more and we moved to Coronado. It snowballed from there with different boats. I’m fond of the Moth Class (a single-handed foiler boat) and I have traveled around the world sailing. The Moth Class boat combined my love of engineering and sailing, which was really great. I was the Moth International Youth World Champion in 2009 and in 2008 I finished third in the 29er Youth Worlds in Denmark. I won the Moth Worlds in Cascade Locks, Oregon and that was one of my coolest accomplishments. I have fun sailing in all kinds of boats.”

The rest of the sailing Henken Family includes twins Paris and Sterling Henken. Paris was an Olympian in 2016 in the 49er FX Class. Hans said of his sister, “She is campaigning full-time with Anna Tobias. I just saw Paris at the European Championships and they finished 10th. Sterling just earned his Captain’s License and is in Tahiti making boat deliveries. He has been traveling since the end of February, to Puerto Vallarta, New Zealand, Australia and now Tahiti. The first couple of boats he delivered were 50-foot Catamarans. He’s having a really good time.”

Although Hans was in San Diego during the time of our phone interview, World Class sailors are citizens of the world. He said, “I’m going from training camp to training camp and from event to event.” Let’s hope that in addition to his three remaining stops for the SailGP F50 in 2019, that one of his stops in 2020 will be in Tokyo.

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