A distinguished high school and junior hockey career eventually led Belgrade’s Zack Parent to building some of the fastest yachts known to man.

If you tune into the 35th America’s Cup in May 2017, you won’t see Parent but you might see his work. The 2008 Messalonskee High School graduate is part of the build crew for Artemis Racing, a Swedish contender for the most coveted prize in yacht racing.

“Working for a professional sports team is something I had always dreamed of. I just never expected it would be in the yachting arena,” Parent said.

Parent is now in Alameda, California working on the yacht build crew for Artemis.

The America’s Cup, which debuted in 1851, has long been considered the most prestigious yachting event in the world. Bermuda will host the next Cup, which 2013 champ Oracle Team USA will try to defend. Artemis Racing is among those vying to unseat the American team.

As part of the build crew, Parent has a hand in constructing the carbon fiber yacht that Artemis will use to try to dethrone Oracle.

“We do everything on the shop floor to make sure the boat is being built as light as possible,” Parent said. “We’re talking a few grams at a time in some cases just to help keep the weight down.”

While Parent declined to say how much the yacht will cost, estimates for those used in the previous America’s Cup, which involved 72-foot catamarans, reached up to $10 million.

Parent said the yachts that are being built for the 2017 Cup are 50-foot foiling catamarans. Foiling is when yachts ride on appendages called daggerboards (a type of keel) and fly out over the water, reaching speeds over 40 knots (about 46 mph).

“On a small race course, speeds that fast allow for very entertaining sailing and inevitably some close calls,” he said.

PASSION FOR BOATS

Most of the close calls Parent experienced as a child involved vulcanized rubber, not carbon fiber. He was a four-year starter in goal for the Messalonskee hockey team. He was a two-time all-Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference selection and captain his senior year. He also played Junior hockey for the Maine Moose, where he was an International Junior Hockey League all-star. He also earned defensive player of the year honors for the 2007-08 season. In the spring, he was a standout lacrosse player for Messalonskee coach Tom Sheridan.

When he wasn’t training for hockey during the summer, Parent could usually be found on the water, either in the Belgrade Lakes region or on the state’s southern coast. He attended the University of Southern Maine for one year, but a summer helping Chris Riley refit his 42-foot sloop (yacht with a single mast) changed his life.

“I had really taken a liking to the work, which came naturally given my interest and enthusiasm of being around boats,” he said.

Riley suggested Parent enroll in a trade school. Parent liked the idea and in 2011 enrolled in The Landing School in Arundel.

“The focus of my program was composite boat building, but we also learned many things like yacht systems, design and many manufacturing methods,” he said.

After graduating, he went to work at Custom Composite Technologies in Bath and spent a year and a half there building yacht components and doing repairs at local boat yards. He then took a job at Kestrel Aircraft in Brunswick, where he helped develop a carbon fiber airplane.

“Carbon is one of the main materials high-end yachts are built with, so I already had the experience with the materials,” he said. “Working in the development lab building prototype parts and test panels took my focus and quality of work to a higher level.”

HONING A CRAFT

In October 2013, he joined Hodgdon Yachts in East Boothbay to work on the Comanche, a 100-foot-long super-maxi yacht. With a beam measuring over 25 feet, some observers dubbed it “The Aircraft Carrier.” It was designed specifically to break records for competitions such as the Trans Atlantic and the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

“These are all races and records that fully push the limit of the boats and sailors due to the length and foul weather often associated with them,” Parent said.

Parent and a small crew of workers on the Comanche were responsible for component construction, structure layout, fit out, installation and some system work on the craft.

“A boat of that scale normally takes many more months to complete,” Parent noted. “That being said, there was nothing that was compromised in the quality of the yacht to meet that timeline.”

Good thing, because harsh conditions took a toll on Comanche during The Sydney to Hobart, a 630-nautical mile race that takes place annually between Sydney, Australia and Hobart, Tasmania.

On the first night of the December 2015 race, rough seas broke Comanche’s daggerboard. Its crew scrambled to cut the ropes attaching the daggerboard to the boat before its sharp edges punctured the hull. They completed that task successfully, but the detached daggerboard damaged the rudder and made the yacht impossible to steer.

With the rudder facing backward, the crew decided to retire. After taking down the sails, they started doing repairs while the boat was drifting back toward Sydney. With just three stainless steel threads holding the steering system together, skipper Ken Read decided to continue on with the race. Comanche eventually caught up to the leader, another American yacht named Rambler 88, which had also suffered daggerboard damage, and won the race in a little over two days.

Following the race from the other side of the Pacific Ocean (only the first hour of it is live-streamed by Australian television), Parent was on the edge of his seat for two days.

“Tracking Comanche during the race was very exciting,” said Parent, who noted Comanche is the fastest monohull on record having sailed 618 nautical miles in a 24-hour period. “You take great pride when something you sunk so much heart into is the first to throw the lines on the other end, I wouldn’t be where I am today without Comanche and the crew who built it.”

ALWAYS THINKING

In addition to building the boat for next year’s America’s Cup, Parent and his crew have constructed two training boats that are similar to the one for the competition.

“Having these two boats to do training on is a huge advantage for the sailors,” he said. “It also allows the build crew to think of different ways to make things yielding a faster boat.

“Working with the caliber team members that we have is an astonishing thing,” he added. “It starts with the designers, rolls into the build crew, and finally through the sailors. Everyone always has an idea to try and anything that can be an advantage is looked into. We’ve got a dream team of crew members and everyone’s excited about where we stand.”

Challengers from Great Britain, Japan, France and New Zealand are expected to join Artemis racing in the field for the America’s Cup Qualifiers, a double round robin series beginning in late May 2017. The top four move on to the Challenger Playoffs in June, which consist of best-of-nine semifinal and final matches to determine the Challenger for the 35th America’s Cup against Oracle Team USA. A best-of-13 series will determine the winner in late June 2017.

Parent will be watching closely, albeit from many miles away. Where he’ll be watching, he’s not quite sure. But he’s dreaming of returning closer to home.

“Within a year or two, we’d like to be setting up our own small shop in the New England area where we’ll use the high-end race boat and the plane experience for some exciting things,” Parent said.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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