This year marks the 15th edition of this annual competition – a testament to the enthusiasm and support of a strict owner-driver rule that puts the emphasis on amateurs.
On Lake Michigan, a few miles offshore from the host Chicago Yacht
Club's downtown location, twenty Farr 40s from eight countries are
competing this week in the 2012 Rolex Farr 40 World Championship.
This year marks the 15th edition of this annual competition for the
popular one-design class - a testament to the enthusiasm and
support of a strict owner-driver rule that puts the emphasis on
But it is not as simple as that in a fleet as talented as this:
regular competitors include skippers who are Farr 40 European,
North American, and World champions, including Jim Richardson
(Barking Mad, USA), Wolfgang & Angela Schaefer (Struntje Light,
GER), Helmut Jahn on (Flash Gordon 6, USA), and Guido
Belgiorno-Nettis (Transfusion, AUS).In yacht racing, as in many
sports, timing is everything: the countdown to the start, placing
your boat in the right place on the start line, hoisting the
spinnaker as the boat rounds the upwind mark. Each crew member on
board contributes to the choreography of split-second decision
making, sail handling and crew work: the boat that gets all of this
right most often will be the one that wins.
Then there are the competitors returning after time away: Robert
Hughes on Heartbreaker (USA), Stuart Townsend's Virago (USA), and
Alek Krstajic's Honour (CAN), and finally there are those at the
Worlds for their first time including entries from
Turkey - Provezza 8 and Asterisk Uno - and Mexico's Flojito y
In the mix are some of the sport's most talented yachtsmen and
women - the Farr 40 class rules permit a maximum of four
professionals allowing world champions, Olympic medallists,
America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veterans to play a part. This
year's crop includes ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Torben
Grael, Olympic medallists Nathan Outteridge, Morgan Reeser and
Malcom Page; America's cup winner Peter Holmberg, and round the
world race winner, Stu Bannatyne.
But what does it take to come out on top? Timing is most definitely
key, and most competitors put good timing down to communication and
Three-time Rolex Farr 40 World Champion, Jim
Richardson, is the owner/helmsman
on Barking Mad: "Timing is crucial to how things evolve on the
boat. At the start, you want to hit the line at full pace as the
gun goes. It's all a matter of timing as to when you put the bow
down: you don't want to be too early and if you're too slow to
build speed, you'll be slow off the line - and people around you,
who are going at full speed, will beat you to the
Precise timing remains essential throughout the race, for example:
"Downwind in the waves, when you turn the boat, you have to pick
the right moment and the right wave; if you turn too hard or too
slow, you can run into problems."
For Richardson everything works in sequence: "the jib trimmers, the
main trimmer, the spinnaker trimmer. The crew, moving around,
affects how I steer the boat. Going downwind the crew needs to move
to help me turn the boat up and down as needed. If they're out of
sync with what I'm doing, or I'm out of sync with what they're
doing, you definitely don't go as fast."
Practice makes perfect, according to Richardson, and everyone must
be on their game: "We sail with ten and it doesn't matter how good
your tactician is, or how good your helmsman is, or how good your
mainsail trimmer is; if someone is not doing their job properly, it
will affect everybody on the boat. It's definitely a team
John Demourkas, owner/helmsman
on Groovederci agrees on the significance of
start is very dependent on me, but equally on the front of the
boat. It's paramount that everybody on the team does their job,
otherwise people start compensating for other people's jobs and
that's when things go bad. It really is a team effort, it's not one
on Struntje Light, and had an all but perfect third day of the
championship scoring a first and second in the two races: "Today
timing was key especially downwind, where we gained a lot because
we were quite happy to pick up the waves and surf. You can fight
upwind for two boat lengths; downwind, if you
pick one wave the right way, you pick up three boat lengths.
Timing is crucial between the spinnaker trimmer, the helmsman, and
the tactician who gives the call."
Jones, sailing in his 11th Rolex Farr 40 Worlds is
trimmer on Stuart Townsend's Chicago-based, Virago.
The mainsail is the 'engine' of the boat. Jones says, "It's one of
the primary roles. I have to talk to the helmsman about wind
direction, heading, rudder turns and tacks. On top of that, I
coordinate with the tactician who's looking for wind shifts, gusts,
and makes sure we get off the start line clean. During manoeuvres,
my big role is to make sure the whole boat is in sync from the back
to the front, and that the helmsman is on top of things and knows
where we're going.
"Really key timing moments are the
top (windward) mark," according to Jones. "Especially in wind. It's
important to make sure everything is in the right place and that
the spinnaker gets hoisted to the top of the mast before the
trimmer starts to trims. That's a key moment the whole crew is
involved in - all ten people in the boat. If one isn't in sync, the
manoeuvre goes belly up!"
Australian London 2012 gold
medallist, Nathan Outteridge, has made the leap to
big boat tactician onboard Transfusion. At the
start, he believes: "Timing is super critical. In
the first race we won we had a brilliant start and led from start
to finish, then in the next races we've had to fight our way
through. We were late on one and then we were over early -- so we
haven't always had the best starts. Everyone has said if we could
just sort the starts out we be doing okay!"
Onboard Helmut Jahn's Flash Gordon,
which is leading the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds after day three,
Dave Gerber is headsail trimmer.
Ahead of each race Gerber and mainsail trimmer, Joe Londrigan, make
sure they have the boat balanced for the wind strength and sea
state. After the start, Gerber hikes out on the rail calling the
breeze and tells Londrigan the boat's speed and height in relation
to their competitors."
Gerber is clear about the benefits
of precise, coordinated crew work: "What I really like about big
boat racing is that it really promotes teamwork. You have to have a
constant dialogue about what you're trying to do and how you're
going to do it."
The pit person is
a bit like mission control, on board Barking Mad Linda
Lindquist-Bishop, fills this role and reckons good
attributes are "big ears and eight arms": "I'm
really the middle of the boat so I have to keep my ears open to
hear what's going on in the back of the boat so I can communicate
that to the front of the boat. And then I have all of the
mechanical things in the middle of the boat. I'm listening
primarily to the tactician and the helmsman, to their calls for
wind direction, for what they're telling the trimmers -- so I can
communicate what they're thinking up to the bowman and mastman so
they can set up and be prepared."
"Doc" Holmgren, mastman
on Plenty, the strong conditions in Chicago have increased the
imperativeness of close coordination: "With stronger breeze, timing
is really critical. We have to coordinate with the bowman, pitman,
mastman and the trimmers, we keep ourselves focused on when certain
manoeuvres are going to happen."
When it goes well Holmgren really feels it: "It's part of the sport
I love, when everyone is dancing the same dance. It's like a waltz
at times, it's harmony it's beautiful. We've had a couple of times
some partners weren't part of the dance. Those moments we saved but
they weren't as smooth and it's easy to lose a couple of boats
has been bowman
on Groovederci for the past year, he too is clear on the team's
need to be as one: "It's all about your team. The bowman often gets
credit for good manoeuvres, but there are four guys from the pit
forward (pit, mast, sewer, bow) and they are all just
critical to making sure everything goes smoothly. It takes
communication and practice. If know what the next step is, then you
tend to find it a lot easier."
From the back to the front of the boat there is clear consensus
that timing is everything. The boat that wins the Rolex Farr 40
Worlds is invariably the one that has remained focussed and
coordinated throughout each moment of the race. The boat that has
put in the practice beforehand, that has honed its manoeuvres.
Quite simply, the boat that has recognised the real importance of
precision in its timing.
How to Follow the Event
Further information on the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds can be found
at www.farr40worlds.com and www.yachtscoring.com/emenu.cfm?eID=651.
By Regatta Nuews/ Key Partners