A good indication of the degree of intense competition expected this week at the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship was evident this past weekend at the Pre-Worlds, the two day warm-up regatta held September 4-5.
Held out of the San Francisco Yacht Club rather than the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds host, the St. Francis Yacht Club (StFYC), John KILROY'S (USA) Samba Pa Ti won with Chuck PARISH'S (USA) Slingshot in second and the defending World champions from Rome, Italy, Antonio Sodo MIGLIORI and Massimo MEZZAROMA on Nerone in third. Samba Pa Ti finished the five race series with 32 points, four points ahead of Slingshot and nine ahead of the Italians.
Whether this is any indication of the teams' performance at the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds remains to be seen. Conditions for the Pre-Worlds were lighter and flukier than competitors expect from San Francisco. Stronger, more typical sea breeze conditions with 20-25 knot winds from the west or southwest are forecast for the rest of the week, and in this brisker conditions other boats may emerge at the top of the fleet.
"San Francisco is a micro-climate. The water that comes in from the Pacific is very cold so generally you tend to have a lot of fog early in the morning. As the land heats up the breeze comes in with it,"
> said Jim Richardson (USA), owner of Barking Mad and president of the Farr 40 Class Association. "You tend to have a lot of big breeze and, depending on what direction the tide is running, you can have flat water as well. So it makes for pretty exciting sailing."
Traditionally for events like the Big Boat Series presented by Rolex, racing is held along the city front where the tide can run up to three knots. To prevent the regatta from becoming purely influenced by the tide, the organizers of the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds have moved the course to an area known as Treasure Island Racing Circle, known locally as Berkeley Circle, close to San Francisco's famous prison island of Alcatraz.
"Off the city front it really becomes tidal as far as trying to get relief from the tide or taking advantage of the tide,"
continues Richardson. "Down at the Circle it is a little more evenly spread out, so you can go right or left and still have a pretty good chance of coming out at the windward mark on top. The Berkeley Circle is the fairest venue here in San Francisco."
In sailing areas where there is both a powerful tide and a complex coastline, local knowledge of the intricacies of how these work can play a significant part in a boat's results. Despite heralding from Southern California, Kilroy owns a house in San Francisco and his team, which includes Paul CAYARD (USA) on tactics, sails here regularly.
Richardson doesn't think that local knowledge will be an issue at the Worlds due to the experience of all the crew. "Everyone in this fleet has sailed here in San Francisco enough that I don't think there are any great surprises or any great local knowledge things going on,"
he said. "It's pretty straightforward and sometimes the world's great tacticians get it right and sometimes they get it wrong, whether they have sailed here all their lives or not."
Even most of the European teams are familiar with these waters. Several have been in San Francisco to compete in Farr 40 events earlier in the year. For example Nerone has been commuting from Italy to take part in the entire American season this year, winning the last Farr 40 event two weeks prior to the Pre-Worlds.
"We have been preparing for this event since September 2003, immediately after winning the last World Championship,"
said Migliori. The team, on which the talented Italian Vasco VASCOTTO is tactician, keeps a Farr 40 in the U.S. and another in Europe where this year it won both the Mediterranean Farr 40 circuit and the Rolex Sardinia Cup. Migliori confides that his team has spent a lot of time working on sails and tuning this year.
"We have a very good feeling about the racing area, after so many hours of tests,"
said Migliori who will be on the helm while co-owner Massimo MEZZAROMA will be handling the 'pit'. "The boat seems to be very fast. The crew is made up of old friends and fantastic sailors. We will try to repeat our 2003 result. It will be very hard, but for sure we will have fun."
Despite having six less boats than when the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds were held in Sardinia last year, the class is more competitive than ever. "It is still a strong class,"
said Richardson. "There are a lot of really wonderful owners. Obviously the economy over the last couple of years hasn't been the strongest, but the fact that we are still racing 30-plus boats in a world championship is pretty impressive I think."
The last time the StFYC ran the Farr 40 Worlds was in 1999 when 18 boats took part. "This one, with 31, should be a good show,"
said John CRAIG, StFYC race manager. "I would say definitely that the professionalism of the class - for example the coaches, the technicians and two boat programs and the amount of time that guys are pouring into the programs these days - has definitely increased since 1999."
The teams have spent the two days between the Pre-Worlds and the start of the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds on Wednesday completing their boat measurements, and crew weigh-ins - Farr 40s are usually sailed with 10 crew with a combined maximum weight of 760kg.