The Rolex Farr 40 Pre-Worlds provided plenty of warm-up action on the race course in preparation for the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship which starts on Wednesday, August 29 and continues through Saturday, September 1st with 36 teams from 12 countries competing.
Finishing the two days of Pre-Worlds competition at the top of the leaderboard was a familiar sight, two-time Rolex Farr 40 World Champion Jim RICHARDSON's navy blue-hulled Barking Mad (USA) with finishes of 1-8-11-4-13 for a total of 37 points overall. Second place was Matt ALLEN's Ichi Ban (AUS) and third was Wolfgang STOLZ's Opus One (GER).
The second day of racing in the Pre-Worlds saw more breeze - west-northwesterly at 12 - 18 knots - still puffy and shifty, but with more pressure than the previous day's racing. Tacticians had their hands full with the huge wind shifts that came down the Øresund Strait, the body of water between Denmark and Sweden. With 1.9-mile legs the course was a bit longer than the first day, but the fleet is so close in speed that mark roundings found the fleet packed tightly. Added to that were the huge wind shifts that left some boats overstanding the laylines and having to crack sheets, coming into the windward mark at speed with many of the other boats. While there was some contact, penalty turns were taken and no real significant damage was notched up. But clearly the teams have come to Copenhagen prepared to do battle.
Jim RICHARDSON, owner/helmsman of Barking Mad with Terry HUTCHINSON as tactician continues a great season, following a win at Rolex Baltic Week only seven days ago. RICHARDSON, 'It feels very, very good. It's difficult to win ever in this class and to win back to back is really good. We had to do a little juggling [with the crew]. But everyone really pulled it together and did a very good job.'
RICHARDSON described the conditions, 'It's very, very shifty. They were very difficult conditions. My hat's off to Terry HUTCHINSON for a great job of calling tactics and getting us in the right place most of the time. It was definitely a team effort. Driving in these conditions is pretty difficult because the lifts or the headers are pretty abrupt and so you are trying to walk on tippy-toes, trying to predict what the right amount of turn on the helm should be. So it's a little bit of feeling your way along.'
Matt ALLEN is owner/helmsman of the Australian boat, Ichi Ban, and Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. He has sailed in the past two Rolex Farr 40 Worlds, finishing 2nd in 2006 in Newport. Talking about the conditions the fleet experienced Saturday, he too confirmed the difficulties faced, 'It was very shifty, just big waves of shifts coming through, probably 20 - 30 degree shifts, very regular. It's very hard when you are in the front trying to protect both sides of the course because it's just regular shifts and there's really nothing you can do, you just have to pick your own lane and run with it and hopes it all pans out.'
Aggressive start line tactics amongst the crews resulted in general recalls for each race and then, in race 3, a Z-flag was flown (any boat over the line one minute prior to the start receives a 10% penalty) and this caught about a quarter of the class making it difficult to keep tabs on who was in the lead. Ichi Ban was one of the boats carrying such a penalty, but ALLEN said 'We just ignored the points score. We just thought two-day regatta, we'll see what happens. We're just trying to get our act together and trying to peak at the right time.' He continued, laughing, 'it always seems you peak too early or too late in this game, peaking at the right time is all part of it really.'
Getting Up to Speed
Part of getting up to speed for the teams is adapting to the local conditions, and certainly the previous two days racing in Copenhagen have provided some insight into what they may expect. The conditions off Copenhagen vary from past Worlds venues, such as Sydney and as Matt ALLEN explained, 'it's very different, Sydney you've got a sort of big bump and it's much more of a boat speed test. Out here I think it's more just picking the shifts and lanes and trying to keep in phase with it. It's pretty tricky here. The locals have a little bit of an advantage just by being used to all the shifts and the way it all pans out, the rest of us are still probably getting used to it a bit. It's funny when you're doing a cross sometimes you think you're crossing pretty well, and all of the sudden there's a 30 degree shift and you're either really famous, or like dogmeat.'
Commenting upon how the level of competition amongst the fleet has ramped up over the years, ALLEN says, 'I think even since Newport (2006 Worlds) the fleet is probably more consistent. Virtually every boat is on the pace, but you can see big turnarounds. In one race today we had one boat was going really well, they tacked off, we hung on and all of the sudden we had a few minutes on them. Very quickly they just turned with another shift and bang, they were just done.'
There is ample talent throughout the fleet, and onboard the German boat Struntje Light, Jesper BANK is sailing as tactician. BANK is a 3-time Olympic medalist in the Soling class (gold - Sydney, 2000; gold - Barcelona,1992; bronze - Pusan, 1988). While this is his first Rolex Farr 40 Worlds, he has sailed most of the season on Struntje Light. But he found the conditions pretty frustrating and challenging commenting, 'The conditions yesterday and today have been radical. When the gusts hit, basically you don't have time to react from when you see them, so I think you've got a lot of mixture from up high that hits the water, and I find it very hard to predict what's going on. I don't have a firm grip on it yet.' He went on, 'It's very, very shifty.but it's not unusual for the area. It's exactly what this place is in the westerlies. I didn't grow up here, unfortunately.' Laughing, he add, 'I don't know if it would have made any difference.'
Having said that in Race 4, Struntje finished in first place, and BANK said, 'we had several races were we were looking okay at times but didn't manage to stay out of contact with other boats and we ended up a few times over the layline in bad, bad, bad traffic. In race four we stuck our nose out enough so we didn't have to worry, just play the game, basically independent of the other boats. That makes life easy. Everyone who's been out front knows it's so much easier when you don't have to worry about other boats.'
The weather conditions in Copenhagen have been atypically light, although today, Sunday 26 August, the more usual WNW'lys settled in bringing bands of full-on downpours, which passed through the area bringing gusts of 20-30 knots of wind accompanied by blue sky and large cumulus clouds. A few of the teams were out practising, though many were taking the day off to rest up, weigh-in and complete their sail measurement.
For the next two days most teams will take to the water for training before the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship begins on Wednesday, August 29. The Rolex Farr 40 Worlds Skippers Briefing is Tuesday, August 28 at 1700, and the Official Welcome Reception for the teams will follow at 1800 at the The Opera, Holmen (by invitation).