The Australian teams certainly did well on the lumpy Pacific Ocean just outside Sydney Harbour last year, when local Richard PERINI sailed Evolution to victory ahead of another Sydney-based team, Neville CRICHTON'S Alfa Romeo. PERINI, who was named Australia's 2005 Sailor of the Year for his accomplishments, has a tough job of defending his title, however, as he faces a star-studded fleet of almost 40 yachts, which includes the World Champions from the four preceding years: Jim RICHARDSON and Barking Mad (2004), Massimo MEZZAROMA /Antonio SODO MIGLIORI and Nerone (2003), Steve PHILLIPS and Le Renard (2002), and Ernesto BERTARELLI and Alinghi (2001).
Asked whether he thought history would repeat itself with another host nation victory, PERINI laughed. 'I hope not,' said the defending champion. 'We're comfortable with Newport. We've sailed here quite a bit before, and it's a good place to sail.' When it comes to gauging the serious opposition in the fleet, PERINI points out that he will have to look a good deal further than just the past World Champions. 'I think there are at least 15 boats here that could do well,' he commented. 'There are at least three or four really good American teams, Barking Mad of course being one of them, along with Opus One, Mean Machine, Nerone, Ichi Ban, too many to mention really.'
Teamwork v Technology
PERINI is one of the few owner/drivers in the fleet to favor a tiller-steered Farr 40 over the more conventional wheel steering used by the bulk of the fleet. Jim RICHARDSON has also switched to a tiller-steered boat for these Worlds, although in the Farr 40, teamwork is more important than technology.
'We figured the tiller would be something new for us and our enthusiasm for the boat,' said RICHARDSON. 'It will make us push the envelope a little bit. A lot of the top boats are tiller boats, but I'm not sure there is much of a difference. I think it comes down to preparation, working hard and having good people to sail with while having fun at the same time.'
Whereas RICHARDSON retains the core of his 2004-winning crew - including tactician Terry HUTCHINSON - there are notable changes to the afterguard of some of the other leading boats. Hamish PEPPER, who called the winning moves for PERINI in Sydney, is now to be found at the back of Nerone. In PEPPER'S place, PERINI has signed up fellow Australian Rob BROWN, who has fond memories of racing in Newport, as does Grant SIMMER who is doing tactics for another Australian entry, Matt ALLEN'S Ichi Ban.
BROWN and SIMMER were both part of the winning crew aboard Australia II, when the controversial wing-keeled 12 Metre snatched the America's Cup away from the Americans in 1983. Perhaps having SIMMER aboard is a good omen for Ichi Ban? 'Well, 1983 was a long time ago,' said owner Ichi Ban's Matt ALLEN, 'even though a number of Australians remember that year very dearly. But I don't think there is that much of a home advantage for the American teams in Newport, certainly not like we saw in Sydney last year for the Australians, who were used to sailing in those wave conditions. If there is a lesson from 1983 it is that if you get the right wind shift anything can happen - although of course Australia II was a pretty quick boat too.'
Unlike Australia II, ALLEN and SIMMER won't be able to rely on a massive speed advantage in a boat as closely matched as the strict one-design Farr 40 class. Boat speed differences are so subtle as to be almost impossible to gauge, and in any case it's not always the fastest boat that wins the regatta. Last year at the Worlds, Matt ALLEN shot out of the blocks to bullet the first two races on day one, only to drop to 10th as the regatta progressed. 'We took too many chances and faded out. This time we're aiming to play the averages and percentages a lot more. It's a simple formula that I suppose most of the fleet will be trying to follow, and it's even more important in a big fleet of 40-odd boats. If you aim to get inside the top 10 each race, you'll do alright by the end.'
Strong Wind Specialist
With Matt ALLEN showing excellent form in strong winds to take victory in the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta presented by Rolex, Ichi Ban is one of a number of teams that seem to be hitting their stride in time for the Worlds. Philippe KAHN and Pegasus edged out Barking Mad by two points at Sail Newport's Newport Regatta earlier this summer. Takashi OKURA gave a strong sign that he could yet become the first-ever Japanese winner of the Worlds when he helmed Sled to a fine victory over a 25-boat fleet in the New York Yacht Club Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex. And then most recently in Newport, Jim RICHARDSON threw down the gauntlet with a dominant performance in the Farr 40 New England Regatta presented by Rolex, when he beat runner-up Ichi Ban by ten points, a big margin by the demanding standards of the Farr 40 class.
The talent in the fleet runs broad and deep. Another team to watch is Vincenzo ONORATO'S Mascalzone Latino, with Russell COUTTS calling tactics and this year's Rolex Farr 40 European Championship title already secured. COUTTS won the Worlds when he raced with Ernesto BERTARELLI in England in 2001, and no doubt the wily Kiwi will enjoy competing against his great friend Brad BUTTERWORTH and other former colleagues from his America's Cup career - Warwick FLEURY and Simon DAUBNEY - who will be racing aboard BERTARELLI'S Alinghi in the coming week.
Against such impressive competition, the Danish team aboard Silver Bullet is realistic about their chances. With only one of the nine team members ever having sailed a Farr 40 before, the Pre-Worlds which take place on September 1-2 will be a baptism of fire. Crewman Hans TØNDER JENSEN explained: 'We have just bought Silver Bullet and had her transported by truck from Lake Superior to Newport. We will arrive the day before the Pre-Worlds, and we are very excited about how difficult it will be and how tough the competition is.'
With the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship due to take place in Denmark in 2007, the Silver Bullet team have come to Newport to find out what they are up against if they are to do well next year. No one ever comes into the Farr 40 and starts winning straight away. Many of the teams gathered in Newport have been campaigning for the best part of a decade, and year after year the standard of competition in the Farr 40 fleet keeps getting tougher and tougher.
About the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship
From 30 August - 9 September, all of the teams will be based at the Goat Island Marina, with Belle Mer serving as the event's Race Village and host of the Media Center. Social activities will take place at New York Yacht Club's Newport clubhouse Harbour Court, Belle Mer, and culminate at the Rolex Awards Party, held at the historic Gilded Age mansion Marble House on Bellevue Avenue.
The Rolex Farr 40 World Championship is in its ninth year and will celebrate its 10th anniversary in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2007. The World Championship has been sailed in North America, Europe or Australia every year since the class was established in 1997. The Rolex Farr 40 World Championship joins other prestigious Rolex-sponsored 2006 events including the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, Rolex Swan Cup, Rolex Big Boat Series and the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
For more information about the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship, including the full list of entries, go to the official event website farr40worlds.com. Results also will be posted on New York Yacht Club's website www.nyyc.org