With Coutts helping Morning Glory to victory last month at Key West Race Week in Florida, Plattner and his crew displayed their ability to remain calm in pressured situations, an essential quality for winning in a fleet as tightly contested as the Farr 40's.
Massimo BORTOLETTO, mainsheet trimmer on the Italian boat Nerone, certainly places Morning Glory in the top rank alongside defending champions from the USA, Jim RICHARDSON and his Barking Mad team. But as a key figure in Massimo MEZZAROMA'S Nerone campaign, which won the 2003 Rolex Farr 40 Worlds in Sardinia and finished runners-up to Barking Mad last year at the 2004 Worlds in San Francisco, Bortoletto is certainly keen on winning this one for himself.
'We said that if we won in San Francisco, we would party in Sydney,' he laughed. 'But as that hasn't happened, we find ourselves in Sydney having to diet and having to go to bed early.' The Farr 40 has a crew weight limit that requires some teams to watch what they eat and drink in the days leading up to a regatta. It doesn't always make for the happiest of sailors.
Bortoletto says dieting is not in the Italian vocabulary. 'It means eating tuna fish without anything else, no wine, no beer, it is the worst. Especially to be in a place like Sydney where there is such great food.' And with the lead-up regattas to the Worlds itself, the gastronomically-frustrated Italian says he and his team have been on a diet for a month.
But that aside, the Nerone crew appear to be hitting their stride in time for the Worlds, winning the Farr 40 Sprint regatta last weekend. 'That was fun, hard work with five races in two days, but great fun,' Bortoletto commented. Nerone heads a strong contingent of five teams from Italy, two of the others notable for having employed British tacticians with Olympic and America's Cup backgrounds.
America's Cup tactician Adrian STEAD has become a regular member of Vincenzo ONORATO'S Mascalzone Latino team over the past couple of seasons. While they are not seen as front runners, Onorato has won world championships in other major keelboat classes and his crew are capable of stringing a good series together here in Sydney. Stead commented: 'We came back from the dead last year in San Francisco. I think we finished 25 on the first day but came back to seventh by the end, and as a team we are progressing well. Vincenzo is a great helmsman and my job is made much easier by having Flavio FAVINI next to me on mainsheet.'
Stead's former GBR Challenge colleague, Ian WALKER, is calling tactics for Alessandro BARNABA'S young Italian team on Fiamma. He is joined by fellow British pro sailor, Lou VARNEY. Walker has only been sailing with the team for four weekends on Barnaba's other Farr 40, so this team is still getting to know each other. But at least Walker has good experience on the waters where the Farr 40's will race, just outside the protection of Sydney Heads. It was on these waters that he won the Olympic silver medal in the Star keelboat, just over four years ago. 'You can get a big ocean swell there, sometimes coming from behind you as you go upwind. So you can be sailing with the jib half-backing as you surf down a wave, while you go upwind.'
All the sailors are anticipating challenging conditions and all believe that the old mantra of 'time on the water' will be more relevant than ever in Sydney. While no other European nation can boast the firepower of the Italian contingent, there are some other notable entries from the other side of the world. Erik MARIS and his team Twins 2 sail for France, while Scandinavia is represented by Eivind ASTRUP'S Norwegian Steam and Nanoq, helmed by HRH Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark.
Even predicting the continent, let alone the nationality, of the eventual winner of the world title is difficult. There are strong contenders from Australasia, North America and Europe, but the Rolex Farr 40 Pre-Worlds may give a better indication of the form guide when this final warm-up regatta commences on 24 February.
The 2005 Rolex Farr 40 Pre-Worlds take place from 24 to 26 February.
The 2005 Rolex Farr 40 Worlds take place from 1 to 4 March.