Last September, Jim RICHARDSON steered Barking Mad to the most convincing victory yet seen in a Rolex Farr 40 World Championship. But the American owner knows that success even as recent and as emphatic as that is no guarantee of being able to defend his world title at the forthcoming Worlds in Sydney.
Richardson is coming back with his Worlds winning team. 'We have the exact same crew as we had in San Francisco,'
he says. 'So everyone has been through it and everyone understands what it takes to win.'
He hopes to be able to reproduce the regatta-winning magic from last September, but knows that is easier said than done. 'If we sail as well as we did in San Francisco it will be plenty enough to win, but there are so many good teams here and the conditions are so very different.'
The past two Rolex Farr 40 Worlds have taken place in strong-wind, flat-water venues. The Farr 40 fleet had a spectacularly windy week at Porto Cervo in Sardinia two years ago when the Italian boat Nerone won, and it was windy when Barking Mad
won in San Francisco Bay. Richardson comments: 'The conditions in San Francisco are very consistent - flat water and strong wind. You can get into a rhythm there, but here we could be looking at light air and lump, or strong wind and lump. The conditions in Sydney are not as one-dimensional as they are in San Fran.'
Not only did Barking Mad
compete in the Rolex Trophy as part of an early reconnaissance mission but the team have also flown out three weeks early to get used to the conditions and to compete in the warm-up regattas, including the Rolex Farr 40 Pre-Worlds. Of the 30 teams scheduled to compete in the Worlds, most have already put considerable time into preparing for the unique demands of Sydney, and many have been out here a good deal longer than Barking Mad, notably Philippe KAHN and the Pegasus
crew. Their tactician Mark REYNOLDS will be familiar with these waters, points out Richardson, because he won an Olympic gold medal in the Star here in 2000. Indeed, Italian boat Fiamma has the British America's Cup skipper Ian WALKER as its tactician, and it was Walker who took silver behind Reynolds in the 2000 Olympics.
But Richardson still believes there is a significant home advantage for the local teams, which he hopes to minimise by getting the training in beforehand. 'If you're racing off the heads in Sydney, you can encounter the ocean current running one way and the swell running the other way, so you can get a lot of side swells. That can all make for quite turbulent sea conditions. Hopefully our man Terry HUTCHINSON will get the measure of it as much as anyone else.'
It is a measure of Hutchinson's reputation that the fiercely patriotic Kiwis have employed the American as their tactician for their assault on the next America's Cup in Valencia. No wonder then that Richardson rates him so highly. The relationship between the owner/driver and the professional tactician/ coach is a vital one for success in the Farr 40 class, and the chemistry between Richardson and Hutchinson seems to work very well.
Richardson says this is one of the key areas where the class has developed in the years since he first won the Worlds back in 1998. 'Things have changed a lot. People have gotten better and better each year, and the level of commitment is much higher. The difference between then and now - it's night and day. You don't see a lot of mistakes being made out there.'
He believes the owners and hired professionals have matured together. 'The tacticians and drivers are all used to each other now. We're used to sailing at close quarters, and there seems to be some mutual respect and understanding that has developed, to push the boats hard, but not too hard. If you step out of line too often, it will come back to haunt you. Better to duck and lose a few places than to cause an accident. This is a class that plays by the rules, and you won't get away with it if you try to flout them. If you try it on, you'll get caught and then you'll be out of the regatta.'
The fact that teams must count all races in their final score places a huge emphasis on consistent, steady performance. In the absence of a discard, big errors are punished in Farr 40 racing. It also encourages professionals to leave America's Cup levels of aggression and gamesmanship at the door. The main aim of the Farr 40 is for people to have fun, says Richardson. 'It's not good enough to race to the letter of the law, we want to keep to the spirit of the law too. Some time back, we got all the tacticians together in a meeting and talked through the sort of racing we were looking for. It's important that everybody, and especially the owners, has a good time at these regattas, and if you end up in a collision, that's not going to be fun for anybody.'
Good tacticians are employed as much for their ability to coax the best out of their owner/drivers and team mates, and whoever wins the Worlds this March will be the team that has achieved this type of synergy. Paul CAYARD is well known for his ability to get to grips with a new challenge and to extract the best possible performance from a team. The last time he was in Sydney was back in 1998, on his way to winning the Whitbread Round the World Race, having stepped in at the eleventh hour as replacement skipper.
Now he comes back to Sydney having recently signed up as tactician for Fred and Steve HOWE's Warpath
. 'It will be interesting to see how the chemistry develops for this San Diego crew. I am really looking forward to racing with the Warpath team in Sydney,'
said Cayard. 'It will be a fun two weeks. It is a fantastic town and a tough sailing venue.'
The Rolex Farr 40 Pre-Worlds 2005 take place from 24 to 26 February. The Rolex Farr 40 Worlds 2005 take place from 1 to 4 March.