Richard PERINI, owner/driver of local Farr 40 Evolution, says the conditions could prove crucial to the outcome of the forthcoming Worlds, hosted by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia from 1-4 March. 'The racing will take place just outside Sydney Heads, and the main difference between this venue and most others is the sea state and general bumpiness out there,' says Perini.
Some teams discovered just how challenging the Sydney swell could be when they competed in the Rolex Trophy just before Christmas, a regatta that Perini won by a comfortable margin. A crewmember of another top Australian boat, Emotional Hooligan, was washed overboard during a sail-handling manoeuvre on the foredeck. If it can catch out the locals, it certainly has the potential to do the same to visiting teams.
But Perini foresees the biggest issue will be not so much boat handling as consistent boat speed in this unpredictable seaway. 'Rig set-up is going to be the most important thing,' he says. 'The difference between getting it right and wrong in Sydney is going to be more dramatic than anywhere else. If we get the traditional Sydney bump early on in the regatta then some teams - particularly the guys who didn't do the Rolex Trophy - might have a big learning curve. I would say that for the teams that did come, it was a real good wake-up call for them.'
While Aussie teams dominated the top placings back in December, the one exception was German boat Morning Glory in fourth place. Owner Hasso PLATTNER has recently secured the services of Russell COUTTS as his tactician and the results have come quickly. After the fourth in Sydney followed victory at a very competitive Key West Race Week in Florida. Perini certainly ranks this team as one of the biggest threats from overseas, along with 2003 World Champion Massimo MEZZAROMA's Nerone and defending Champion from 2004, Jim RICHARDSON's Barking Mad.
But Perini says there will be plenty of serious competition from the home nation, notably Emotional Hooligan and Southern Star, the latter helmed by the only Australian yet to have won the Farr 40 world title, John CALVERT-JONES. Having done little racing in the past year, Calvert-Jones is playing down his chances of emulating his title victory back in 2000: 'My preparations have been less than adequate, but I've got a great team around me, and it helps to have sailors like Grant SIMNER [America's Cup winner] and Col BEASHEL [America's Cup winner and Olympic medallist] standing next to you when you're in the thick of it.'
Calvert-Jones says the great thing about the class is that people can come in and win races almost immediately. 'Out of nine races we had seven different winners two years ago in Sardinia,' he points out, 'but the key is being consistent across the whole regatta.' Calvert-Jones and his team on Southern Star will be working hard over the coming weeks to hone their skills back into regatta winning form.
Calvert-Jones is the reigning Australian National Champion, but the recent run of form has gone Perini's way, with Evolution emerging top yacht in four out of five Farr 40 regattas this season. They say that winning is a habit, and these recent victories - along with the fact that he is the reigning World Champion in the Farr 40's smaller sister, the Mumm 30 - mark him out as one of the favourites for the Farr 40 World title. 'I think our preparation and current head of steam is about as good as anyone out there,' he says. 'We'd be on for being up there amongst them.'
But with a quality-packed fleet of 30 Farr 40s, Perini knows he is up against a Who's Who of yachting talent. Olympic gold medallists abound, notably Russell COUTTS, Mark REYNOLDS, Tom KING and Jesper BANK. Perini is not doing too badly either, however, with former Team New Zealand tactician and Athens Olympian Hamish PEPPER calling the shots. Perini concludes: 'It's safe to say we've never seen this much talent gathered in Sydney at one time.'
The first indicator of form will come from the Rolex Farr 40 Pre-Worlds 2005, which take place from 24 to 26 February.