Neville CRICHTON surprised a few people, including himself, by winning the Rolex Farr 40 Pre-Worlds in Sydney today. Crichton and Team Shockwave have competed in just one Farr 40 event in the past 12 months, so they had not figured as a potential winner of the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds which begin next Tuesday.
'Our target was to be in the top five and we thought if we achieved that we'd probably be doing better than expected,'
said Crichton. As one of the less practised helmsman in the technically demanding Farr 40, Crichton has exceeded many people's expectations. 'It was total luck, absolute luck,'
he joked, 'so we're going into the Worlds as novices.'
With another Aussie boat, Ichi Ban, taking 2nd overall, there are genuine hopes of seeing a home victory in the Worlds next week. Matt ALLEN was delighted with his team's performance. 'We've obviously done better than expectations. Our speed has come good in the lighter range. We've found that sweet spot in the 8 - 12 knot wind range, so the boat is going well upwind in all conditions now.'
Today's two races took place in classic conditions, three miles offshore from Sydney's legendary surfing beach of Bondi. With southerly winds of 16 - 20 knots and big rolling waves, there was plenty of surfing going on in the 28-boat Farr 40 fleet. Team Shockwave was reveling in the wind and waves, rounding the windward mark of the morning race in pole position and holding the lead to the finish. A 6th place in the final race sealed overall victory for Crichton with a score of 40 points from seven races. Ichi Ban turned in a similarly strong performance with a 7-2 score to notch up 47 points.
The Italian teams appeared to struggle in the lumpy stuff yesterday, but today Marco RODOLFI'S TWT got the measure of the waves. Tactician Tiziano Nava explained the improvement: 'I think today we had a good set-up on the sails and mast, and we did many practice runs before the start. Marco Rodolfi steered for half an hour in these conditions before the start. He drove the boat very well.'
However, Nava acknowledged that the local teams still hold the advantage in the wavy conditions that typically exist outside Sydney Heads. 'I think that in these conditions the Aussies prefer the chop and the waves. For us it is not the normal conditions that we find in Europe, where we have flatter water and not so big waves. We need to practise to have good speed in these conditions.'
The sole French team of Twins, steered by Erik MARIS, was burning around the course in the final race, leading at the leeward gate by 45 seconds. But disaster struck down the final run when they tore their heavy-air spinnaker. They were still in with a good chance of winning when they hoisted the light-air spinnaker, but the 20-knot breeze got its claws into a small rip that soon started widening until this sail was shredded too. The French could only watch as the front-runners surfed past them, and they had to be satisfied with 8th place.
There were a couple of notable absentees from the race course. Richard PERINI'S Evolution, a local favourite for the world title, stayed ashore - perhaps wisely using the extra day to recharge their batteries after a poor showing in the previous two days of the Pre-Worlds. Hasso PLATTNER and Morning Glory started the morning heat but the German crew rounded the first mark in third-last place and subsequently retired from racing.
Perhaps some teams are keeping their powder dry for the big championship next week. Many will be hoisting new sails next week, and subtle changes like this could see a change in the pecking order. But 'new boy' Neville CRICHTON has certainly established himself as a contender, while other more fancied skippers have struggled.
The Italian contingent came on strong at the beginning but faded later on, although Crichton saw it slightly differently. 'I think the Italians were on form at the beginning of the regatta, and we improved throughout the regatta. I don't think they've sailed worse, I think we've improved. We've done very little racing, just one Farr 40 regatta in the last 12 months. And we've never sailed with this crew, so it's a complete learning curve for us.'
Will his beginner's luck hold through to next week? It's hard to say in a fleet as tightly fought as the Farr 40s.
For more information about the the Rolex Farr 40 Pre-Worlds and the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship, including daily racing reports, results and high-resolution images, go to www.regattanews.com
Rolex Farr 40 Pre-Worlds 2005 - Final Overall Results: Top 10 (seven races)
Position - Yacht Name - Country - Skipper - Points
1)Team Shockwave, AUS, Neville Crichton , 8-4-2-5-14-1-6, 40
2)Ichi Ban, AUS, Matt Allen, 22-7-3-2-4-7-2, 47
3)TWT, ITA, Marco Rodolfi, 2-1-5-14-22-6-3, 53
4)Barking Mad, USA, Jim Richardson, 3-17-9-12-1-8-5, 55
5) Nerone, ITA, Massimo Mezzaroma/Antonio Sodo Migliori, 4-5-1-29-7-16-4, 66
6) Warpath, USA, Steve and Fred Howe, 12-25-4-10-2-5-10, 68
7) Mascalzone Latino, ITA, Vincenzo Onorato, 1-8-11-21-15-12-7, 75
8) Joe Fly, ITA, Giovanni Maspero, 18-15-6-15-5-10-12, 81
9) Twins 2, FRA, Erik Maris, 11-6-22-11-6-17-8, 81
10) Fiamma, ITA, Alessandro Barnaba, 14-18-18-4-3-15-13, 85