Rolex Farr 40 World Championship
For the 26 crews gathered in Porto Cervo for the twelfth Rolex Farr 40 World Championship, the last few days have been a frenzy of checks and practice, as the main event looms large on the horizon. With ten nations represented, this year's Championship is a truly international affair. Ten races are scheduled, every one of which will count. The margin for error will be unfriendly and small. No one could be accused of trying to talk the talk ahead of this event, but tomorrow we will have a clue as to who is prepared enough to walk the walk.
The nine Italian crews with the reigning and back-to-back three-time champion in their midst, are undoubtedly pre-start favourites to put forward a worthy winner. They will not have it all their own way. The heavy hitters from the USA count a two-time former champion in their ranks and the Australian teams are stacked with top-quality sailors. The French and Germans field immense experience and are capable of the consistency required to win. The Danes and Greeks are not here to make up the numbers. And, whilst the crews from Great Britain and the Ukraine may be outsiders in the Farr 40 Class, with a changeable weather forecast offering a mix of light and strong conditions over the four days of racing, there remains room for even those with the longest odds to dream.
All eyes will be on Vincenzo Onorato and Mascalzone Latino (ITA), gunning for an unprecedented fourth title, following their unprecedented successful title defence in 2007 and an equally unprecedented third in a row victory last year. Onorato put his marker down at a light-wind Rolex Capri Sailing Week a month ago holding his nerve the best to secure overall victory. Onorato, though, is an archetypal superstitious Neapolitan and never discusses his prospects. However, with his trusted lieutenant and tactician, Adrian Stead, alongside him and a crew with exceptional experience in the winner's circle, few would argue against his headline billing.
The Rolex Farr 40 Worlds were last held in the Mediterranean mecca of big boat racing in 2003, when Massimo Mezzaroma's Nerone (ITA) emphatically blitzed the opposition winning with a race to spare. Mezzaroma has finished in the top ten of the Championship every year since and is certainly a contender to revisit former glories this year. Evidence of ambition was plain to see in Miami in March and then again in yesterday's practice races.
Mezzaroma is openly positive, "I know that Sardinia is a lucky place for us, every time we've been racing here we do a good job. We are confident we can have a good Championship.” Sailing once again with tactician, Vasco Vascotto, Mezzaroma has reason to be self-assured. He has made only one crew change since 2003 and the weather forecast is for some wind for the first part of the event at least, “we are pretty comfortable with every condition, but with strong wind we feel better. I certainly prefer a windy week for us; 2003 was very windy with 20-25 knots.”
Class President Jim Richardson and Barking Mad head the clutch of American boats, champing at the bit to recover some bragging rights in a preserve that used to be their own, until the rest of the world got wind of how rewarding sailing in the Farr 40 could be. Richardson won the first ever Worlds back in 1998 and followed it up in 2004 with a win in San Francisco, but significantly he and his compatriots have yet to convert a victory outside the USA (and the Bahamas - before any one calls in a correction). Along with Richardson, Helmut Jahn/Flash Gordon, Doug Douglass/Goombay Smash and Alex Roepers/Plenty will be aiming to put the record straight and prove they can travel.
The Australians have come the furthest to be here and have some longstanding pedigree in the Farr 40 Class. John Calvert-Jones was the first from Downunder to take the world title back in 2000 in Newport, Rhode Island. Richard Perini snuffed out the opposition on a tiebreak in Sydney in 2005 and, whilst neither is still active in the class, their legacy remains. Mark Walsh won with Calvert-Jones in 2000 and is part of Lang Walker's Kokomo crew here. Guido Belgiornio-Nettis and his Transfusion crew won the 2008-09 Australian Championship sailing Perini's former Worlds-winning boat.
Belgiorno-Nettis is taking a lot on. Despite a self-evident family connection with Italy, he is certainly not at home sailing in Italian waters. "This is the first time we've sailed in the Med on the Farr 40; we've only ever sailed in Australia," he explains. “We're also sailing a different boat and have only had a week to get used to it.”
So, whilst happy to be at the Worlds, Belgiorno-Nettis is understandably circumspect, “it's very exciting. We're as prepared as we're going to be for the time being. We're still a young crew, we're still learning; so I think this is going to be a regatta to give us a feel for how we fit into the world elite of the Farr 40s. We've only been in the class for a couple of years now, but we've been working with a pretty consistent group. It's part of the secret…if there is a secret!”
Sailing on Transfusion as tactician is Tom Slingsby a two-time Laser World Champion, one of a number of highly-successful dinghy sailors competing here; more on some of the others over the course of the event.
For the moment sit back, relax and enjoy the peace. The 2009 Rolex Farr Worlds gets underway tomorrow and according to Geoff Stagg, of the Farr 40 Class Management Committee, “we're in for a treat. Watching twenty-six forty-footers on the line… going into a mark is a lot of action. Anything can happen. Anything.”
The Rolex Farr 40 World Championship 2009 is organised by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda and the Farr 40 Class Association. Racing will be held in the waters off Porto Cervo, Sardinia from Wednesday, 24 June to Saturday, 27 June.