Chicago, IL, USA: Over the past 15 years, the Farr 40 class has hosted their World Championships at top sailing venues around the globe. Previously held in the U.S. two times in Miami, Newport and San Francisco, this year the fleet traveled for the first time to Chicago, with racing taking place on Lake Michigan, one of the five fresh water Great Lakes that form part of the boundary of the U.S. and Canada.
This fleet of 40-foot one-designs continues to enjoy close, competitive racing. With 160 boats built since the Farr 40’s inception in 1997, the Worlds always attracts formidable competition and the 2012 Chicago edition was no exception: 20 entries from eight countries including the U.S., Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Monaco, Turkey and Mexico. The owner/driver rule and limit of professionals on board is a large part of the Farr 40’s attraction, as are the boats themselves that continue to provide an exhilarating platform for one-design grand-prix racing. Hosted this year at the Chicago Yacht Club, the docks were filled with several prior Farr 40 World Champions including defending champion, Guido Belgiorno-Nettis on Transfusion (AUS), and three-time winner Jim Richardson, on Barking Mad (USA).
Long-time class stalwarts mixed with some returning to the class, such as Robert Hughes’ Heartbreaker (USA), Stuart Townsend’s Virago (USA), and Alek Krstajic’s, Honour (CAN), as well as first-time Worlds’ competitors: the Turkish boats, Asterisk Uno and Provezza 8, and the team of Flojito y Cooperando (on a chartered boat in Chicago), one of six Farr 40s based in Acapulco, Mexico. As well, six boats from the local Chicago-area fleet represented the class well.
On the Water
For many competitors -- some Americans included -- it was their first time in Chicago and the Midwestern city earned high praise for all that it offered both on the water and ashore, including the Chicago Yacht Club’s genuine hospitality.
Lake Michigan provided a changeable playing field with a range of conditions for the four race days. The lake, which measures 300 miles long by 118 miles wide, has a maximum depth of 925 feet, that ‘shoals’ up to 35 feet at the southern end, near Chicago.
Monday, the first race day, started off with 8-10 knot southwesterly winds. Principal Race Officer Peter Reggio and the CYC race committee exhibited extreme patience and persistence given the light and shifty conditions, postponing for nearly two hours, and moving the start line several times before finding stable breeze to get off two races.
Showing impeccable timing befitting the defending world champion, Guido Belgiorno-Nettis’ Transfusion, with Australian 49er Olympic gold medalist Nathan Outteridge as tactician, took the first win in race one and with a fourth in race two, were on top of the leader board after the first day of racing. Alberto Rossi’s Enfant Terrible (ITA) showed consistency with two thirds to trail by a point.
After the passing of a strong frontal system Monday night, on day two competitors woke to a brisk northerly wind at 22+ knots with gusts close to 30, big seas, and blue skies with distinct cumulus clouds scudding quickly southward…a significant change from the prior day’s conditions. The race committee ran three windward-leeward races, sending the boats twice around on a six nautical mile course.
The conditions were a proper test for a world championship: the ‘big seas’ were in fact 6 - 12 footers created with the northerly breeze blowing along a lake with 300 miles of fetch. The emphasis would be on crew work that was nearly flawless, as the sea state and breeze would punish any ill-timed or botched maneuvers. Wolfgang Schaefer’s Struntje Light (GER) took a bullet in race three, followed it with a 21 (after an early start under a Z-flag gave them a 20% scoring penalty), and then came in second in race five. But, following the pattern of the first day, consistency paid off for Helmut Jahn’s Flash Gordon 6 (USA) which posted a 3-6-3 and moved to the top of the standings, with five race scores all in single digits, and none higher than a sixth place.
The third race day featured even more breeze: a northwesterly backing to the southwest at around 18-20 knots, with gusts to 32. While the seas had flattened out somewhat from the prior day, the gusts were treacherous for some, with several spinnakers shredded and boats broaching on the downwind legs. It was not the case, however, for Struntje Light, which seemed to revel in the conditions, going 1-2 to finish the day in third place overall. With the breeze up to 25 - 35 knots by the end of the second race, the Race Committee elected to call racing for the penultimate day of the series.
Going into the last race day, Flash Gordon led Transfusion, followed by four teams -Struntje Light, Enfant Terrible, Groovederci (USA), Plenty (USA) - within three points of each other in third to sixth place, providing a high chance for a leader board reshuffle.
The final day of racing started off with 12-15 knot westerlies. While the race committee’s plan had been to run three races to reach the ten-race maximum, the breeze proved shifty enough to cause several postponements, resulting in two races contested for the day.
Flash Gordon 6 maintained a comfortable lead going into the last day, ten points ahead of Transfusion. Capitalizing on their steady performance, Flash Gordon 6 safely finished 6-7 for the day, while behind them a win by Enfant Terrible allowed the Italians to slide by Transfusion to capture second place by one point.
The winner of the world championship, Helmut Jahn’s Flash Gordon 6, finished on 41 points after nine races, ten points ahead of the second placed boat, Alberto Rossi’s Enfant Terrible. Flash Gordon 6’s win was notable for their single digit score line: 2-6-3-6-3-5-3-6-7.
Timing is Everything
This was Bill Hardesty’s eighth Rolex Farr 40 Worlds, his fifth consecutive as tactician on Flash Gordon. As for timing, the first right call the team would make would be training at the venue. Hardesty said, “We got here (Chicago) ten days early. No one else was here. It was windy, it was difficult, but worth it.”
The game plan on Flash was to be consistent. Hardesty said, “I told the team ‘the best worst race is what’s going to win this thing. We’re going to make this as boring as possible, we’re going to chip away at it and not win anything, and try to win the overall’. Amazingly it worked for us, there usually always seems to be a bad race here or there that can get you, but we were able to avoid it.”
Hardesty had kudos for owner Helmut Jahn, “Helmut’s ultra committed to the whole sport, serious as can be, he doesn’t put up with anyone not giving 100 percent. Everyone performs well because he’s a joy to work with.”
Flash Gordon himself
All of Helmut Jahn’s boats have been named Flash Gordon after the moniker was given to the architect following his postmodern design of the State of Illinois Center in the mid-1980s. Jahn came to Chicago in 1966 for graduate studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology. His plan was to stay for a year, and 46 years later, he’s still there. Chicago struck a chord with him, “the city is very open, made out of natural elements, like the lake,” he explained, “It’s small, easy to get around and I felt very comfortable with the people.” At that point it was also the capital of architecture, Mies van der Rohe was still alive, and Jahn said, “I met some of the best architects and engineers that existed”.
It was also around that time that the up-and-coming architect developed a love of sailing, joining a friend on his Lightning on Lake Michigan, and then quickly moving up: he had Bruce Farr design a 39 foot boat, followed by a 43-footer. With a move to a Farr 49, Flash Gordon 3, Jahn campaigned as part of the U.S. team in the 1997 Admiral’s Cup and won.
Soon after, tired of the modifications needed to stay competitive in that class, Jahn bought a Farr 40. It would be the first of three he would own, as he settled into a class with a camaraderie he enjoyed - as well as the opportunity to sail with his son, Evan, who is his co-helmsman.
About the class, Jahn said, “It’s a great group of people, we still like each other, we don’t destroy each other like we did in the beginning! We are all competitors and we also have a friendship. There’s not this vicious will for achieving something at someone else’s cost.”
That’s a Wrap
On Thursday evening, the Rolex Farr 40 awards presentation was held at the River East Art Center, a restored warehouse built in 1905 on the north bank of the Chicago River. Two hundred competitors, race committee members, friends and family enjoyed the prize giving celebration, where the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship trophy and a Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece were presented to hometown heroes, Helmut Jahn and his crew on Flash Gordon 6. The 2013 Rolex Farr 40 World Championship will take place in Newport in late August.