Santa Barbara, Calif. (July 18, 2014) - A clear indication of close, competitive yacht racing comes when there are large numbers of boats converging at the rounding marks. That happened in dramatic fashion during the first race of the third day at the Farr 40 West Coast Championship, being hosted by Santa Barbara Yacht Club.
Almost the entire 15-boat fleet arrived at the first windward mark simultaneously and the result was that there was nowhere to go. There were whistles, several boats doing penalty turns and a total of 10 protest flags flying by the time it was all over.
"It was a real mess," said Flash Gordon 6 skipper Helmut Jahn, whose desperate pleas for room at the mark went unheeded.
Four of the boats that clearly fouled exonerated themselves immediately by performing 360 degree turns. However, other boats continued on downwind and were subsequently the target of formal protests.
"I think half the fleet is going to be in the protest room for a while. It's a good thing we didn't have our party tonight because I'm not sure how many people would come," Groovederci skipper and Santa Barbara resident John Demourkas said.
When the smoke cleared after another action-packed afternoon on the Pacific Ocean, skipper Alberto Rossi and his Italian team on Enfant Terrible held a one-point lead over Jahn and his crew aboard Flash Gordon 6. Voodoo Chile, owned by Lloyd Clark of Tasmania, briefly snagged first place overall on Friday before falling five points behind in third. Also in contention are Groovederci and Kokomo (Lang Walker, Sydney, Australia), which are locked in a tie 11 points astern of the leader.
"In typical Farr 40 fashion, it all comes down to the final day. Enfant and Flash are neck-and-neck, but Voodoo is very much in contention while Kokomo and Groove cannot be counted out," class manager Geoff Stagg said. "We will have two more races on Saturday and anything can happen... it usually does."
Friday off Santa Barbara brought southwest winds that started off in the 8-10 knot range and eventually built to 15 knots, producing what Stagg described as "champagne sailing conditions." There was a bit of sea state later in the day as white caps developed and provided exciting sailing.
Stagg said the remarkably close rounding at the top mark in Race 7 was an indication that principal race officer Peter "Luigi" Reggio has created ideal windward-leeward courses.
"I think one of the surprises has been how fair the race course is. There had been some talk early on about it being a right-hand biased course, but that has certainly not been the case," Stagg said.
After closing Thursday with back-to-back bullets, Enfant Terrible posted a solid score line of 5-4-3 on Friday and has a low score of 35 points. After struggling in light air during the Rolex North American Championship and the California Cup, Enfant made some adjustments to rig tune that have paid dividends this week.
"It was another good day. Our speed was good," Rossi said. "We had a couple mistakes that cost us some positions, but we were able to do enough to stay ahead of Flash. We know it will be very intense tomorrow and we will need to sail our very best in order to win the regatta."
Flash Gordon 6, which was the overall leader on Wednesday night and second via tiebreaker with Enfant on Thursday night, sandwiched a pair of sixth place finishes around a victory in Race 8 and has 36 points.
"You always want to be in a position to win the regatta on the last day," said Jahn, a Chicago-based architect. "We're very happy with where we are and have confidence knowing that we have a fast boat. This has been a very competitive regatta, perhaps the most competitive of the season so far. There are four or five boats that can win any race."
Groovederci repeated as Boat of the Day after earning that honor on Thursday as well. Demourkas steered the white boat with its signature red lipstick graphics to victory in Race 9 to win a tiebreaker with Enfant as both boats totaled 12 points on the day.
"Once again, we had good speed at all times and things just went well all-around," said Demourkas, a member of host Santa Barbara Yacht Club.
Despite consecutive Boat of the Day performances, Groovederci remains fifth in the overall standings - tied with Kokomo at 46 points apiece. Demourkas admitted it's been tough to overcome an opening day score line of 10-9-7.
"That has been our downfall all season. We've had one bad day in every regatta," he said. "That is something we need to fix before we get to worlds."
Voodoo Chile came oh so close to winning the day after getting the gun in Race 7 and following with a second in Race 8. The Tasmanian entry had worked its way into second place with a strong downwind leg in Race 9, but had the misfortune of shrimping the spinnaker.
"It was a little mistake, but a costly one. It took us a while to recover the kite and we lost quite a number of boats in the process," Clark said.
Voodoo had to settle for a 10th in Race 9 and now has 40 points overall, five back of Enfant and four astern of Flash. Considering the Corinthian crew is sailing a brand new boat that was delivered to Santa Barbara just prior to the regatta, Lloyd is feeling pretty good about Voodoo Chile's place in the overall standings.
"We're really happy with our performance this week. We're probably doing a bit better than we expected considering this is a new boat," he said. "The crew has done a really good job of tuning the rig this quickly and (tactician David Chapman) has done a very good job of picking the shifts and keeping us on the favored side of the course."
The Farr 40 class would like to thank North Sails Graphics, the official graphics supplier for the West Coast Championship.