The Rolex Farr 40 World Championship marks the culmination of the season for this high-performance circuit of one-design yacht racing that has remained at the forefront of the sailing world for nearly two decades.
With rules that guarantee identical yachts, owners compete on even terms, allowing the skill of each crew to make the difference. The importance of preparation, precision and perfect timing at the start cannot be overstated. The 18th edition, hosted by Long Beach Yacht Club (LBYC), attracted an international fleet of 17 boats representing six nations: United States, Great Britian, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and Australia. And while LBYC has put on the well-known Congressional Cup for 51 years, this is the first time it had hosted a world championship.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Although the boats are virtually identical in speed, some crews are faster than others. Experience, tightly choreographed crew work, and an obsessive attention to detail are essential for success in such a competitive fleet. Terry Hutchinson is one of the longest-standing and most accomplished professionals in the Farr 40, and many other classes besides. Most recently, the America’s Cup veteran called tactics for Bella Mente in Sardinia two weeks earlier, when Hap Fauth’s crew raced to victory at the Rolex Maxi 72 World Championship. As far as Hutchinson is concerned, though, that was history. All that mattered in Long Beach was defending the crown that he, owner-driver Alex Roepers and the rest of the Plenty team won last year in San Francisco.
It started out well for Plenty, with Roepers’ team holding a slender lead after day one. The biggest threat to the reigning World Champions was expected to come from Italy, from Alberto Rossi’s impeccably prepared crew on Enfant Terrible, led by the ebullient and brilliant tactician Vasco Vascotto. However the Italian campaign got off to a terrible start and even after the first day the likelihood of repeating their world title success of 2013 looked slim. Day two proved even worse, as long strands of kelp seaweed caught around the Italian keel and rudder and relegated them to the back of the fleet. The anguish was etched in Vascotto’s expressive features, yet somehow Enfant Terrible bounced back on the third day with a breathtaking set of scores: 2,1,1. One of those victories produced the biggest winning margin of the regatta, one minute and 47 seconds.
However, what this regatta rewards above all is consistency and the Italians hadn’t managed the consistency required. Plenty’s metronomic, disciplined approach to balancing risk and reward on the race course is easy to admire but hard to mimic. Going into the final day, Alex Roepers looked poised to successfully defend his world title, sitting at the top of the leaderboard, albeit on equal points with John Demourkas and Groovederci. Having spent 15 years racing in the Farr 40, the affable, laid-back Demourkas had long been close to success without ever quite making it on to the podium. Could this, at last, be the year?
Others still had a shot at the title, including the German owner of Struntje light, Wolfgang Schaefer, and American Kevin McNeil who in 2013 in Newport, Rhode Island, had steered Nightshift to within a tiebreak of the world title, missing out to Enfant Terrible by the narrowest of margins.
TIMED TO PERFECTION
On the final day, Struntje light executed another beautifully crafted start to lead the fleet out to the right-hand side of the course. Schaefer never put a foot wrong and his third race win of the week moved the German to within a point of Plenty going into the final race. On the other hand, Groovederci’s ninth place looked like Demourkas would have to put his dream on hold for another year.
The final race turned into a fierce duel between the two leading contenders, with Plenty and Struntje light engaged in a match race that became so engrossing that they failed to notice a change of breeze and fortunes as the chasing pack passed them from the left-hand side of the final windward leg. While Australia’s Estate Master took up the lead, more important for the championship was Groovederci’s resurrection to second place.
NEVER GIVE UP
Suddenly the match race between Plenty and Struntje light had become inconsequential as John Demourkas sailed clean past both of them. It was an incredible reversal of fortunes that took even Groovederci’s owner by surprise. The team’s ‘Never Give Up’ T-shirts - worn in loving memory of seven-year-old Gwendolyn Strong who died in July - had propelled Groovederci to unprecedented heights. A world title for Demourkas, 15 years in the making. “We did it, we never gave up,” said a euphoric Demourkas. “I had no idea we'd won until we crossed the line. JK [tactician John Kostecki] said 'I think we did it' and I said 'no, that's not possible.' I wasn't even focused on it, I just drive the boat, find my angles… not even thinking about what the results would be, or thinking about anything else.”
THE REWARDS OF PERSISTENCE
The 61-year-old Demourkas was presented with a specially-engraved Rolex Yacht-Master – the ultimate tool chosen by professionals who sail the world – a prize worthy of his achievement, especially in the Farr 40 class where success only comes through rigorous preparation, determination, and superlative timing.
“I was close to getting a Rolex watch, unfortunately I missed it again,” smiled Wolfgang Schaefer who finished third overall – just three points behind the winner – on his German-flagged Struntje light which he races with his wife Angela Schaefer.
HONOUR IN VICTORY AND DEFEAT
For the defending champions on Plenty, the loss stung. “We don't like losing and we let this one slip away,” said Hutchinson, while adding that less than six months from now they would be right back at it. “Defending our title was always going to be tough, but I couldn't be happier for Johnny D [Demourkas] because he's been at it for a while. So for him to hang tough and get there is just awesome. He's a good man for our sport and a top-notch person. As disappointed as I am for Alex [Roepers] and Team Plenty, I'm as happy for Johnny because he's a legend.”
The 19th edition of the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship takes the fleet to Sydney, Australia, next February. Afterwards a return to Europe is planned for the class, which over nearly two decades has set new standards for teamwork, precision and fair sailing. Values which align perfectly with those of long-term title sponsor Rolex.