CHICAGO – Leif Sigmond called it a “great precursor” to the Farr 40 World Championship, and that assessment seemed spot on.
A strong fleet of 10 Farr 40s gathered at the Chicago Yacht Club for the Verve Cup and four days of intense competition served to stoke expectations for the worlds, being held in October off the Windy City.
Sigmond, who is commodore of the Chicago Yacht Club, came away impressed.
“It was a terrific regatta in every respect. It was nice to have all the traveling boats here and we had a good turnout of local boats,” Sigmond said. “I thought the competition was tremendous, a lot of very tight racing.”
Skipper Alex Roepers and his team aboard Plenty showed they are still sailing the boat to beat by posting an impressive victory. The three-time world champions bounced back from a tough start to post a steady string of firsts and seconds in posting a low score of 21 points.
Two-time Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Terry Hutchinson called tactics for Roepers, who steered Plenty to three wins and five runner-up results in the 10-race series. Plenty had opened the regatta with a third and fifth before totaling dialing it in.
“It was a wonderful event with a terrific venue and outstanding hospitality by the Chicago Yacht Club,” said Roepers, who is the two-time defending world champ. “Obviously, we're very pleased. After a difficult start getting warmed up we were very consistent. We're confident going into the next event, which is the one we're all aiming to win.”
Roepers pointed out conditions off Chicago's north shore in October figure to be dramatically different than what the fleet saw here in August. Winds were light for the most part during the four-day Verve Cup, which featured racing in eight one-design and two handicap classes and was held on courses set about two miles east of Chicago Yacht Club's Belmont Station.
Breezes piped up into the mid teens on Friday, but for the most part held steady in the 8 to 12 knot range. Sunday was particularly challenging with 6-8 knot winds that were quite shifty. Seven races were held on Thursday and Friday with organizers getting off just one on Saturday and completing the series with two on Sunday.
“Conditions were difficult most of the days. Today in particular was very light, lumpy and shifty,” Roepers said. “Once we figured things out we sailed the boat well. Terry made some excellent tactical calls and I thought the crew performed at a high level as usual. Even if we had a bad start we would fight our way back to second.”
Roepers welcomed the chance to get accustomed to the venue, but said the pre-worlds will provide more important preparation. Chicago Yacht Club will host the 2018 Farr 40 World Championship Oct. 6-9.
“We expect October to bring heavy breeze. I just think it will be a much different regatta with cold water and foul weather gear,” Roeper said.
Plenty, which captured its second Farr 40 North American Championship in May off Long Beach, renewed its rivalry with Enfant Terrible – the Italian entry skippered by Alberto Rossi. Enfant Terrible was making its debut on the 2018 International Circuit and quickly showed it remains a top contender.
“It was a real pleasure to have Alberto here and to race against such a high quality team,” Roepers said. “It was close as usual and we were pushed at all times. I thought the local boats were very good while Struntje and Flash Gordon are always tough. We had 10 boats here and are hoping for 15 at the worlds so the Farr 40 class is alive and well.”
Veteran pro Vasco Vascotto called tactics aboard Enfant Terrible, which won three races and placed second or third in three others in posting 30 points – nine astern of Plenty. Rossi led Enfant Terrible to the 2013 world championship, which was held off Newport, R.I.
Nobody knows the waters off the Windy City better than Helmut Jahn, a veteran owner in the Farr 40 class who has captured the last world championship held off Chicago in 2012. Jahn drove Flash Gordon 6 to a third place result at the Verve Cup, getting the gun in two races en route to totaling 39 points – two better than Struntje Light (Wolfgang Schaefer, Germany).
“We got better toward the end of the regatta, but we need to improve some more,” said Jahn, noting that Flash Gordon was leading a race on Saturday that got abandoned despite the fact there was decent wind on the course. “We are looking forward to the worlds. We won it once when we didn't think we would. If we don't make mistakes we will be competitive this time as well.”
Sigmond and co-owner Marcus Thymian sailed Norboy to fifth place overall and captured the Corinthian championship in the process. Sigmond steered while Thymian trimmed the jib as the Chicago boat posted top five finishes in eight of 10 races.
“I'm really happy about our team. We had tough competition in the Corinthian ranks so it is quite an accomplishment to come out on top,” Sigmond said. “I believe the local Chicago fleet has really stepped up in recent years. We were leading the Corinthian fleet going into today and had to sail hard and tough to maintain our place.”
Australian professional Keith Swinton served as tactician onboard Norboy, which finished just three points back of Struntje Light.
“We had a really solid crew for this regatta and Keith really helps us with the starts and making sure we stay focused going up the course,” Sigmond said. “We did a good job of staying in the top half of the fleet. I think we only had one bad race. We tried to sail smart and relatively conservative. We didn't go crazy and try to knock it out of the park.”
Sigmond and Thymian plan to conduct several practice sessions leading up to the world championships and are hopeful of beating some of the professional boats in October.
“I think we need to work on changing gears when the wind increases or decreases going upwind. We also could use a little more consistency on the starting line,” said Sigmond, who praised the performance of Hot Lips (Christopher Whitford), which “is a very fast boat and was on our tail the whole time.”