It is a surreal experience sat at the windward mark on a media boat, waiting for the fleet to arrive, all the while listening to Bob Marley and the Wailers on the radio. Total relaxation. A complete world away from the intense battles and mind games being played out on the racecourse at Rolex Farr 40 Worlds and the frenzy of activity about to be unleashed. The penultimate day was no less enthralling than the first two. Barking Mad (USA) heads the table after another day of conservatism, whilst Nerone (ITA) stands six-points behind in second, after a performance of truly mercurial liberalism. Two opposing race strategies seemingly on a collision course.
With two races left, Joe Fly (ITA) in third is by no means out of it, but bridging a sixteen-point gap will require a god of Jupiter's standing to step in. Current World Champions, Mascalzone Latino (ITA), will go down fighting to the last, but a twenty-eight-point gap to the lead looks insurmountable even for the miracle workers on board.
Three races today in a building westerly, with an underlying sea swell running, made for excellent racing conditions. Again, we had three different winners. Vincenzo Onorato looked to have put yesterday behind him, carving out a fine victory on Mascalzone Latino. The next two races though were killers for his Championship aspirations, as Mascalzone scored 13, 13. Massimo Mezzaroma's Nerone picked the plum in race two, following a second in race one. All this good work was almost wiped out as he started the third race too early. In that race, Marco Rodolfi and TWT (ITA) finally showed their true potential passing Helmut Jahn and Flash Gordon (USA) on the final leg to win.
The first race was notable for Joe Fly being over early. Giovanni Maspero's crew could finish no better than nineteenth, pushing them back in the standings, while Mascalzone's first and Nerone's second place had enabled them to close the gap to Barking Mad which finished sixth.
Come the second race, conditions had picked up further and the tension on the racecourse was becoming tangible. As the initial beat unwound at the first windward rounding, Mascalzone's recovery looked to be short lived as she struggled round in mid-fleet. At the front, Nerone led with Barking Mad in fifth – a result that would level their scores. But the race was far from over.
Joe Fly was in second place. Maspero and tactician, Francesco Bruni, were sailing her like a blowfly, an annoying presence buzzing all around Mezzaroma and his tactician, Vasco Vascotto, engaging in every strategy possible to try to get past. Further back, the normally steadfast Barking Mad crew appeared to be pushing hard to limit the potential loss to Nerone. Sitting behind Goombay Smash and Flash Gordon at the first leeward rounding, Terry Hutchinson worked some magic to pass first Doug Douglass and then slip in front of Helmut Jahn at the second windward mark. The dogfighting was not finished by any means, but those two precious places saved meant the difference between Barking Mad leading overall at the end of the race or seeing their position eroded still further.
As it was, the third race of the day proved to be the more critical. In keeping with his character, Vascotto looked to seize the initiative early. One of a clutch of boats aiming to secure the pin end of the line, Nerone looked to have hit the line perfectly and at speed. A few seconds later, the heros to zeros were heading back to restart. One of two boats caught over early by the vigilant race officials. Quite what goes through the mind of top class tactician at this critical point in a World Championship regatta is anyone's guess. What marks them out though as better than the rest is their response.
With the fleet heading left, Nerone went right. By the first windward mark she was only up to nineteenth and it looked game-over. Barking Mad rounded in third, a position she never gave up. By the finish, though, Nerone had played the poker hand of poker hands and crossed the line in eighth. Some recovery. In the circumstances, bleeding only five-points to the Americans must have felt like the aftermath successful heart-surgery. Bruised but certainly not dead and buried.
Vascotto was his usual chirpy-self once back ashore and the great escapologist is certainly no apologist, “it was a really good day after two races and I think we sail the best race in the last one when we started over the line and we had a great recovery because we finished eighth. We are inside the championship still and I think tomorrow will be a great day. It will be a lot of fun, should be a lot of wind and we'll try to be ready for the fight.”
Even when she won the Championship in 2003, Nerone did not opt for the steady approach, starting and finishing the event with some appalling scores. Vascotto is refreshing in his processing of their performances so far, “it's quite difficult to stay consistent, but I think that we have had a great Championship except for the third race of the first day and the third race of the last day. With a little more conservatism maybe we could be leading this championship, but we are second and still ready to fight.” Wouldn't he be happier sailing more conservatively? “I'm not able to sail conservatively!” is the reply.
For Jim Richardson, a two-time World Champion in the Class, it could not be much better going into the last day. Averaging under four-points a race would have won all previous Rolex Farr 40 Worlds, so the Barking Mad crew is on the money at this event. Understandably, Richardson chooses his words carefully when describing their performance so far. There are still two races to go and the Championship is clearly his to lose, “I think we are sailing very well. I think we are sailing conservatively, we're not taking chances even though sometimes we start on the wrong end of the line, away from the bias, so that we do not get congested or influenced to be over the line.”
Richardson is explaining a strategy that could not be more opposite in appearance to that displayed by Nerone, as he continues, “I'm not entirely surprised at some of the mistakes being made. People get aggressive and want to get to the start line bow out and sometimes it causes people to be over the line. We've taken sterns when we needed to, we've not pushed anything on the racecourse, we've figured it best to come in sixth rather than spend three hours in the protest room to maybe come in third. We're just trying to avoid the big mistakes and hope that people around us make them.”
So far Barking Mad have made no mistakes. They are the exception in this Championship. The question tomorrow is conservatism versus liberalism, which one will win through. It is a fascinating struggle that has even the normally irrepressible Geoff Stagg almost speechless, “in my opinion it's Barking Mad's to lose. Everyone else around them has tripped. They have been so consistent, they are starting very clean and do not appear to be rattled on the water. But it's a World Championship. Nerone is barking at the door. Two races to go, only six-points in it. Anything can happen.” We can't wait.
PROVISIONAL STANDINGS AFTER RACE 8
Place, Boat Name, Owner, Nation, R1-R2-R3-R4-R5-R6-R7-R8-Points
1. BARKING MAD Jim Richardson USA, 1-6-4-1-6-6-3-3-30.00
2. NERONE Massimo Mezzaroma ITA, 5-1-13-2-4-2-1-8-36.00
3. JOE FLY Giovanni Maspero ITA, 4-5-5-4-1-19-2-6-46.00
4. MASCALZONE LATINO Vincenzo Onorato ITA, 2-10-2-9-8-1-13-13-58.00
5. TRANSFUSION Guido Belgiorno-Nettis AUS, 9-7-1-3-20-25-5-4-74.00
6. FLASH GORDON Helmut Jahn USA, 20-4-3-11-11-20-4-2-75.00
7. TWT Marco Rodolfi ITA, 6-9-14-19-13-13-7-1-82.00
8. TWINS Erik Maris FRA, 14-8-15-14-5-5-6-18-85.00
9. PLENTY Alex Roepers USA, 12,13,19,13,10,4,15-5-91.00
10. FIAMMA Alessandro Barnaba ITA, 3-12-7-10-24-10-16-12-94.00
The Rolex Farr 40 World Championship 2009 is organised by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda and the Farr 40 Class Association. Racing is being held in the waters off Porto Cervo, Sardinia and runs from Wednesday, 24 June to Saturday, 27 June.
For more information about the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds including entry and crew lists, tracking, live reporting from the racecourse and results please visit www.farr40worldchampionship.com