Newport, RI, USA: Precision: “the quality, condition, or fact of being exact and accurate.”
Precision is the key to success in all sport. The faultless golf swing, the perfect line in motor racing, serving an ace in tennis: each requires absolute accuracy. In a team sport such as sailing individual and collective precision is paramount especially when competing with a crew of ten in one of the most aggressive and competitive classes in yacht racing.
The fifteen crews competing at the 2013 Rolex Farr 40 World Championship hosted by the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) in Newport, United States, are well aware of what it takes to succeed in this competition. Perfect timing and teamwork go hand in hand. The four days of intense racing are fast-paced and everyone on board needs to know exactly what to do and exactly when to do it.
The races are run on short windward/leeward courses that require a lot of manoeuvres and look fairly simply to the untrained eye, but require a great deal of coordination and talent. Although a crew of ten might seem quite large on a 40-ft yacht, no one is idle at any moment of the race. Before leaving the dock, the crews are already at work getting the boat ready for racing - checking and loading sails and gear. Then it’s time to talk about the course, the weather conditions, the forecast, navigation, strategy and tactics. The “start” of the race begins well before the gun is fired. Coaches are busy checking the starting line and taking their teams through practice drills, race officials have their hands full with measurements and course settings.
The area around the start is hectic, noisy and bustling with activity. The crew’s senses are fully alert. At the so-called “warning” signal, which gives the teams the exact countdown to the start, the sailors start their carefully planned act: bowmen, trimmers, pitmen, grinders, mastmen, strategists, floaters, tacticians, helmsmen – to name just a few – all spring into action. There is a constant flow of commands, both verbal and visual, from the bow to the stern of each boat, while computers and GPSs contribute to the exactness and timing of each action. There is no rest throughout the race and no margin of error. In case something unforeseen happens, strong teamwork comes into play again, as everyone has a very specific role and acts fast to fix the problem. The winner is usually the team who completes this highly choreographed dance at the most precise and accurate pace.
A team game
Coordination and precision are key to success on the race course. The crew on Barking Mad (USA) gets ready to hoist the spinnaker.
According to Jim Richardson, American owner of three time Rolex Farr 40 World Champion Barking Mad and Chairman of the Farr 40 Class, teamwork and timing are inextricably linked: “In terms of teamwork, you try to build a crew that is able to compete at a high level. In terms of timing, all your efforts go into preparation. We aim to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. On any given day anyone can win and anyone can lose. Consistency is key. You really want to be able to go into the last day with an opportunity to win.”
America’s Cup veteran Terry Hutchinson, Richardson’s professional tactician, adds: “(Timing and teamwork) are directly related to each other. The better communicated the timing, the better the teamwork. If you are off, it’s amazing the impact it has on the overall performance of the boat. If the start is off by two or three seconds, the impact on the race is massive. I give a timing countdown to each manoeuvre because it’s so critical for everyone to start the job at the right time. Pretty much everything on the boat requires ultimate precision.”
Vasco Vascotto, another pro tactician, racing on the Italian Farr 40 Enfant Terrible, is in agreement: “Teamwork is one of the most important things in any sport. On the Farr 40, you need to be very coordinated and organized. We have ten sailors on the boat and everyone has to do their best to make it all work. If someone isn’t pushing in the right direction it affects all the others.”
Building a winnig team
Perfection and precision were on display during the first day of the 2013 Rolex Farr 40 Worlds. Nico Poons’ Charisma scored three consecutive race wins: a remarkable achievement. “I knew it was possible, but three bullets in a row is pretty amazing,” confessed and impressed Poons. Practice makes perfect though as Poons explains: “The team works like a finely tuned machine and are highly motivated. The communication on board is flawless.”
An insight into the synergy of a Rolex Farr 40 team is provided by an accompanying infographic.
No quarter given
According to Gavin Brady, the professional tactician on former Rolex Farr 40 World Champion Guido Belgiorno-Nettis’ Transfusion from Australia, the Farr 40 fleet never stops improving. He points to how the fleet hits the start line on time and together: “To achieve that you need teamwork, perfect boat handling and kinetics, and you have to get the timing dead right.”
After a period away from the class, Danish pro-sailor Jens Christiansen racing with HRH Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark on Nanoq, explains how hard they have had to work their timing to compete at the rarefied heights of this world championship: “We know how crucial it is to get it right and how difficult that is. We were a little surprised at how aggressive the crews have become. It’s clear that many of the crews have been sailing a lot and they know their boats extremely well, so they can push them really hard.”
Attention to detail
Most Farr 40 teams have a designated coach. Jonathan “Jono” Swain from South Africa is coaching the American crew on John Demourkas’ Groovederci: “Timing is paramount, especially in the starts. I have the team rehearse the same thing every day to get them in a routine.” Decision-making is between the helmsman, tactician and bowman, who are fed the countdown to the start by two other crewmembers.
Swain believes proper preparation extends to land-based elements. He runs a full debrief at the end of every day: “Usually if there are any little mistakes that happened during the race they would already have talked about them on board, but I like to go beyond the race observations.” In keeping with his experience as a round the world racer, Swain keeps an eye on nutrition and hydration. Napoleon’s adage that an army marches on its stomach is not lost in sailing.
Sometimes, things do not run as smoothly as planned and crews need to react fast. Dave Gerber a professional on Helmut Jahn’s defending champion Flash Gordon 6 explains how important it is to be prepared for any eventuality good or bad: “We often practice drills for the unplanned error or breakage. We rehearse the procedures on how to fix the problem so that we can continue racing. Everyone knows exactly what they are supposed to do in these situations and they can spring right into action.” Prior preparation is critical to precision and accuracy.
Given all the effort the crews put in to getting things right on the day, it is reassuring to know that the race management is equally diligent about its timing and teamwork; Principal Race Officer Peter “Luigi” Reggio: “In the starting sequence everything has to be perfect and you have to be spot on with the time. If you make a mistake you have to stop the race and start all over again.” And that is unrewarding for everyone.
The bowmen of Nanoq (DEN) and Charisma (MON) calling the distance to the start line
For the team that consistently hits every start, executes every manoeuvre, follows the best strategy and minimises the errors their timing and teamwork will be duly rewarded. The Rolex Farr 40 World Championship is coveted throughout the sailing world, and the winner is awarded the Championship trophy and an engraved Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece, true recognition for their precision on the water.