Ray Roberts traveled from Sydney, Australia to southern California to compete in the 71st annual Newport to Ensenada International Race held late last month. Roberts recently bought a 1986 vintage Frers-designed 50-footer named Airwaves and was thrilled to skipper the old IOR warhorse to fourth place in PHRF B class.
Members of the Airwaves crew convinced Roberts to stay in the United States a while longer in order to compete in the Farr 40 North American Championship, being held May 10-13 off Long Beach.
Tactician David Chapman and strategist Bobby Wilmot are both veterans of the Australian Farr 40 circuit while several other members of the crew have experience aboard the classic one-design. Roberts himself had previously chartered a Farr 40 to do a couple regattas in his home waters off Sydney.
"I sailed a Farr 40 about 10 years ago and really enjoyed the boat. It is a very nice boat to sail - real quick in light air and a lot of fun in a breeze," Roberts said. "Obviously, I haven't steered a Farr 40 for a long time so it took some time to get up to speed. Fortunately, a bunch of the boys have done quite a bit of Farr 40 sailing back home so have some capable hands onboard."
Roberts was the big story on the opening day of the Farr 40 North American Championship, sailing his chartered boat named Australian Temptress to second place overall following three races off Long Beach.
"I like sailing here in Long Beach. It's a fantastic venue with great weather and nice breeze," Roberts said. "We have chartered a boat that is in excellent shape and got some good sails from North. We had no expectations coming in, but I've always been taught to think big and behave modestly."
Three-time world champion skipper Alex Roepers and his top-notch team on Plenty set the pace on Day 1 by winning two races and placing second in the other. Renowned professional Terry Hutchinson is calling tactics for Roepers, a New York City resident who captured the 2014 North American title.
"All in all a good day and solid start for Team Plenty. Conditions were tough as the breeze battled between the 'Catalina Eddy' and the sea breeze," Hutchinson said. "We managed consistency and our best race was the second. We rounded the top mark in fourth, but battled up the second beat with Temptress and were able to capitalize on a couple of shifts."
Roberts is showing that his Corinthian team is capable of giving Plenty a run for its money - placing second in Race 1 and 3 en route to posting nine points - five astern of the leader.
"We're very happy with today's results. I came into this event as a wild card and all of a sudden I'm an overnight superstar," Roberts said with a laugh. "Unfortunately, the thing about these types of regattas is that you have to repeat your performance for three more days, which is not easy. There is a long way to go and the competition is very good so we have our work cut out for us."
Conditions were not typical for Long Beach at this time of the year with racing conducted in 6-10 knot winds from the south-southwest. Skippers and tacticians had to be heads-up as the shift was on the opposite side of the course than is usually the case.
"I think we're seeing a little bit of the affects of what we locals call the Catalina Eddy," said Viva La Vida skipper Bill Durant, commodore of host Long Beach Yacht Club. "When the wind comes across Catalina Island, it sort of spins an eddy and brings a funky left shift. It makes things really tactical because there is not as persisent a right shift as normal."
Skipper Bill Durant maintains a light touch on the tiller of Viva La Vida while keeping a close eye on the sails during Day 1 of the Farr 40 North Americans.
Australian Temptress missed a couple shifts in finishing fifth in the nine-boat fleet for Race 2, but Roberts felt his afterguard figured out the conditions quite well considering they are not real familiar with racing off Long Beach.
"David did a very good job with the tactics. I think for the most part we had the boat going the right way," Roberts said. "I do know the key with Farr 40 sailing starts with setting up the boat for the wind. We had the rig tuned right and had good boat speed as a result. We were able to put the boat where we want."
Roberts has chartered a boat owned by Ray Godwin, who was runner-up among Corinthian entries at the 2015 Farr 40 Midwinter Championship held off San Diego. Meanwhile, Durant his chartering the boat he owned for four years with Jeff Shew.
The Long Beach Yacht Club commodore showed he has not lost his touch on the tiller by leading Viva La Vida to a solid score line of 3-4-3 to close out Day 1 in third place in the overall standings, one point behind Roberts.
"It felt good to be back aboard my old boat. It was kind of like riding a bike, but with one training wheel," said Durant, admitting it will take more than one day of racing to re-acclimate to the Farr 40.
John Carpenter, co-owner with Durant of a legendary Sparkman & Stephens 67-footer named Chubasco, is also doing some driving of Viva La Vida for the Farr 40 North Americans. Ernie Richau is aboard as tactician while Durant also had several members of his former Farr 40 crew.
"I think we held our own today, but we didn't set the world on fire. Fortunately, we have a great team and they kept us in the hunt today," Durant said. "Our starts were mediocre, but I thought our boat speed was very good and our sailhandling was outstanding."
Durant said the Long Beach Yacht Club is "proud and honored" to host the Farr 40 North American Championship and praised the caliber of competition as well as the quality of sailors involved.
"It is shaping up to be a great regatta. Plenty seems to have another gear. They are just so fast and so well-sailed that it will be difficult for any to beat them," Durant said. "However, there are three or four other boats that are all very capable. We'll have to work hard to get on the podium."
Competition continues through Sunday off Long Beach with a new North American champ certain to be crowned as Flash Gordon, the winner the last three years, has elected to remain in Chicago to prepare for the 2018 Farr 40 World Championship that is being held off the Windy City in October.
For complete results and other regatta documents for the Farr 40 North American Championship, visit: yachtscoring.com/emenu.cfm?eID=4753