The Farr 40 International Circuit will be decided during the Rolex Big Boat Series, being held this Thursday through Sunday out of St. Francis Yacht Club. And what better locale to culminate an intense season of sailing than San Francisco Bay - one of the greatest sailboat racing venues in the world.
Factoring in one drop regatta, New York skipper Alex Roepers and the Plenty team lead the International Circuit standings with a low score of 103. Lurking not too far behind are Flash Gordon 6 (Helmut Jahn, Chicago) and Enfant Terrible (Alberto Rossi, Ancona, Italy) with 123 and 124 points, respectively. Things could change dramatically during the final regatta of the season as the Rolex Big Boat Series is a mandatory event and thus must be counted toward the final point total.
"Basically, it's all on between Plenty, Flash and Enfant. Certainly, Alex and the boys aboard Plenty are in the driver's seat as the championship is theirs to lose, but they better be really careful and not slip up because Flash and Enfant are very much within striking distance," said Geoff Stagg, manager of the Farr 40 class.
"On another note, it will be great to have Wolfgang Schaefer and the Struntje Light team back in action for this regatta. We are also pleased to welcome back Hasip Gencer and our friends from Istanbul aboard Asterisk."
What's for sure is that a definitive champion will be known by the end of this weekend as challenging conditions on San Francisco Bay will bring the best teams to the forefront.
"The Rolex Big Boat Regatta is one of the most iconic events on the international racing scene and San Francisco Bay is a fantastic body of water to sail on," Stagg said. "There will be strong winds and significant tidal currents to deal with."
It's been a superb season for Plenty, which Roepers steered to victory in both the Rolex North American Championship (May 14-17) out of Long Beach and the California Cup (June 18-21) out of Marina del Rey. Plenty opened the season by placing second at the Farr 40 Midwinter Championship (March 26-29) off Cabrillo Beach.
"We have sailed very well so far and definitely want to finish things off and win the circuit championship. That is foremost in our minds going into the Big Boat Series as that would be quite an accomplishment," said Roepers, who was unable to compete in the West Coast Championship due to business commitments and therefore will drop that regatta.
"We have built a nice lead in the overall standings, but we cannot be too confident or take anything for granted. Flash Gordon has been fast all season and Enfant Terrible has won two regattas. Both of those boats present formidable competition and we will have to be on top of our game in order to close this out," Roepers added.
Roepers praised the performance of his crew, which is led by renowned tactician Terry Hutchinson and features three other professionals in trimmers Skip Baxter and Morgan Trubovich along with bowman Greg Gendell.
"Terry is a terrific tactician and team boss and there is no doubt we have benefitted greatly from top-notch crew work," said Roepers, who is seeking his first circuit championship.
Flash Gordon 6 has enjoyed a strong circuit as well with Jahn skippering the Chicago-based team to second place finishes at North Americans, Cal Cup and West Coast. Multi-time world match racing champion Ian Williams has been serving as tactician aboard Flash, which captured the 2012 Rolex Farr 40 World Championship that was held out of its home port.
"Winning the circuit championship is not our primary goal. That is just not what this fleet is all about. Winning the world championship is always the ultimate focus; that is what we all really want to do," Jahn said. "I don't want to sound overly optimistic, but the results over the course of the season show that we are a contender."
Flash Gordon 6 will be strengthened for the Rolex Big Boat Series by the return of Evan Jahn, who has always assisted his father with helming duties. Evan Jahn, who has been unable to compete in the previous West Coast events, steers at starts and upwind.
"What's most important is that Evan is excited to be back involved with the program," Helmut Jahn said, explaining that his son started a new job, got married, had a child and moved into a new apartment this summer. "Evan has a very strong command of the boat, is quite familiar with the rest of the crew and will no doubt fit in seamlessly."
St. Francis Yacht Club and San Francisco Bay are also the host and venue for the 17th annual Rolex Farr 40 World Championship, being held Oct. 15-18. It works out well for skippers and crews to get a chance to sail the courses that will be used a month in advance as a warmup. A fleet of 22 boats from all over the United States and numerous countries are slated to compete in the worlds.
Skipper Alberto Rossi and his team aboard the Italian entry Enfant Terrible are also in the thick of things after winning Midwinters and West Coasts. Enfant finished fourth and fifth, respectively, at North Americans and Cal Cup so Rossi is looking for a top three result at the Big Boat Series in order to replace the worst of those results.
Competition is also close in the Corinthian standings with Foil (Gordon Leon, Rancho Palos Verdes, Cal.) and Twisted (Tony Pohl, Alamo, Cal.) currently in the best shape for capturing the circuit championship. Pohl is a St. Francis Yacht Club member who has been racing various boats on San Francisco Bay for 35 years and is looking forward to competing on home waters.
"At this time of year, the breeze can really fluctuate and conditions can vary. It can be foggy and flat one hour then sunny and blowing 28 knots the next. It can get pretty crazy and exciting," said Pohl, adding that westerly and southwesterly winds predominate and racing will likely be held on the Berkeley Circle course in the morning and the City Course in the afternoon.
"Our club is tickled pink to have the honor of hosting the Farr 40 class. It is one of the world's premier race boats so what club wouldn't want the Farr 40s to visit."
Pohl has previously raced an Olson 30 and helped establish the Melges 24 class on San Francisco Bay. Since moving into the Farr 40 class, he has primarily raced under PHRF handicap and admitted the one-design competition of the 2014 circuit has been challenging.
"There is a steep learning curve in this class and you have to pay your dues," Pohl said. "This summer has been very valuable because we have picked up so much about rig setup and tune. Everyone in the fleet is very friendly and cooperative with giving pointers and tips."