Inferno comes out on top in great battle for Corinthian title
Evan Jahn shared steering duties with his father as Flash Gordon 6 finished first or second in all 10 races to capture the 2017 North American Championship on her home waters of Chicago. It was the third straight North American crown and fourth overall for Flash, which finished 20 points clear of the runner-up entry.
"We won seven out of 10 races so we certainly can't complain! What could be better?" said Helmut Jahn, a renowned architect based in Chicago. "This is a great result for the team and hopefully a springboard for a strong season."
Brady Stagg, newly-appointed manager of the Farr 40 Class Association, observed that Flash Gordon 6 did not have a significant speed advantage on the eight-boat fleet, but performed sail changes and mark roundings in flawless fashion.
"I would agree with that assessment," Jahn said. "It was very choppy so that is probably why pure boat speed was not the deciding factor. It really was tactics and crew work that made the difference."
Annapolis-based professional Geoff Ewenson served as tactician aboard Flash Gordon 6, which got the gun in the first couple races to get off to a great start then closed the regatta with four straight bullets in totaling a low score of 13 points.
Longtime crew boss David Gerber trimmed the headsails while fellow Flash Gordon veteran Joe Londrigan trimmed the mainsail. Norman Berge (mid bowman), Nicholas Ford (mast), Kyle Kandt (bowman), Scott Murin (pit), Nate Reynolds (offside trimmer) and Jamie Stuursma (headsails assist) completed the crew.
Flash Gordon 6 placed third at the 2017 Rolex Farr 40 World Championship, held off Porto Cervo in Sardinia, Italy. That result gave the team momentum and confidence coming into North Americans.
"The Flash Gordon crew came back from a very competitive trip to Europe where we were able to go up against the best teams in the world and the result when we returned was that we were a better faster team that was well prepared for the North Americans," Ewenson said. "Helmut and Evan drove the boat well and the trimming team made us fast enough to sail out of any tight spots I put the boat in. I thought the crew choreography was flawless and that usually makes a tactician look really smart."
Jahn demurred when asked if the impressive victory on his home waters of Lake Michigan was a portender of things to come when the Farr 40 World Championship is conducted in Chicago at the same time next year. He noted that defending world champ Plenty (Alex Roeper, New York) and former world champ Enfant Terrible (Alberto Rossi, Italy) will be in attendance when the worlds commence next October.
Of course, Jahn is thrilled that Chicago Yacht Club, of which he is a longtime member, was selected as host for the 2017 Farr 40 World Championship. "I would be the last one to complain about having the worlds here in Chicago. We think it should be here more often," he said with a chuckle.
Chicago last hosted the Farr 40 World Championship in 2012 and that sparked tremendous interest in the class within the Windy City. A mere three points separated the second through fourth place boats at North Americans, an indicator of the closeness of the Chicago fleet.
"I think the local fleet here in Chicago is very competitive and evenly-matched, which you saw in this regatta," Jahn said. "There was a big fight between three boats for second place. Inferno, Hot Lips and Eagles Wings all sailed well. Norboy is another good boat that just had some equipment problems in this regatta. So there are four other very competitive teams beside ours."
Added Jahn: "Overall, the Chicago boats have improved tremendously since the worlds were held here in 2012. They have better sails, better tacticians, they take it more seriously. Those are all the factors required to be better. They have really raised the bar."
As Jahn mentioned, there was a tremendous battle for the other podium placements with Inferno ultimately edging Hot Lips by one point for the runner-up position. Owner Philip Dowd was sidelined by an illness just one day before the regatta began and had to turn Inferno over to long-time program manager Aaron Housten.
Housten wound up steering the boat while Brian Ledbetter called tactics as Inferno won Race 4 and placed second in four other starts in posting 33 points. Second and third place came down to the final race of the regatta with Inferno, Hot Lips and Eagles Wings finishing second, third and fourth to solidify the final results.
"Aaron is responsible for all the logistics of the boat in terms of getting it onto the starting line so I felt quite confident in his abilities," said Dowd, who has been racing with Housten for 35 years. "However, this sudden turn of events did create quite a bit of change on the boat. Normally, Aaron is operationally responsible for everything in front of the steering wheel. In this regatta, he was behind the wheel."
This was Ledbetter's first regatta with the Inferno team so that was another factor that had to be sorted through. Housten usually trims the spinnaker downwind and was forced to find someone else to do that job. Brendan Cook took over trimming the chute while Autumn Marden and Connor Astwood combined to fill in the crew vacancy created by Dowd's absence.
"Basically, the entire crew had to adjust on the fly. It was like a football team getting a new head coach and a new quarterback then having to go play a game," said Dowd, who was able to watch racing from his apartment on the 17th floor of a building overlooking Lake Michigan.
Dowd was pleased that Housten, Ledbetter and the rest of the afterguard worked well together. It was reflect of the strong team the owner has built over the years.
"Aaron is an Etchells sailor and has not steered the Farr 40 very often. It's quite a challenge to go from a small boat with a tiller to a big boat with a wheel. It's a real credit to Aaron that our boat was able to do so well," Dowd said. "Clearly, the whole crew was able to show the technical and emotional responsibility to be positive and embrace these sudden changes. Just a huge accomplishment on their part."
Houston seconded that assessment while thanking the other Inferno sailors for being flexible.
"The team performed very well. Almost everyone had to do a bit more because of Phil's absence and the shuffling that occurred as a result," Housten said. "In addition to Brendan trimming spinnaker, one of our floaters - Haley Carter - transitioned into the role of off-side trimmer on the days that Autumn sailed with us. Normally that would have been done by myself upwind and Brendan downwind."
Dowd had a great view of the race course from his apartment on the north shore of Chicago and came away impressed with all the local amateur teams, notably Hot Lips and Eagles Wings (Chris Whitford).
"It was an extremely close regatta among the Corinthian teams. I think that really shows the strength of the Chicago fleet," said Dowd, who was Corinthian class champion at the 2012 Farr 40 World Championship. "I think all four of those boats believe they can be competitive at next year's worlds."
Please find the Farr 40 International calendar at this link: farr40.org/race-calendar/2018-calendar
Following is the Farr 40 Great Lakes Fleet Schedule
June 2 - 3, Colors Regatta, Columbia YC
June 8 - 10, Chicago NOOD, Chicago YC
July 2, Start of Chicago-Mac
July 27 - 28, Ugotta Regatta, Harbor Springs, MI (Dates not final)
August 9-12, Chicago YC Verve Cup
October 3 - 9, Farr 40 World Championship, Chicago YC