Et two, Nerone
The Rolex Farr 40 Worlds lived up to its billing as the big boat one-design championship against which all others are measured. The 2010 series was decided on the final race of the final day, raced in front of a huge spectator fleet from rubber ducks to 25m sport fishers. Massimo Mezzaroma’s Nerone (ITA) ended the day lauded champion, for the second time (first in 2003), having fought tooth and nail in a gladiatorial arena worthy of a blockbuster film. Guido Belgiorno-Nettis’ Transfusion (AUS) was beaten at the last, but certainly not disgraced.
The final day started early. Principal Race Officer, Peter Reggio was determined to give the participants every chance to complete the scheduled ten races, in spite of losing the entire second day. The first signal was brought forward to 1000 local time, three races were threatened and for once the wind played ball. All three races were held at the highest intensity, with the three main protagonists in contention for the laurels at the fore in each. Defending champion, Jim Richardson’s Barking Mad (USA), chose today to put together their best daily tally of the series, scoring 2,3,1. They gave no favours on the course to either of their main opponents.
The Australians on Transfusion held a two-point cushion at the start of the day. Owner Belgiorno Nettis knew it was not enough to feel comfortable. At least the fight was in their hands; all they had to do was keep in front of Nerone, but that was easier said than done. The Italians are wily foxes, capable of sniffing out an advantage from the most improbable situations. Take the bottom mark rounding of the first race, eventually won by Helmut Jahn’s Flash Gordon (USA). Transfusion, in second, rounded the right hand gate mark and tacked almost immediately. Nerone, barrelling down under spinnaker with their minds firmly on a clean and rapid takedown found themselves completely in the wrong position. Nerone fouled Transfusion and faced a penalty turn. That they managed to limit the damage to a one point loss by the end of the race suggests not only brilliance, but extraordinary resilience. But tactician, Vasco Vascotto, is extraordinary if nothing else. Terry Hutchinson once said: ”sailing against Vasco makes you a better sailor”.
It would be cruel to say that Laser World Champion Tom Slingsby, tactician on Transfusion, received a lesson on taking one’s chances, but in the second race he did. Smarting from their error in race one, Mezzaroma and Nerone’s crew took the sword to the opposition in race two. The increasing wind strength was still bouncing from swing to swing, and getting in phase was key. Nerone did so, while Transfusion never did. The Australian’s eventual fifth, to Nerone’s first turned the tables all but decisively in favour of the Italians. Transfusion’s three-point advantage dissolved into a one-point deficit. With one race left, Nerone’s stronger score line meant she just needed to finish ahead or immediately behind Transfusion to win overall. The pressure was on the men from down under. For the first time in the championship they were off top spot.
The third race of the day, and tenth of the series as a whole, was sailed in a gusting, building breeze that at times caught the Farr 40 crews off-guard, especially as they headed downwind. The previous days of light-wind sailing had perhaps softened the usual battle-hardened edge. Nerone went straight for the throat of Transfusion in the pre-start. Vascotto versus Slingsby in a match-race looks a one sided contest on paper. Slingsby is noted for his fleet racing ability, not mano-a-mano contests. That said, he slipped the net cast by Nerone and grabbed a solid start at the committee boat, while the Italians were mid-line and were not so well-placed.
While Barking Mad took the race, leading from start to finish, while behind her there were twists and turns aplenty. To those watching Transfusion and Nerone seemed inseparable, bound by a piece of elastic. However far apart they separated they always came back together. If one went right and the other left up the beat, by the top mark the two would be nose to tail. Initially, Nerone held the advantage, but the Aussies never gave up. Their problem was finding another boat to get between them and the Italians. At one point on the final beat it looked as though Alberto Rossi’s Enfant Terrible (ITA) might spoil their compatriot’s party. Twice though Mezzaroma’s team shut the door on them, tacking on top to protect the gap to Transfusion. Out in front there was only Barking Mad - Richardson and Terry Hutchinson had the bit between their teeth and were not slowing up to help anyone.
In the circumstances, it looked all over by the second windward mark, but the run was in unsettling conditions: the strongest winds of the championship and sea-state stirred by the machinations of the avid spectator fleet. Flash Gordon lost it badly just after the rounding; would one of the leaders suffer similar ignominy? Transfusion tried their best, throwing a couple of gybes at Nerone, trying to draw an error. The Italians though had scented victory and sailed impeccably, even managing to roll over the top of Transfusion into second place.
The noise and celebration started before the line was crossed. Nerone had won their second World Championship and deservedly so. Class Manager, Geoff Stagg, had commented last night “that it takes luck as well as skill to win the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds.” Nerone had certainly ridden the bucking bronco of luck most adeptly over the last four days.
Mezzaroma celebrated victory effusively with his crew as they crossed the line, but ashore was more circumspect: “This Worlds has a lot of meaning for us, because my co-owner and helmsman Antonio Sodo Migliori had a very bad accident one month ago. And we’ve done this for him and another guy, Simon, who’s been sailing with us for ten years. These two guys are injured at home and it is very important for us to get this result.”
He continued: “After last year at the Worlds in Sardinia we were a bit sad because losing in the last race of the series is very tough. This time we won! Sometimes it comes, sometimes it goes.” As for 2011 and the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds in Sydney, Mezzaroma was honest: “We were thinking of not going because we are becoming old, everyone has family and kids. But at this point there is no chance that we are not going!”
Vascotto was his usual self, effusive, engaging and respectful of his competitors: “It was a really tough game against Transfusion and they did a fantastic championship. Both boats knew it was a hard game to the last metre. And we were prepared for that. We worked hard, especially in the first race of the day, we were back with a penalty, but we had a beautiful comeback and we fight for every single metre. This is the way I like to win. We are happy because I forgot how good it was to win. It was many years ago!”
While the Italians were celebrating in true Latin manner, spraying champagne, hugging, singing, kissing and throwing each other into the harbour, a little way up the dock the crew of Transfusion were reflecting on the one that got away. First to congratulate Mezzaroma and his team after crossing the finish, the Australians are rightly proud of their achievement in finishing second.
Guido Belgiorno-Nettis acknowledged that ending up in standings between Jim Richardson and Terry Hutchinson, and, Mezzaroma and Vascotto, both teams having been in the Class for many years, at only their second Worlds is something they deserve to be pleased about. The disappointment that they were unable to carry their lead through to the finish softened by an achievement that any of the boats behind them would have welcomed.
“I feel absolutely elated with the result that the boys managed to get for us," said Belgiorno-Nettis. "We came here, the Aussie contingent from down under, trying to pull off something we could only dream of, and we were pretty close. We were there, we led today, we lead the last couple of days. But there’s no doubt that Nerone sailed better than us, it’s very simple. We sailed as well as we could, they just picked the shifts better than we did. I’ve got to hand it to Vasco and the owners of Nerone, that they’ve got a great team. I think to be sandwiched between them and Jim Richardson (Barking Mad) is a pretty good effort.”
Like the rest of the Farr 40 Class, Belgiorno-Nettis is now looking forward to 2011 and the Rolex Farr 40 Worlds scheduled for Sydney. “Overall, we’re delighted with that outcome," he said. "It was a fantastic opportunity to come over and see how the world’s best sailors sail, and know that we can mix it with them. So we’re going to give them a good hiding when they come down to Sydney next year! The sailing waters are stunning. We have quite challenging conditions: it can vary from quite light to quite heavy. Most of the racing will probably be offshore and there’s really a lot of joggle off there. We’ve got that complex wave pattern that comes from everywhere – south, east, sometimes from the north. When they mix it up and you get the reflection back off our rocky coastline, it’s a big tumbler, so it’s going to be challenging for everybody.”
The 2011 Rolex Farr 40 World Championship will take place over 23-26 February next year in Sydney.
Full results here