Geoff Stagg talks Farr 40
by Rob Kothe and the Sail-World Team on 19 Jan 2011
Rolex Farr 40 Worlds 2011.
Fleet downwind - Farr 40 Francesco Nonnoi - Yacht Club Cagliari
In February 2011 the Farr 40 fleet will be returning to the waters off Sydney to contest the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship. The Farr 40's were last in Sydney for their World Championship in 2005.
Around 25 boats are expected to battle for the 2011 Rolex Farr 40 World Championship, which will be hosted by the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron from February 23rd to 26th. Principal Race Officer Peter ‘Luigi’ Reggio will head the Race Committee.
The Australian Championship will take place February 18th through to 20th and is likely to be a good form guide for the Worlds.
As preparation for the Worlds some competitors chose to take part in the Rolex Trophy Series 2010. The Current World and European champion Nerone emphatically won that series and signalled their intention for the upcoming Worlds.
The list of Farr 40 skippers entered for the Worlds is impressive and includes Massimo Mezzaroma and Antonio Sodo Migliori (Nerone ITA), Jim Richardson (Barking Mad USA), William Douglass (Goombay Squash USA), Helmut Jahn (Flash Gordon USA), Alex Roepers (Plenty USA), Brett Neill (White Cloud NZL), Lang Walker (Kokomo AUS), Marcus Blackmore (Hooligan AUS) and Martin Hill (Estate Master AUS).
While there are plenty of big name skippers entered, their tacticians are top drawer too. The 2010 International Sailor of the Year and triple Laser World Champion Tom Slingsby will be onboard Estate Master, America’s Cup skipper James Spithill on Goombay Squash, US sailor and match racer Bill Hardesty on Flash Gordon, current world champion Vasco Vascotto on Nerone, Volvo Ocean Race, one design skipper and 1997 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Chris Larsen on Plenty and America’s Cup and current Etchells Australian Champion Grant Simmer on Hooligan.
Today, the Farr 40 class is very much at the forefront of global sailing competition. [Sorry, this content could not be displayed]
This week Sail-World talked to Geoff Stagg about the development of the Farr 40's, the one man close to all things Farr 40. Stagg is the Kiwi born and US based.
A legend in New Zealand sailing, Geoff Stagg became involved with Farr Yacht Design from 1981 and later became President of Farr International. In 2005 he completed a takeover of Farr International, which is now known as Stagg Yachts Inc. still based in Annapolis MD. USA.
Of the many oceanic accolades due to the man, one he’s always proud of is his involvement with the class he helped originate well over a dozen years ago.
‘We launched the first Farr 40 in May of 1997’, Geoff told us. ‘Well, when you think about it, it’s astonishing really.
‘This will be our 14th World Championship. I’ve been around for a while. I have seen the IOR one-tonners, the IOR 50’s and the IMS days. Frankly there’s been nothing like the Farr 40 with 160 boats and 20 odd countries around the world all involved in the class.’
‘It was very interesting because people were asking ‘how in the world did this boat come about?’ In reality it was by pure chance. I was on the Royal Offshore Racing Club’s selection committee for the ’93 Admirals Cup teams. It was here that the idea of a small, one-design keelboat came about. At the time, I didn’t even know there was such a thing!’
‘So we ended up doing what turned out to be the Mumm 36. I went back to Farr, we regrouped, put a bid in and obviously I had to excuse myself from the selection when it came to the small boat.
‘We won the bid against some pretty strong opposition and from there we then bid for the Mumm 30.
‘The Mumm 30 (now called the Farr 30) was great. We were the first to go into the carbon thing; sat a great big rudder on it with a lot of stability and didn’t give a toss about the handicap. We built 220 of them so it must have had some effect. Certainly Anthony Patterson and Tow Truck going to both Mooloolaba and Hobart and taking on the bigger vessels, comes to mind’ he said.
‘IMS was in a pretty good state when we started looking at the Farr 40. It worked well with good stability and a lot of sail area, so we struck the mould. Really the only concession we made was to put the fractional kite in for IMS.
‘They were always designed to have masthead spinnakers and they had the masthead sheaves in them from day one. Frankly it is astonishing to me to see where that boat is now, with all the economy and the times the whole world’s gone through and currently is in. A lot of people have tried to emulate the Farr 40 but nobody’s gotten near it’, Geoff commented.
One of the key determinants of the class success has to be the owner-driver rule.
‘Well that was interesting too’, said Geoff. ‘You know when we wrote the rules and had the first 20 or so boats out there we started to notice that as a group-one driver class, you didn’t necessarily have to own the boat, but you had to be an amateur helmsman.
‘When it all started to fly and get serious, quite a number of the owners were going out and sourcing really good group amateur drivers like Kevin Mahoney.
‘Well the moment we announced that we were making the Farr 40 a totally owner-only-driver class, we had 80 orders within about a week. It was just astonishing! It’s about the owners. Actually, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to see what we have created with this class, in regards to the owner driver concept and what we have done with the racing.
‘Everybody thought we were a bunch of pansies, but we were actually forced into things like clearing marks and gates, because the insurance companies were at a stage where they were going to stop insuring the boats.
‘The Mumm 30’s had some horrendous prangs coming around the top marks and aiming straight at the fleet. The reason we put the gates in was to even up the racecourse and give people a chance.
‘It was something like 10 years ago that they started with the dual bottom marks. Now it’s obligatory across the board in a whole range of general racing events.’
There were other elements that the Farr 40’s can lay claim to as well.
Geoff continued ‘We got right into the communication with the competitors on the water with the open microphones and such. Take a look at all the SI’s that are out there now and they are basically copies of everything we have done. It is quite nice in many ways, with the way we run our courses.
‘The latest course change we did we opened it up to three boat circles around the bottom marks, because again, we saw the boats coming in and they didn’t have enough time to react and get in line. There were a lot of incidences around the bottom marks, so I got permission from ISAF to have a three-boat-length circle - that was around six years ago.
‘Everybody uses a three boat circle now as ISAF changed the rule and we, the Farr 40s, did that.’
The Farr 40’s also have a very strong Corinthian element to their class, so as to ensure all can participate in the intense and tough racing that is inherent in the boats and the sailors that take them to sea.
The Corinthian teams are limited to just the two professionals, instead of the usual four, and can only have three new sails per year.
Down in the Southern Hemisphere, where there is a stronger amateur component to the racing, organisers expect at least 20-30% of the crews competing in the 2011 Rolex Farr 40 Worlds will be vying for the splendid Corinthian trophy.
‘One of the great things about the Farr 40 is that it can go offshore, is so easy to sail and they are very forgiving - just a lot of fun. I guess that is why the Farr 40 has been so good for so long. It is still a darn good boat all round. Upwind in the breeze, very few 40-footers can touch the boat to this day. To me it is ironic; 14 years of boat design and the Farr 40 can just pulverise any boat in the breeze.’
In 1999, three Farr 40s took on the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and Warren Wieckmann on Leroy Brown still holds the record for the 40 footer class.
There was certainly an interesting moment or two during those times, especially with the masthead kites, but ultimately the Farr 40 was not designed for that kind of race.
‘No, they were designed to be very strict one-design boat’ Stagg continued.
In saying this, Geoff opened the door to the great IRC debate and these are his thoughts on the matter. ‘IRC is basically where IMS left off. The IRC is all so flawed they can’t see straight. It is just a complete repeat of IOR and that is why the Farr 40 is just a good wholesome boat.’
Perhaps this is why the field of tacticians around the Farr 40’s is top-end. ‘I think the tactician’s like staying in the boat because it is just really great racing. It hones their skills. I think that is what they like about it’ concluded Geoff.
The Farr 40 Association recently went through the massive program of tracking down all of the boats around the world. In Australia the exercise revealed there are 31 boats with 28 of them in one-design configuration.
‘We have been reaching out to a lot of these owners and it has been a great exercise because everyone has been really great. What we are trying to do is to be inclusive; we want to make sure that they are getting all the info on the class, being updated and given a copy of the book, etc. It is been very pleasant to see how people have been giving us all the information,’ Geoff commented.
Of course, if you’ve been around for 14 years, the boats have to have had stood the test of time.
‘We always set out with longevity in mind with the Farr 40. They are epoxy core, foam built, heat cured and nothing beats that. You may pay a few more bucks for the epoxy resin, the heat curing, the vacuum bagging and the big solid aluminium keel frame, but it’s worth it. We have spent a lot of time tracking down 160 odd boats around the world and updating where they are now. It turns out that we have only lost three boats in 15 years and they have either been run up on beaches or blown over in a hurricane’ Geoff concluded.
From February 23 to 26, 2011 the seas just off Sydney will be the place to watch some of the most intense and competitive keelboat competition there is at the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship 2011.
Event website: http://www.farr40worlds.com