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Struntje Light leads strong fleet at Farr 40 East Coast Championship

by Bill Wagner on 15 May 2013
Struntje Light during the Farr 40 Miami Beach Invitational Sara Proctor
Skipper Jim Richardson and his crew aboard Barking Mad captured Quantum Key West 2013 in convincing fashion. Owner-driver Wolfgang Schaefer and the Struntje Light team went wire-to-wire to win the Miami Beach Invitational.

Those two programs will continue their battle for the 2013 Farr 40 International Circuit Championship this week in Annapolis, MD. Barking Mad and Struntje Light headline a strong fleet of eight entries competing for the Farr 40 East Coast Championship, which is third event on the circuit and will be contested on the Chesapeake Bay.

Struntje Light, the German boat so capably steered by Schaefer, leads the circuit with 66 points after placing third in Key West prior to the victory in Miami. Barking Mad, always well driven by Richardson, is just two points behind with three events remaining.

'I think it’s going to be all on because this regatta will take us past the halfway mark of the circuit. Struntje Light and Barking Mad are setting the pace at the moment, but with three events remaining you cannot discount Enfant Terrible, Plenty and Flash Gordon,' Farr 40 class manager Geoff Stagg said.

This is the second straight spring the Farr 40 class has gathered in Annapolis, rather fitting since the historic sailing town is home to Farr Yacht Design and Stagg Yachts. Bruce Farr designed the boat with significant input from Stagg, who has managed the class since its inception.

'It’s always good to come back to where the class was created,' Stagg said. 'The Chesapeake Bay is a wonderful body of water on which to sail while the Annapolis Yacht Club has great facilities. We also have great nightlife in our town so I think the owners and their crews will really enjoy spending the week in Annapolis.'

Wayne Bretsch will serve as principal race officer with assistance from Dick Neville as the Annapolis Yacht Club committee seeks to complete 10 races over four days. Action begins Wednesday and concludes Saturday on the Chesapeake Bay, which is known for its shifty winds and strong currents.

'It is a tricky place to sail. Based on early forecasts, we will see a little bit of everything – northerly and southerly winds that could be quite strong and rather light. It should be a strong test of each team’s skill and versatility in a variety of wind and tidal conditions,' Stagg said.

U.S. Virgin Islands-based professional Peter Holmberg will once again call tactics aboard Struntje Light, which will bring the same crew it had in Miami to Annapolis. Schaefer’s multi-national team, which also features several Italians, led at the end of racing all four days off South Beach and hopes to carry that momentum over to East Coast Championship.

'Every win gives a confidence boost, which is always important for your next regattas. But in the Farr 40 class we must not overestimate such a win. The competition is very strong and nearly everyone can win,' Schaefer said. 'Reducing the number of mistakes is the key for any success. We figured out some weak points, which we will try to strengthen in Annapolis. But most important is that we always have great pleasure when we meet the other owners and crews and race against them. A win is only the whipped cream on top of that what you would like to have some times.'

Schaefer was not putting much stock into leading the overall circuit at this stage and said the focus for the Struntje Light program is to show improvement with each event.

'That doesn’t mean anything. Normally early leaders are the late losers. Of course the circuit is important as it says something about your consistency and learning curve. If we will have at the end a nice set of great regattas hopefully with a slight increase of performance then we would be happy about a great season,' he said.

Struntje Light placed third at the 2012 East Coast Championship, winning three races while also finishing eighth out of 11 boats in three others. Schaefer said the Chesapeake Bay is a tricky venue that can lead to up and down results.

'Racing in Annapolis is completely different as it is much more like lake sailing. It is light wind racing – very tricky, shifty and puffy. In Annapolis, we also have some difficult current situations. Local knowledge seems to be helpful,' he said.

World-renowned tactician Terry Hutchinson will be onboard Barking Mad, which will be looking to rebound from a rough outing at the Miami Beach Invitational. An injury to a crew member caused some last-minute shuffling and Richardson also felt there were some issues with rig setup.

'We have to take what we learned in Key West and Miami and keep working to improve our performance,' said Richardson, who just took first place in the Farr 30 class at the Annapolis stop of the National Offshore One-Design series.

John Demourkas will always hold a special place in his heart for Annapolis since it is where the popular California owner earned his first Farr 40 class victory. Demourkas steered Groovederci to a pair of bullets and six other top five finishes in the 10-race series to capture the 2012 East Coast Crown with a low score of 41 points, three better than Barking Mad.

'Annapolis was the site of our first big win in the class so it conjures up good memories. We’re looking forward to coming back to Annapolis and can only hope for a similar performance to last year,' Demourkas said.

Groovederci finished fifth in Key West and seventh in Miami, which has caused Demourkas and tactician Cameron Appleton to do some soul-searching. Demourkas is thrilled that veteran mainsail trimmer Andy Escourt will return to the team after missing the first two events of 2013.

'We’re kind of getting the band back together by bringing our old crew to Annapolis. Andy helps a lot because he keeps me focused on driving, which enables Cameron to keep his head out of the boat,' Demourkas said.

After experimenting with North’s 3DI sails, Demourkas said Groovederci will go back to the 3DL configuration that produced solid results in Annapolis and at the 2012 Rolex Farr 40 World Championships in Chicago.

'We kind of want to reboot our program and go back to square one. When the sail setup and rig tune aren’t in sync and the boat doesn’t perform on pace you start to question yourself,' he said.

Skipper Alberto Rossi brings the Enfant Terrible team back to Annapolis after placing fourth at last year’s East Coast Championship. The Italian entry stands fourth in the circuit standings after coming on strong toward the end to take third at the Miami Beach Invitational. Rossi and tactician Vasco Vascotto figured out some speed issues while in South Beach and had the boat going well down the stretch after finishing a disappointing sixth in Key West.

Owner-driver Alex Roepers and the Plenty team also figure to make some noise in Annapolis after making a successful season debut with a second place result at Miami. Annapolis-based pro Chris Larson will bring significant local knowledge to Plenty, which won three races off South Beach and came up just four feet short of capturing the regatta.

Ramrod, skippered by Rod Jabin with America’s Cup veteran Gavin Brady aboard as tactician, is one of two Annapolis entries. Annapolis Yacht Club commodore Kevin McNeil and the Nightshift team also join the fray. Neither boat competed in Key West or Miami, but both crews are comprised of sailors with years of racing on the Chesapeake Farr 40 website

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