Key West Report: Alinghi Locks Up Farr 40 Class a Day Early

Senior editor Stuart Streuli interviews Alinghi syndicate head Ernesto Bertarelli after his win in the Farr 40 class; includes video footage by Gary Jobson

KeyWest 07 Thursday

Tim Wilkes

KEY WEST, Fla.-A few days ago, I would've laid good money on the Farr 40 class being one class that wouldn't have it's 2007 Acura Key West Race Week championship locked up before the final race. There were a few reasons for this. The primary one was the fact that the class doesn't usually allow any throwouts. In addition, while the 17-boat fleet is smaller than in previous years, it was completely devoid of, as one veteran Farr 40 tactician told me, "any fluff." This is a group that is, top to bottom, full of well-organized and talent-laden programs. The fleet is littered with world champions, including at least four former class world champions. The final reason, which I wouldn't technically have known until I started sailing, was the fact that Division 1, for whatever reason, was subject to a very precocious and unpredictable breeze, with 30- and 40-degree shifts seemingly appearing out of no where throughout the week. Keeping a handle on the breeze was an impossible task, or almost an impossible task.

Despite all this, Ernesto Bertarelli and his Alinghi team won the Farr 40 championship today with a sixth and a first. Leading second place by 20 points, Bertarelli and his crew do not have to sail tomorrow's final race-since I'm in the betting mood, I'll wager you'll find Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth and company playing golf. Their performance is all the more impressive when you consider than they won four of eight races-no other team has won more than one-and, with the exception of one poor race, never finished outside the top six.

Sailing World caught up with Bertarelli, who to his credit showed up regularly in the tent to accept his awards and congratulations from the crowd, and spent a few moments with the Farr 40 2007 Acura Key West Race Week champion, who also happens to be the current holder of the America's Cup.

According to my calculations, you've locked up the regatta?
Yeah, we did

A little surprised?
Very happy about it.

|| |---| | | During a week when so many good sailors struggled to be consistent, you were just that. How were you able to do that?
We had one shocker. We had one bad race. I think we had weeds on the boat. Otherwise, when you have speed, you look smart and everything comes your way. We like this condition, 8 to 12 knots. We were fast.

Is that something you're familiar with from Lake Geneva, or maybe Valencia?
Everybody came here quite late, so we didn't train much, which was, kind of, OK. And then we got on the boat and we sailed the first race and we won and we said. "Oh, we're pretty fast." And then we have very good guys on board and Brad doing tactics and he's the best in the world. Today, for example, I don't think he missed a shift. [Ed's note: This is phenomenal since today the wind was all over the place.] I had a pretty bad start, couldn't find my way out of it and we came back to fifth. That was the big break today. And then the second race, we had good start and everything worked out our way. I don't think he missed a shift. It was impressive today because it was a hard.

It was very difficult.
I don't think he missed a shift. Honestly, I was there every time and even before the shift would come it was like boom. Unbelievable.

You say you didn't have a lot of opportunity to practice, yet this was your first regatta with the masthead spinnakers. Was that a concern?
It wasn't too breezy so it doesn't make a big difference. Actually, it's probably easier with a masthead spinnaker; you just get a bit more power in the sail. We've sailed Farr 40s in the past, not consistently, I was world champion in 2001 and we did the worlds last year and we did the worlds 2 years ago, 3 years ago. So we've done one, two regattas per year. And I think once you lock into a groove with these boats, that's it.

But how do you lock into the groove when you're only sailing once or twice a year?
Well when you're in the groove, you know.

Then you've got to give yourself a bit of credit for this win?
I had the same feeling this week that I had in Cowes in 2001 when I won the Worlds. I didn't get that ever since. You know, it's just the boat is on the edge, it's just sits there and it goes. You don't really know. Sometimes it works, sometime it doesn't. It's sailing.

So it's a fleeting thing, that feeling?
In the worlds in Newport, I had a lot in my mind. I was a bit less cool about things, and a bit too focused on the numbers. This regatta I was a bit cooler, a bit more feeling the boat under you and letting it do its thing.

With the wind so variable, this was certainly not a regatta to be worried about the numbers too much.
I think it you get stuck with the numbers you end up going up and down. It's not good.

Now, as virtually everyone knows, you have a big regatta coming up in June [The 32nd America's Cup, in case you didn't know]. Why come over here?
Well what people don't understand-well, maybe people understand-is that a Cup program is very hard. It's a lot of time on the water, 10 minutes one way, 10 minutes the other way, 10 minutes another way, just testing and testing and not a lot of fun. To bring a couple of the key guys and just enter a competitive class like the Farr 40, is refreshing for everyone to get together, have a bit of fun. It's fun, but work. You get to work on modes, on tactics. It's a nice break from an America's Cup program.

Currently, a European athlete who's making a lot of news here is David Beckham. Yet we'll never see him mixing with the crowd at a community soccer game. Why are you here?
I don't think this is community soccer. This is the biggest regatta in the U.S. As you know, the sport is big in the U.S., not in terms of numbers but in terms of quality. There are probably more people sailing in Europe per capita than in the U.S. unfortunately. But in terms of quality, there are a lot of very, very good sailors. So the level in Key West is really, really high. This is not community sailing. As far as I'm concerned, as a helmsman, the Farr 40 is the top of the world. The America's Cup is a little bit different, but it's the only class that is above everything else. It stands out.

You're right. I guess I was referring to your presence in the tent. It's a huge thrill for these people to have the defending America's Cup syndicate head in their midst.
I'm a sailor. I always said: I do it for the passion of the sport. I love the people. I've been invited in my life to major soccer games, to major Formula 1 Races like Monaco. I just think the atmosphere and the crowd and the people at a regatta, a sailing event like this, it's just a completely different level. They're very nice people and I enjoy it.

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