A Conversation with Alex Roepers

The Farr 40 is easily one of the most competitive owner/driver one design classes afloat, placing a world championship title amongst the highest-level achievements that a well-polished sailing program can attain.
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The Farr 40 is easily one of the most competitive owner/driver one design classes afloat, placing a world championship title amongst the highest-level achievements that a well-polished sailing program can attain. These attributes, plus the boat’s high-performance temperament, are what attracted Alex Roepers, 55, to the class. Roepers’s Plenty program—consisting of core pro-sailors Terry Hutchinson, Skip Baxter, Morgan Trubovich and Greg Gendell, plus a cadre of other top-notch amateur talent—handily won the 2014 Farr 40 Worlds on San Francisco Bay, a title that Roepers has been pursuing with different lineups since late 2007. Originally from the Netherlands, Roepers learned to sail on Flying Juniors before graduating to Mumm 36s and Swan 45s, the latter of which culminated in the 2007 World Championship title. I reached Roepers at the Midtown Manhattan offices of Atlantic Investment, the hedge fund firm he founded in 1988, to learn more about his fantastic season.

SAIL: What’s your keelboat background?

Roepers: In the late ‘80s, I was crew on several 40-footers in the U.S., then from 1994-2000, I crewed on competitive Mumm 36 and Farr 40 programs. When the Swan 45 came out, I launched my own program in early 2004. Terry [Hutchinson] was my mentor and coach, and he was the tactician for our first regatta, which we won. Since then, I’ve sailed with different tacticians. After we won the [2007] Swan 45 Worlds, I said, “Get me a Farr 40!”

SAIL: Tell me about your Farr 40 program.

Roepers: We typically participate in five events and average 30 days of racing and practicing per year. Our goal was always to win the world companionship, and [I] knew that it would take a while—we crawled through the learning curve! We were always knocking on the door, but we never won a big event until this year. I kept in touch with Terry, and in early 2014 he brought his core crew along once the Barking Mad program ended.

SAIL: How did Hutch’s arrival change things for your crew?

Roepers: It was a dynamic change! Terry is the crew boss—he’s really hands-on. He brings an intensity to the program that I hadn’t had before, as well as a core group of pros that he’s sailed with for 15 years. He insists on four days of practice before an event, and he makes me join for the last two days, which isn’t always easy with work.

SAIL: What about for you as helm?

Roepers: We have a really good rapport in the afterguard with the main trimmer, Terry and myself. The chemistry is outstanding. I delegate all things tactical and [related to] crew organization to Terry—he’s in charge of where we’re going, what we’re doing. I’m [focusing] on driving. Most of the time, I don’t even know where the other boats are until we reach the first mark!

For me, 2014 was a critical year for building my self confidence that I can drive well in all conditions. I was running out of excuses [laughs]! Now that I had all the pieces in place, including having a world-class tactician, we got to find out if I could really drive the boat!

SAIL: Has the level of competition changed since you’ve been in the class?

Roepers: There were more boats in the class before the 2008 market crash. It’s an expensive sport, and it takes a lot to field a competitive team. While the total number of boats may be down, we continue to field about 20 competitive teams for each Worlds, and the fleet is stacked with top-level pros.

SAIL: So what’s the go-forward plan for Plenty?

Roepers: We have a clear goal for 2015—repeat! This is a hard thing to do, but we are going to give it our best. As far as yacht racing, I have little interest in anything besides competitive, owner/driver one design racing. As long as we get 15-plus competitive boats for each major event, you can count me in!

Photos courtesy of Daniel Forster/Rolex

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