International Teams Prepare to Go Head to Head at the Volvo Melges 24 World Championship 2008
27 May 2008
Porto Cervo, Italy - With an entry list of 117 teams from a record 16 nations the Volvo Melges 24 World Championship 2008, being hosted by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda from 1-6 June, is all set to be one of the most hotly contested events of the year. The Melges 24 World Championship always attracts the cream of the sailing crop and this year is no exception with a fleet that includes a host of Olympic and America’s Cup stars, World, Continental and National Champions. With less than a week to go to the start of the championship we take a look at some of the contenders for this year's event.
The Italian home fleet is not only the largest at 44 boats but also fields some of the strongest competitors. Perhaps the most hotly tipped Italian contender is America's Cup veteran Flavio Favini, who will be sailing for Switzerland's Franco Rossini aboard SUI521 Blu Moon. Favini took the Melges 24 World title for the first time in Key West in 2001, is the current Melges 24 European Champion and clearly has his sites set on a second World title. With Tiziano Nava on tactics plus fellow America's Cup veteran Stefano Rizzi and Olympic 470 representative Federica Salva in the crew this extremely well prepared team will definitely be hard to beat.
Close behind Favini in the Italian charge is 2007 Melges 24 World Ranking Champion and current leader of the 2008 Italian Volvo Melges 24 Cup circuit Lorenzo Bressani sailing Lorenzo Santini's ITA715 UkaUka. Bressani, tactician for the +39 America's Cup campaign, a J24 World Champion and a veteran of world class campaigns in Mumm 30, Farr 40 and many other classes, has regularly headed the International Melges 24 fleet in the past two seasons. His team includes fellow America’s Cup veteran and Italian Olympic 49er sailor Francesco Bruni, legendary Melges 24 crews Federico Michetti and Francesca Prina and owner and Mumm 30 World Champion Lorenzo Santini.
2006 Melges 24 World Champion Nicola Celon and his crew aboard Giorgio Marchi's ITA638 Marchingenio will be hoping to claim their second Melges 24 World title. Celon, an Italian Olympic representative in the Soling Class, retains two of his World Championship winning crew in the shape of Manuel Giubellini and Raimondo Tonelli. This well established threesome has joined forces with Giorgio Colato, a highly regarded Melges 24 helm in his own right, making them a force to be reckoned with.
Gabrio Zandona, helming ITA633 Joe Fly for Giovanni Maspero, is already an Optimist European and 470 World Champion and thinks the Melges 24 World Trophy would look good on his mantelpiece too. He joined the Joe Fly Melges 24 team in 2005 winning that year’s Melges 24 European Championship in Torquay as well as many other major events in the class. A dedicated supporter of the Melges 24 Giovani Maspero has pulled together this very strong team which also includes tactician Andrea Felci, winner of championships in everything from J22s to Farr 40s and Swan 45s, IMS 500 World Champion Andrea Bussani and team manager and well known bowman Federico Insabato.
Another Italian Melges 24 veteran determined to make it onto the podium this time around is double Mumm 30 World Champion Luca Valerio, sailing Maurizio Abba's ITA722 Alina Helly Hansen. Sailing with Valerio and Abba are tactician Daniele Cassinari of North Sails, Nicholas Del Ferrio and Roberta de Paoli, also well known as a helm in the Melges 24 fleet and a member of the Mascalzoni Latino Farr 40 crew.
Britain's John Pollard, who ran Lorenzo Bressani a close second in the 2007 Melges 24 World Ranking, is the UK's leading contender for the title aboard GBR690 A-Team Westaway. A regular top ten finisher on the international circuit Pollard has Rob Smith on tactics plus regular crew members Mickey Schwarz, Jimmy Wall and Kate Pollard giving him a well practised and experienced team.
Another Brit to watch is Jamie Lea, sailing GBR691 Team Barbarians for Stuart Simpson. Lea has won the Melges 24 World Ranking twice and holds multiple national and international Melges 24 titles but to date a World or Continental title has eluded him. This is another well established team with Lea and Simpson joined by tactician Nigel Young of North sails and trimmer Justin Chisholm.
Sailing for Britain but based in the USA Simon Struass could surprise a few people at this regatta. A familiar face on the Melges 24 circuit Strauss has upped the ante for this event and will be sailing with double Melges 24 World Champion Bill Hardesty, who called the winning shots for Dave Ullman in 2007 and Vince Brun in 1999. Also on board with him for the first time is his brother Quentin Strauss, who ran his own extremely successful Melges 24 campaign for many years winning numerous titles in the process. Successful keelboat crew James Hill rounds out this team.
Chicago's Brian Porter and his infamous USA649 Full Throttle crew of tactician Harry Melges, Andy Burdick and brother John Porter are without doubt the most experienced Melges 24 crew taking part in this event. Melges and Burdick were part of the team responsible for developing the Melges 24 and the Porters were among the first Melges 24 owners. Melges took the Melges 24 World title in 2002 but for Porter, despite podium finishes at virtually every Melges 24 Worlds he has attended, overall victory has so far evaded him. In 2006, Porter won the Melges 24 North American Championship and last year he came second to Dave Ullman at the Worlds in Santa Cruz and so he must surely be thinking that this time around his name should be on that trophy.
Bruce Ayres, from Newport Beach, California, has also been in the class for as long as anyone can remember. A fierce, yet humble competitor, Ayres and his Monsoon team of John Pinkney, Don Smith and James Malm are regularly found at the forefront of international racing fleets. This is the first Melges 24 Worlds that Ayres has competed in beyond North American boundaries and as well as having an eye on the main competition Ayres also heads up the contenders for the Corinthian (all amateur crew) World Championship. Ayres is the only back-to-back ACURA Key West Melges 24 Corinthian winner and is also the reigning Corinthian Melges 24 North American Champion.
Aboard USA551 Gazoo the combination of helm Doug Clark and owner Geoffery Pierini has proven to be successful so far with strategic wins and a blast of potential at the Sperry Top-Sider St. Petersburg NOOD this past February 2008. Clark has been a long time figure in the Melges 24 class but only joined Pierini's Gazoo this year. Also onboard the Gazoo team are past J.24 North American and World Champions Anthony Kotoun and Scott Norris. The first time this pair appeared in the Melges 24 was in 2005 at the Worlds in Ocean Reef. Since then Kotoun has appeared sporadically throughout the fleet while Norris has maintained firm positions with teams such as David Ford’s Lightwave Micro and Lightwave Macro and Scott Holmgren’s Rosebud.
Although fielding a smaller team than usual there are still some wily sailors to watch out for in the French contingent. Taking time out from his latest adventures in the Transat Jacques Vabre Bruno Jourdren is once again stepping into a Melges 24 and with Olivier Lair, Julien Breteleme and Merle Fabrice supporting him aboard Profil he will definitely be among the contenders.
Christophe Barrue, sailing Denis Infant’s FRA639 Euro-Voile, with crew Vincent Jaricot, Alexandre Becque, Marie Duvignac and Nicolas Clement, has been a consistent performer on the European circuit for some years and will be hoping to finish in the chocolates.
Leading the French challenge for the Corinthian title, for the top all amateur crew, will be Jean Francois Cruette helming Cedric de Kervenoael's FRA621 Bouygues Telecom. This team were joint winners of the 2006 Melges 24 World Corinthian Championship and will want their name on that trophy again.
Equally determined to get his name of the Corinthian Trophy for a second time will be Estonia’s Olympic 470 Bronze Medallist Tonu Toniste who shared that 2006 Corinthian World title with Cruette and Kervenoael. Always a strong team this year his crew consists of fellow Estonian 470 sailors Ants Haavel, Maiki Saaring, Andres Rohtla plus Kalev Tanner.
From Germany, Eddy Eich’s GER582 No Woman No Cry has a new helmsman in the shape of Christian "Kicker" Schafer. In joining this very experienced Melges 24 crew, winners of the 2005 Corinthian European Championship, Schafer has the unenviable task of stepping into the shoes of German sailing legend Alba Batzil, but with no less than eight Tempest World Championship wins to his name Schafer certainly looks man enough for the job.
Schafer's partner Kristin Wagner who represented Germany in the Ynging at the Athens Olympics is also competing as helm aboard Christof Weiland's GER320 Unsponsored whilst Anna Hoell, who crewed for Wagner in Athens joins Peter Goeckel’s GER672 Pearl.
World and double European Fireball Champion Tomas Musil heads up the teams from the Czech Republic aboard CZE698 Capirina with Zdenek Jirkovec calling the shots and crew Jiri Martinka and Martin Svihlik. Although relatively new to the Melges 24 scene the Czech crews are already starting to make a name for themselves on the international circuit and Musil is definitely a podium contender.
Also brand new to the Melges 24 scene is Hungary, which took delivery of its first ever Melges 24 just a couple of months ago. Lack of experience, however, does not seem to have held back Hungarian Olympic Tornado sailor Arpad Litkey and his crew of Zsombor Berecz, Zsolt Litkey and Gaszton Pal aboard HUN728 Proximo who won their first event on the international Melges 24 circuit just a couple of weeks ago and could well surprise a few of the more established teams in Porto Cervo.
Although the Melges 24 Class is infamous for attracting Olympic competitors to its ranks we normally expect them to be Olympic sailors. However, the Norwegian team has an Olympic surprise for us in the shape of legendary Alpine skier Lasse Kjus who has won gold, three silver and bronze Olympic medals and three World Championships among his very many victories. Not content with success in just one sport Kjus purchased a Melges 24 two years ago when he finally retired from world class ski competition and this will be his first challenge for a sailing world title. Clearly a man used to victory we shall be watching his progress with great interest.
In recognition of the quality of the sailors competing at the Volvo Melges 24 World Championship, the race management team for this event is also of the highest calibre. The Jury will be headed up by Ireland’s Tony O'Gorman who has worked with the Melges 24 class since its first World Championship in 1998. Tony’s international jury will be judging on the water as well as working hard in the protest room to ensure fair play. Because of the large entry the fleet will be split into two sections. Heading up one race course will be America’s Cup PRO Peter Reggio who regularly takes charge of racing for the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda’s major events. On the second course International Melges 24 Championship Coordinator Hank Stuart will be in charge for his third Melges 24 World Championship. Working alongside Peter and Hank will be an outstanding international team of race managers, many of whom have worked regularly with the Melges 24 fleet in recent years.
The Melges 24 teams are already arriving in Porto Cervo in preparation for pre-event registration which opens on Wednesday 28 May. The Pre-Worlds will take place on Thursday 29 and Friday 30 May with Volvo Melges 24 World Championship racing from 1 to 6 June.
For further information, regularly updated entry lists and event schedules please visit www.melges24worlds2008.com.