2009 Melges 24 European Championship - Final Round Up Report
1 September 2009
Hyeres, France – Competitors at the 2009 Melges 24 European Championship in Hyeres, France which ran from the 24th – 28th August were treated to some idyllic weather conditions for the ten race series. Temperatures were consistently in the mid to high thirties for the entire regatta and racing took place in winds ranging from solid high teens during in the early part of the week, down to a shifty ten knots for the final day. Bucking the global downward trend in regatta attendance the Championship attracted a record entry of eighty-six teams from sixteen nations, who travelled from across Europe and even from as far afield as Japan, to race in Hyeres.
Although the current reigning World Champions from Italy, Lorenzo Santini’s Uka Uka Racing went into this event as firm favourites, there were also a number of other strong contenders for the European title, including the reigning European Champions, Franco Rossini’s Swiss entry Blu Moon. Whilst Rossini had relegated himself to the sidelines for this championship the Blu Moon crew list nevertheless included two past Melges 24 World Champions in the form of helmsman Flavio Favini and tactician Sebastian Col. Having emerged victorious in Hyeres at the 2006 World Championship, Italian Nico Celon helming Lanfranco Cirillo’s Fantastica, was also amongst the heavily favoured teams at this year’s European Championship along with fellow countryman Giovanni Maspero’s Joe Fly featuring 470 Olympian Gabrio Zandona on the helm and Maurizio Abba’s Alina steered by Nicolo Bianchi.
The battle in the Corinthian Division (where professional sailors are not allowed) in Hyeres appeared be an equally fierce and open affair with a plethora of talented sailors lining up to claim the coveted 2009 Melges 24 Corinthian European Championship title. Having been victorious in Porto Cervo last year the reigning World Corinthian Champions from Norway on the syndicate owned Storm Capital Sailing with talented helm Sivert Denneche were clearly fully focused on pulling off a record breaking double in Hyeres. Also amongst the many aspiring Corinthian winners in Hyeres was Estonia’s past Olympian Tonu Toniste at the helm of Lenny, who were competing to defend the European Corinthian title they won in 2007 in Neustadt, Germany.
Uka Uka Racing more than lived up to their reputation as favourites when they posted two comprehensive wins on day one of the Championship. Day two saw an uncharacteristic stumble from Uka Uka Racing in the first race of the day when they found themselves boxed in at the start and could only recover to thirteenth place. A third and a first in Tuesday’s other races saw them back on track but Alina were able to demonstrate superior consistency and their 4,3,2 scoreline for the day put them at the top of the leaderboard overnight.
It was Alina’s turn to falter on the middle day of the Championship; collecting a twenty percent Z-Flag penalty in race six before recovering with a more respectable fifth. Uka Uka Racing meanwhile ratcheted up the pressure with a second and a first and with the single series discard now in play they slipped back into the overall lead ahead of Alina and Fantastica. Two races on Thursday saw Alina fail to capitalise on Uka Uka Racing’s nervy 31, 8, score for the day, only managing to produce a 12, 6, in response. After a difficult start to the regatta Blu Moon had started stringing together some good results moving them into third place in the overall standings.
Despite UKA UKA Racing, carrying a seven-point lead into Friday’s single final race, the threat from second placed Alina was a very real one. Equally, although Blu Moon sat twelve points adrift of Alina they too were well within realistic striking distance of second place and could not be discounted from the calculations. The expected prestart match race between Uka Uka Racing and Alina built in intensity in the final minute to the start. Uka Uka Racing appeared to have gained a marginal advantage to leeward in the final seconds, but as both boats prepared to bear away for the line, Blu Moon saw their opportunity to pounce. Coming in with speed from behind just before the start gun sounded they managed to get to leeward of Alina and succeeded in forcing them almost head to wind. As Uka Uka Racing made their way cleanly out to the left of the first beat, Blu Moon continued to harry Alina for much of the first half of the leg before they finally escaped to the right of the racecourse
A right hand shift at the first windward mark saw Alina back in control. Rounding in second place, they were a few places clear of Blu Moon and more importantly well ahead of Uka Uka Racing who were back in the low teens. Halfway up the shifty second beat however Blu Moon crossed ahead of Alina and launched a sustained match race attack. Meanwhile by the second top mark Uka Uka Racing had moved quickly up the fleet and into a championship winning fourth place. With the European title now clearly in their sights the reigning World Champions made no mistakes on the final run and crossed the finish line to cheers from the attendant spectator fleet.
Behind them Blu Moon who came home in ninth, could only watch in hope as they counted the boats finishing between them and Alina. When their Italian rivals eventually finished it was amongst a tight pack of boats and only the Race Committee could immediately say for sure in which position. Happily for Alina their nineteenth place was good enough for them to retain second place overall by a margin of just two points from Blu Moon in third.
After a hotly contested series in the Corinthian Division, the Storm Capital Sail Racing Team syndicate eventually cruised to a thirty-one point overall Corinthian victory. Like their counterpart winners in the main division, the new Corinthian Melges 24 European Champions have established their place in Melges 24 history as the first crew to hold the World and European titles at the same time. Second overall in the Corinthian division was Mikael Johansson at the helm of John Christian Eriksson’s Swedish entry Aqua Racing, with the final top three overall Corinthian place being taken by Germany’s Roudolf Houdek on Secret Men’s Business.
The Melges 24 class focus now turns to their forthcoming World Championship in the USA at Annapolis, Maryland this coming October 23-31. Uka Uka Racing are hoping to defend their world crown and will lead a strong contingent of European teams making the trip to Annapolis. With several top name American teams also known to be already in training for the regatta, it looks like yet another classic Melges 24 Championship is on the cards.