Weather conditions for championship sportsboat racing don’t come much better than those experienced by the eighty-six Melges 24 crews racing on day one of their 2009 European Championship in Hyeres, France. With temperatures in the high thirties and winds touching eighteen knots at times, the high quality Euro fleet were able to complete the first two races of their twelve race series. Race one saw the fleet get away at the first time of asking but in race two things were more problematic. After an initial General Recall the Race Committee posted flags I and Z for their second attempt to start the race. This appeared not to dampen the fleet’s enthusiasm however and a subsequent second General Recall provoked the reluctant use of the Black Flag. For most this was a big enough deterrent and race two finally got under way. The Melges 24 was specifically designed to excel in exactly these sort of conditions and in both races the sailors and indeed the spectators were treated to some wonderful downwind action.
Lorenzo Santini’s UKA UKA Racing from Italy demonstrated why they are the current Melges 24 World Champions by taking comprehensive victories in each of today’s races. In the process they also sent a clear message to the fleet that they mean business this week in Hyeres. The stories behind both their victories are ominously similar; leading from the off in both races they rounded the windward mark in the lead and proceeded to extend their advantage on every leg. Back on the dock tactician Branko Brein was quick to praise UKA UKA helmsman, Lorenzo Bressani. ‘Conditions were tactically tricky at times today but sailing with a driver as good as Lorenzo makes a tactician’s life easy’ he smiled. Asked how they had managed to get such good starts today, Branko said that they had started towards the middle of the line on both occasions, before immediately heading out to the left of the racecourse. ‘There is a peculiarity of the bay in Hyeres that causes a bend in the wind favouring the boats furthest left. Obviously we wanted to take maximum advantage of this.’
It was a good day for Italy overall, with several of UKA UKA’s fellow countrymen also posting consistent scores to make the top five places overall a complete ITA whitewash. Nicolo Bianchi made the best of his opportunity to take over as helm of Maurizio Abba’s Alina with a third in the first race backed up by a fourth place in the next seeing them take the number two spot overall at the end of day one. Fellow Italian Nico Celon, who must hold fond memories of his 2006 World Championship victory on these waters, also performed well today and with a 2,7 scoreline holds the final podium position tonight. In fourth overall is Italian 49er ace Pietro Sibello at the helm of Renato Vallivero’s Allin and in fifth sits Michele Giovannini helming Carlo Fracassoli’s Saetta.
In the separately scored Corinthian Division, current Corinthian Melges 24 World Champions, Storm Capital Sail Racing Team, came out marginally on top in today’s two races. Their 2,4 score gives them just a one point advantage at the top of the Corinthian standings ahead of second placed Mikael Johansson at the helm of John Christian Eriksson’s Aqua Racing, who clocked up a five and a two. In third place and only marginally less consistent with a bullet and a seventh is Sergio Cosano’s Fish Dog helmed by Maurio Ziliani.
Tomorrow the competitors will have an earlier start to their day, as racing is scheduled to commence promptly at 10AM. Two more races are planned and with the spectacular weather conditions looking set to continue, it looks like another marvellous day of Melges 24 racing is on the cards here in Hyeres.