The Finn class is returning to Tuscany in Italy for its 2012 Senior and Junior European Championships. A favourite area because of its great climate and stunning scenery, the venue once again is the Marina di Scarlino, a modern large marina located half way between the town of Follonica and Punta Ala.
The Finns had a very successful European Championship at the same club in 2008 and it is with some eagerness that the sailors are returning there to begin the 2012 European sailing season in earnest.
To fit in with the rest of a very busy season, the dates are very early - in fact this is the first time the Finn Europeans have ever been held before April. However the long term forecast looks pleasant enough with temperatures in the early 20s and winds from 10-15 knots.
A week before the first race, the pre-entry was at 79 sailors from 28 nations, including 15 juniors, which is an encouraging number considering that a number of the top sailors are skipping this championship, preferring to base themselves in Palma ahead of Trofeo S.A.R. Princess Sofia MAPFRE, the third of seven ISAF Sailing World Cup Regattas, for extensive training programmes. This includes most of the strong British team who would have been the favourites here. Both Olympic champion Ben Ainslie (GBR) - who is still getting back to fitness after an extended period off for back operation - and the current World and European champion Giles Scott (GBR) will be absent in Scarlino.
However, the event is not short of big names, and being the first major event of the year, it will be interesting to see who has gained most from winter training programmes and if anyone has obtained an edge on the others. A lot of nations still have to make their selection for the Olympics, which should add further interest to the mix.
The absolute favourites can be narrowed down to seven or eight sailors. With the moderate conditions expected, double European Champion Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) has to be a clear favourite. After losing out to Scott in last year's Medal Race, he will be looking to put that right to claim his third title.
Former world champions Rafa Trujillo (ESP) and Edward Wright (GBR) are also firm favourites. Wright, of course, won the European title back in 2006, but Trujillo has yet to even medal at a Europeans.
The runner up at the 2011 Finn Gold Cup, Pieter Jan Postma, (NED) is still looking for his first major title, but is getting closer all the time. An excellent 2011 season makes him big favourite for 2012
Other names likely to be seen up the front at some stage include Brendan Casey (AUS), Deniss Karpak (EST), Thomas Le Breton (FRA), Gasper Vincec (SLO) and Vasilij Zbogar (SLO), while 10-12 others are quite capable of winning races.
Once again there are quite a number of new faces appearing, while numerically the largest team is the 11 strong Russian team. As host nation, Italy is also fielding a strong team of 10 sailors, with Filippio Baldasaari (ITA), who has already gained selection for the 2012 Olympics, as well as the 2008 Olympian Giorgio Poggi (ITA), also strong contenders to win races.
As usual the Junior championship is harder to call. Last year's champion, Josip Olujic (CRO) is now too old, but there are plenty who will try to take his place. Watch out for Arkady Kistanov (RUS) and Milosz Wojewski (POL), the top two at last year's Silver Cup.
Equipment inspection and registration starts on Friday 16 March, before racing begin on Monday 19 March. Ten fleet races are scheduled from 12.00 each day before the medal race for the top 10 and the final race for the rest on Saturday 24 March.
You can follow the championship on the live blog at www.finneuropeans.org/ec2012
and we will be reporting throughout each day to bring the latest news and results.