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2 November 2009, 09:55 am
Larson Holds His Nerve To Take Melges 24 World Title
Chris Larson and his West Marine Rigging and New England Ropes team celebrate their World title success
Chris Larson and his West Marine Rigging and New England Ropes team celebrate their World title success

Sheehy Lexus of Annapolis Melges 24 World Championship 2009
Annapolis, Maryland, USA

American skipper Chris Larson and his West Marine Rigging and New England Ropes team remained cool under pressure to take the title at the Sheehy Lexus of Annapolis 2009 Melges 24 World Championship.
The 51 international teams, who had travelled from across North America and Europe to compete in the Sheehy Lexus of Annapolis 2009 Melges 24 World Championships, finally got the welcome opportunity to race in double-digit breezes on the final day of the regatta. Despite the Championship racecourse being shrouded in appropriately Halloween style mist for most of the day, the Race Committee successfully banged off two four-leg races in winds which peaked at around fourteen knots.

Chris Larson at the helm of 'West Marine Rigging and New England Ropes', who had led the regatta on-and-off for much of the week, took a 17-point lead into the final day on Saturday and looked odds-on to take the title. However with the potential for three races to be sailed on the final day, Larson was always potentially vulnerable to attack from second placed Gabrio Zandona at the helm of the Italian entry 'Joe Fly'.

If Larson was in fact feeling the pressure of leading the championship into the final day, there was no visible evidence at the start of the first race. With several of the top teams including Zandona, Lorenzo Bressani on 'Uka Uka Racing' and Terry Hutchinson on 'Quantum Racing and Gill Race Team' being called OCS soon after the start, Larson was able to pick his way skilfully through the melee at the pin and followed eventual race winner Nico Celon on 'Fantastica' off the line. Rounding the top mark with only Carlo Fracassoli on 'Gullisara' in front of him, Larson sailed a calm and composed race and went on to record his fourth second place of the week. Zandona, Bressani and Hutchinson all received 20% Z-flag penalties and following an announcement from the Race Officer that there would be no third race, Larson now found himself in an unassailable position. With no reason to compete in the second race of the day, he and his delighted crew: Mike Wolfs, Curtis Florence and tactician Richard Clarke, headed ashore to start to begin to celebrate their Melges 24 World Championship victory.

The focus was now on the four-way scrap for the remaining podium places between Zandona on 65 points, Norway's Eivind Melleby on 'Full Medal Jacket' on 69 points, Celon on 72 points and Bressani on 74 points. Arguably the windiest of the Championship, the final race was a real humdinger with the top 10 boats packed closely together at all the mark roundings. Jamie Lea on the British entry 'Team Barbarians' squeezed in for a near perfect start at the pin and led the early part of the beat. However it was Celon who led around the top mark, with Bill Hardesty on 'Events Clothing and Atlantis' in second and Lea in third. Hutchinson and Melleby rounded in fourth and fifth and as the leaders, all in close formation, ripped down wind for the first time, it was impossible to predict who would reach the gate first. In fact Celon managed to hold his lead, but only just from the charging Melleby who had blitzed into second place. The fierce battle for the lead between these two lasted until the finish, with Celon eventually prevailing and securing fourth overall. Meanwhile after rounding the first mark outside the top 10, Zandona was making steady progress up through the fleet. By the finish he was up to sixth, which tied him on points with Melleby. With the count back applied Zandona claimed second overall, with Melleby clearly delighted to have achieved the first ever Norwegian podium finish at a Melges 24 World Championship.

Without doubt Chris Larson is a popular and worthy winner of this Championship. Significantly, the only one of the top three whose scoreline did not include a race win, his amazing consistency in the capricious Annapolis conditions was simply too much for the opposition. Soaking in his victory tonight Larson said he was delighted to have won and relieved to have got through the final day on top. "As it turned out the OCS scenario on the first race really meant the battle was over before it began. We were pretty surprised just after the start when we saw Hutchinson, Zandona and Bressani all going back. That pretty much handed control to us and there was the regatta over."

The battle for the 2009 Corinthian Melges 24 World Title proved to be equally exciting and Saturday brought a final showdown between California's Bruce Ayres sailing Monsoon and Annapolis local hero Othmar Mueller Von Blumencron sailing Gannet. The battle for third place was also extremely close with just seven points ultimately separating third to seventh place.

Going into the day Ayres had a narrow four-point lead over Blumencron who was 10 points ahead of Charleston's David Dabney in Conejo Racing-Ocean Sailing Academy and Germany's Christof Wieland aboard Unsponsored, both on 35 points. Also tied on 39 points were Henry Filter, from Annapolis sailing Wild Child, and August Hernandez of Chicago aboard High Voltage whilst seventh placed Zetzema Wietze helming Gelikt for Carlo Vroon of the Netherlands, trailed them by just a further two points.

Wieland's chance of the final podium position evaporated on the start line of the penultimate race when he fell foul of the Z Flag and had to take a 20% penalty dropping him from 9th to 12th, his worst result of the series. Von Blumencron made no such mistakes and led the Corinthian division from the off to take a confident win (and a ninth in the overall race) with Hernandez second, Dabney third, Witze fourth and the Ukrain's Vasily Gureyev sailing Null fifth. Ayres crossed the line in sixth putting Von Blumencron into the overall lead by a single point going into the final race. Dabney and Wieland were now tied for third with Hernandez fifth, Weitze sixth and Filter seventh.

For Ayres, one of the veterans of the Melges 24 class and a former North American Corinthian Champion, the Corinthian World title has long been unfinished business. From the off it was clear he had no intention of letting the championship get away from his grasp this time around. At the first weather mark he was lead Corinthian and managed to slide nicely over the top of a gaggle of open division boats whilst Von Blumencron, coming in on the port layline, was forced to dip and look for a slot rounding well into the teens. Having gained separation Ayres confidently stretched away and whilst Von Blumencron did manage to pick off several of the open division boats between them he was never in a position to challenge for the lead. Meanwhile the battle for third place was still raging. On the water it was Filter who took the third in race 11, but right behind him was Hernandez with Wieland fifth, Weitze sixth, Gureyev seventh, local boy Jim Golden eighth and a disappointed Dabney ninth.

Having finished first and second respectively Ayres and Von Blumencron were tied on 28 points with Ayres finally getting his hands on the much-coveted Henri Samuel Corinthian World Championship Trophy on count back. Herenandez's fourth place was sufficient to give him the final podium position whilst a disappointed Dabney had to be content with fourth overall.

Speaking after racing a delighted Bruce Ayres was full of praise for his crew of Don Smith, Dave Navin and tactician Jon Pinckney. "I'd like to particularly thank Don Smith and John Pinckney for hanging with me for ten years and of course Dave Navin. We don't sail a lot but when we get to these regattas our goal is to hang in there with the best and we're delighted to have achieved that goal."

The International Melges 24 Class (IMCA) would like to take this opportunity to thank the Eastport Yacht Club, Regatta Chair Liz Filter, the Race Committee, the many volunteer club members, the International Jury, Title Sponsor Sheehy Lexus of Annapolis and all the supporting sponsors, suppliers and private donors who so generously contributed to make this regatta possible. This was the first time that the City of Annapolis has granted a one-design regatta the right to use the downtown City Dock as a regatta centre and the Melges 24 fleet is proud to have been the first to enjoy such a privileged position. "The sight of so many Melges 24s right in the heart of Annapolis and the added buzz of an army of spectators lining the dock morning and evening has made this a truly special event for us," noted the IMCA's Fiona Brown.

The success of the partnership between the IMCA, Eastport Yacht Club and Sheehy Lexus of Annapolis was summed up perfectly by Paul Rochelle, General Manger of Sheehy Lexus of Annapolis who commented, "We are so proud to have been the title sponsor for the 2009 Melges 24 Worlds Championship. What an amazing competition! This has truly been an exciting partnership - between sailing's elite competitors and the Baltimore-Annapolis area's ONLY Elite of Lexus dealership!"

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Justin Chisholm
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