Pierre Lemaire, Principal Race Officer at the 2009 Melges 24 European Championship, was amongst the very few people in Hyeres fully confident that the breeze would arrive in time for racing on day four.
This morning however, as the regatta's eighty-six teams sweltered on the airless dockside, in the full expectation of an on shore postponement, the Race Committee put to sea on time as usual. Soon after, as the fleet slowly made their way out onto the racecourse Pierre's confidence was rewarded as the fitful three to four knot zephyrs solidified into a steadier eight to ten knots which enabled him to get racing under way bang on time.
The transition to lighter conditions also brought a change of fortunes for the Championship leaders, Lorenzo Santini's UKA UKA Racing, helmed by Lorenzo Bressani
. They recorded their worst result of the series so far in race nine, when they struggled home in thirty-first place. Second placed Alina, owned by fellow Italian Maurizio Abba and helmed by Niccolo Bianchi
, failed to take full advantage of the situation and could only manage a twelfth position. Nevertheless Alina had reduced the delta on the leaders to eight points in the overall standings. At the very front of the fleet in this race, Conor Clark's Irish entry Embarr, helmed by Stuart Rix, finally found some form and having won the pin end of the line at the start, they led the fleet until the final downwind leg, eventually succumbing to a sustained attack from Gianni Catalogna's Pilot Italia Hurricane, helmed by Alberto Bolzan. Embarr did fight back on the latter part of the last run, but had in the end to settle for second place.
A delighted Conor Clark paid tribute to the standard of the racing at this Championship. "The fleet is very hot and the Italians are particularly quick through the water. After having a difficult time this week so far, we are delighted to have had the chance to do battle at the front of the fleet and the first race today was very exciting and great fun."
For Pilot Italia Hurricane this race win was their third of the series so far and they must surely be regretting the inconsistency of their overall performance that sees them languishing in seventh place overall.
An eighth in race eight and a comfortable win in race nine for Franco Rossini's Blu Moon, helmed by Flavio Favini
, made them boat of the day and accelerated their climb up the leaderboard and going into the final day they sit in third place. In one of the most thrilling finishes of the regatta so far, the scramble for second place behind Blu Moon was decided literally in the last boat length. As a pack of four boats converged on the line from either side of the run, Ricardo Simoneschi's Giacomel Audi powered by Q8 had made a big gain in the extra pressure on the left and was steaming in at the pin end. Only metres from the finish it appeared that only Denis Infante's Eurovoiles, helmed by Christophe Barrue finishing in the middle of the line could challenge them for second. However as Giacomel Audi powered by Q8 poked their bowsprit across the line to claim second, the Eurovoiles crew could only watch in dismay as Stuart Simpson's British entry Team Barbarians, helmed by Jamie Lea, surged in just inches from the Race Committee boat, to snatch third from under the Frenchmens' noses. Meanwhile UKA UKA Racing had stage a major comeback from a poor start, which had left them in the thirties at the first windward mark. Making places on every leg, they clawed their way back up to eighth and most importantly within two places of Alina. UKA UKA Racing now take a tenuous seven-point lead over rivals Alina into tomorrow's last Championship race.
The racing in the Corinthian Division was a more one sided affair, with the syndicate owned Storm Capital Sail Racing Team, helmed by Sivert Denneche, scoring two Corinthian bullets which fired them back into the overall lead by twenty two points. Today's impressive performance by the young Norwegian crew saw them mixing it at the front of the main fleet in both races and their 7,5 score has left them in eleventh place; achingly close to their overall top ten regatta goal. Behind them in second is John Christian Eriksson's Swedish crew on Aqua Racing, helmed by Mikael Johansson, with Germany's Rudolf Houdek on Secret Men's Business currently holding the third overall Corinthian place.
On the eve of the final day of the Championship and with just one race to go the main fleet at least is still finely poised and expectations are high for a thrilling showdown between UKA UKA Racing and Alina. To crank up the tension another couple of notches, more light weather is anticipated for tomorrow and the highly experienced reigning European Champions aboard third placed Blu Moon will certainly be ready to capitalise on any mistakes from the top two boats. Racing is scheduled to start at 10.00 AM and both the organisers and the competitors have their collective fingers crossed that the day will deliver sufficient breeze to allow the 2009 Melges 24 European Championship to be decided on the water.
Results - click here