The 2009 Melges 24 European Championship came to a thrilling conclusion on the last day of racing in Hyeres.
Despite overnight leaders UKA UKA Racing, owned by Lorenzo Santini and steered by Lorenzo Bressani
, carrying a seven point lead into today's single final race, the threat from second placed Alina, owned by Maurizio Abba and helmed by Nicolo Bianchi, was a very real one. To add an extra dimension to the proceedings, Franco Rossini's Blu Moon steered by Flavio Favini, were positioned in third overall and although twelve points adrift of Alina, were well within realistic striking distance. After a short delay to allow the breeze to fill in, racing got under way under clear blue skies and in a shifty breeze which peaked at just under 10 knots.
In the final minute before the start, UKA UKA Racing and Alina were engaged in what they believed was their own private match race. UKA UKA Racing gained a marginal advantage in the final seconds, but as both boats prepared to bear away for the line Blu Moon saw their opportunity and coming in with speed from behind, managed to get to leeward of Alina and succeeded in forcing them almost head to wind just before the gun sounded. As Alina struggled valiantly to tack clear, Blu Moon applied a close covering tack, which slowed Alina even more. Meanwhile UKA UKA Racing had made a clean start towards the left end of the line, with the added advantage of a nice gap to leeward in which to accelerate into. As UKA UKA Racing made their way out to the left of the beat however, Alina had managed to break free from Blu Moon's unwelcome attention and were able to find some clear air on the right hand side of the course. Halfway up the beat their efforts were rewarded with a significant right hand shift and some extra pressure, which saw them cross almost all the boats coming from the left.
At the windward mark Alina rounded second behind Alberto Bolzan at the helm of Gianni Catalogna's Pilot Italia Hurricane. Giovanni Maspero's Joe Fly helmed by Gabrio Zandona went around third, just inches ahead of Blu Moon. UKA UKA Racing made it back from the unfavoured left hand side, to round in eighth. On the first downwind leg Joe Fly moved into the lead ahead of both Pilot Italia Hurricane and Alina. By the time the leaders reached the leeward gate for the first time, bottom Blu Moon was hot on the heels of Alina and behind them UKA UKA Racing had managed to move into an overall winning combination in seventh place.
When on the second beat UKA UKA Racing continued their charge up the fleet and took over fourth place, Alina's realistic chances of challenging for the overall title had all but evaporated and their focus switched to making sure that Blu Moon could not put the required thirteen boats between them. Blu Moon of course chose this moment to attack and having crossed Alina on the beat put in a close cover tack. This sparked a frantic tacking match between the two boats on the approach to the second windward mark with the match race continuing on to the spreader leg. Blu Moon sat waiting with sails flapping hoping to lure Alina to their windward side and the two boats sailed lower and lower before eventually having to tack to make the spreader mark. At this point Alina found an opportunity to break free from Blu Moon with a gybe on to port leaving the Swiss boat to continue on starboard to the left side of the course.
As the leaders arrived at the finish, Pilot Italia Hurricane took their fourth race win of the week, elevating them to fifth overall. Joe Fly finished in second to lock down their fourth place overall with Norwegian Arne David Anderson's Corinthian entry, Tork Racing Team steered by Peder M Berntsen, delightedly taking third. As UKA UKA Racing approached the line in fourth place it was clear to see the mixture of relief and elation on the crew's faces. Crossing the line to cheers from the spectators they all jumped instantly to their feet in celebration of their confirmation as 2009 Melges 24 European Champions and winners of the Giorgio Zuccoli Trophy. Their win creates a piece of unique Melges 24 history, as Lorenzo Bressani becomes the first helm to ever hold the World and European titles concurrently.
As UKA UKA Racing made their way ashore, attention quickly turned to the battle for second place overall being waged behind them. Blu Moon, who had made good progress down the left of the course, crossed the line in ninth place and could only watch in hope and count the boats finishing between them and Alina. Things were not immediately clear as Alina came across the line amidst a pack of at least four boats and only the Race Committee could say for sure in which position they had finished. In the end it turned out that their nineteenth place finish was good enough for them to retain second place overall. By a margin of just two points Blu Moon's ninth earned them the final podium position.
Overnight Corinthian Division leaders, the Norwegian Storm Capital Sail Racing Team syndicate with their helmsman Sivert Dinneche, cruised to a thirty-one point overall Corinthian victory, despite their untypical seventeenth place today, and claim the Menno Meyer Corinthian Trophy and a Tacktick Maxi. 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. Seventh today and second overall in the Corinthian division was Mikael Johansson at the helm of John Christian Eriksson's Swedish entry Aqua Racing. The final top three overall Corinthian place was taken by Germany's Roudolf Houdek on Secret Men's Business, by way of a second place in the final Championship race.
At the prize giving International Melges 24 Class Chairman Guenter Tzeschlock thanked COYCH and its many volunteers; the sponsors Vile d'Hyeres, Conseil General du Var, Conseil Regional PACA, Office du Tourisme d'Hyeres, Eurovoiles, Quantum Sail Design Group, Brasserie Le Tocco, X Voiles - Russo and Ricoh, and Tacktick; the International Jury and of course all the competitors for making this a truly spectacular event.
As the 2009 Melges 24 European Championship drew officially to a close, the attention of the Melges 24 class now turns to their forthcoming World Championship in the USA at Annapolis, Maryland this coming October 23-31. UKA UKA Racing will hope 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. Further information about the 2009 Melges 24 World Championship is available from www.melges24worlds2009.com
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