The Volvo Melges 24 World Championship got off to a challenging start on Sunday with the 114-strong fleet from 16 nations completing two of 12 scheduled races.
The large number of competitors means that the fleet must be divided across two racecourses. Therefore, the fleet has been split into four groups and will sail a six-race round robin series with each group racing the others twice to identify the gold and silver fleets for the final six races of the series.
Sunday's two races were extremely tough, with winds ranging from under five knots to almost 20, with massive shifts, big holes in some areas and mini squalls under the clouds in others. There were regular rain showers across the course initially, but conditions did improve later, with the second race finishing in sunshine. Race Committee member Wayne BRETSCH gave an example of just how extreme the conditions were, saying, "Between races the weather mark boat was reporting 18-20 knots from around 115 degrees, but at the committee boat end we had as little as five knots from 060 degrees. We waited, tried to start, postponed relatively fast, could see the wind on the water that the weather mark boat was reporting and waited for it to hit us, which it did with a vengeance at about 18 knots from 125 degrees. It was a rough day for the competitors and it was a rough day for the race committee and the mark boats. The mark guys in particular did an outstanding job of reporting wind and putting marks in very accurately at short notice."
Overall, Italy's Alberto BOLZAN, helming Gianni CATALOGNA's ITA727 Pilot Italia, leads the regatta with an impressive 2,1 scoreline, proving that his victory in the Pre-Worlds competition was no fluke. Norway's Olympic bronze medallist (Soling/Sydney) Herman HORN-JOHANNESSEN sailing NOR732 Rett Rundt Hjornet lies three points behind in second. Reigning Melges 24 North American Champion Brian PORTER of Chicago, aboard USA649 Full Throttle, and Swiss America's Cup sailor Jean-Marc MONNARD, in SUI599 Poizon Rouge, share third place on eight points. Britain's Jamie LEA, helming GBR691 Team Barbarians for Stuart SIMPSON is one point behind them in fifth.
In the Corinthian Division, for the all-amateur teams, Oyvind Peder JAHRE, sailing NOR 554 Terra Eindomsmeglng for Stian BRISEID, leads the fleet and lies 17th in the overall competition. Second Corinthian is Rudolf HOUDEK in GER731 Secret Men's Business, with joint 2006 Corinthian Melges 24 World Champion Jean-Francois CRUETTE, helming FRA612 for Cedric DE KERVENOEL in third.
After racing, Alberto BOLZAN - the 2006 Melges 24 World Champion (as tactician for Nicola CELON) and IMS World Champion, to name just two of his victories - summed up the day perfectly: "It was a difficult day. We were very lucky. We made good choices today and Pietro [CATALOGNA, tactician] is fantastic and did not miss a tack. We finished second place in the first race and won the second race. Because there were a lot of wind shifts, and sometimes the wind was strong and at other times it was light, it was very difficult. One second you could gain a lot and the next moment you could lose a lot, so we were very lucky. The crew was perfect and the boat is very fast and we are very determined in the sea."
Fifth-place finisher Jamie LEA reinforced BOLZAN's comments: "We had a good start in the first race. We managed to tack onto port early, as it was the thing to do because the wind went right. We had really good speed up the first beat then crossed on the little shift at the top, which put us in front. It was very shifty at the top. Big ups and downs, so we were changing gears a lot. It was a good solid day. The level of competition is exactly where we expected it to be and more. There are about 20-30 boats out there that are really good. We are just going to keep plugging away at it."
Two races are planned for Monday, starting at 11:30. The 12-race series runs through Friday 6 June.
Volvo Melges 24 World Championship - www.melges24worlds2008.com