For the first time all week the wind was up at around 14 knots from the west and by the start initial rain had given way to broken sunshine. PRO Peter RUMBELOW and the Royal Torbay's excellent race committee got the 50 competitors away at the first attempt and from the gun it was Gill that took control. Altea had a terrible start and their grip on the title was disastrously loosened at that moment. Joe Fly again went for the conservative approach and managed a moderate though not glowing start.
At the first weather mark it was Gill first from Tim COLLINS (GBR) in Easy Tiger with Paul BROTHERTON (GBR) aboard Ian CLEAVER's Highland Heritage third, Antoine FRICKEY (MON) sailing Benjamin COHEN's Sogeti fourth, Alba BATZILL (GER) with Eddy EICH's No Woman No Cry fifth and John POLLARD (GBR) of Excellent sixth. This leading group got away from the pack where Joe Fly rounded eleven with Altea back in 20th.
At the second weather mark Gill were just hanging onto their lead with Sogeti now up to second followed by Easy Tiger, Excellent, Highland Heritage and No Woman No Cry. Joe Fly had pulled up to eighth putting them just one point behind Gill for the Championship.
Back in the scrum Altea was struggling and rounded 22nd with no hope left of recovery. The boats took off down wind and with every gybe the positions altered. At the final leeward gate Joe Fly had pulled up into seventh and onto equal points with Gill but their normally impeccable crew work faltered momentarily and the kite ended up under the boat loosing them valuable seconds and giving Gill a brief breathing space. Despite this potential disaster Joe Fly's crew rapidly had the situation back under control and she was off up the beat like a scalded cat.
By the final weather mark Gill were still just holding off the leading group but Excellent had now pulled up into second and was closely followed by Sogeti, Easy Tiger, Highland Heritage and No Woman No Cry. Joe Fly had done an impressive job up the beat rounding back in seventh and still on equal points with Gill as the set off towards the finish.
Knowing they had to gain one more place over Gill to retain the European Crown Joe Fly gybed early. Gill meanwhile had their work cut out trying to hold onto the lead and spectators were kept on the edge of their seats as the leading boats jostled for position. In the closing moments Excellent slid past Gill and they crossed the line first and second respectively, closely followed by Sogeti, Easy Tiger, Highland Heritage and No Woman No Cry. Although Joe Fly's early gybe had not gained them any places, they held onto seventh and took victory by just one point with joyous celebrations as they crossed the line for helm ZANDONA and his crew of Daniele CASSINARI, Federico MICHETTI, Monica RATIPOLDI and owner Giovanni MASPERO.
In the overall standings, ZANDONA and the Joe Fly team took the Giorgio Zuccoli European Championship Trophy with RIX second and RACCHELLI third. Fourth place overall and the Corinthian (all amateur) Trophy went to BATZILL helming No Woman No Cry. Other podium slots in the Corinthian Division went to Antoine ALBARET (FRA) of Cotes d'Armour Perros Guirec and Jerome AUBERT (FRA) in Au Planning
For the Joe Fly team it was a particularly sweet victory, as they almost did not make the regatta when a sleeping lorry driver wrote off their boat and tow truck as MICHETTI changed a tyre on the hard shoulder on his way to the regatta. Fortunately MICHETTI suffered only a small scratch and they were able to secure the loan of a replacement boat in time. Although this is ZANDONA's first Melges 24 European title, his crew were the defending champions, having won the trophy with their previous helm, Luca SANTELLA, in Helsinki in 2003.
The team at the Royal Torbay Yacht Club did a spectacular job of organizing the regatta both afloat and ashore, whilst to the International Jury led by Tony O'GORMAN also performed admirably. The event sponsors were Ocean BMW, WKD Original Vodka Blue, Devoti Sailing, North Sails UK Ltd, Westaway Sails and Musto Ltd.
The 2005 Melges 24 World Championship will take place at the Ocean Reef Club, Key Largo, Florida, USA from 11-16 December.