For the competitors arriving at the City Dock this morning on day three of the Sheehy Lexus of Annapolis 2009 Melges 24 World Championship, the chances of racing taking place seemed unlikely, with Annapolis shrouded in low cloud and no evidence of any wind whatsoever. Despite the gloomy outlook, Principal Race Officer Jeff Borland put all trust in his local knowledge and led the fleet out on to the race area. This forthright strategy was eventually rewarded, when after a prolonged delay, a fitful breeze finally developed and racing got underway. As a further bonus the quickly clearing skies soon bathed the competitors, race management fleet and the many spectator boats in some welcome warm sunshine. With winds peaking at no more than seven knots, by no stretch of the imagination could the racing today be described as high adrenaline, but nevertheless the conditions did produce some fascinating tactical battles at the front of the fleet.
Race one saw the three Championship leaders, Chris Larson on 'West Marine Rigging/New England Ropes', Gabrio Zandona on 'Joe Fly' and Bill Hardesty on 'Events Clothing/Atlantis', round the first windward mark in that order. Hot on their heels was first Corinthian helm Bruce Ayres on 'Monsoon'. Rather than follow leader Larson down the left hand side of the course, 'Joe Fly' tactician Daniele Cassinari opted for an early gybe on to port. As Larson and the rest of the leading pack went almost to the left hand layline, the Italian team on 'Joe Fly' made good progress closer to the middle of the course. When the boats converged at the leeward gate it was neck and neck between the first two; Larson coming in from the left having to handbrake his way round the port gate, whilst Zandona arriving with more pressure and speed from further right was able to make a smoother exit from the right buoy. Zandona immediately captialised on this slight edge and moved smootly into the lead up the second beat. As the leg progressed the breeze became increasingly unstable; dropping as low as four knots at times. Staying in the maximum pressure, Zandona rammed home his upwind advantage and rounded the second windward mark well ahead of Larson, who was now having to deal with a sustained challenge from Ayres. These three boats had pulled out a big gap on the rest of the pack and were well into the run before the fourth boat, Lorenzo Bressani on 'Uka Uka Racing' rounded the weather mark. There were no place changes amongst the top four on the one sided and somewhat processional final leg, with Zandona claiming his second race win of the series ahead of the ever consistent Larson in second, a clearly delighted Ayres in third and a relieved looking Bressani in fourth. Norwegian Eivind Melleby on 'Full Metal Jacket' continued his impressive form in this series, clocking up another top ten result in fifth.
Another delay then ensued whilst the Race Committee and competitors waited around hopefully for the wind to re-establish itself. When a seven to eight knot breeze finally filtered on to the racecourse, it took a general recall and an I-Flag deterrent to get the fleet underway for the five-leg final race of the day. After the wind flicked into left phase just before the start, Kristen Lane on 'Brick House' won a three way battle for the pin with 2006 World Champion Nico Celon at the helm of 'Fantastica' and US National Champion Brian Porter on 'Full Throttle', to lead the fleet away. The boats further back along the line were tightly packed and struggling to accelerate, giving Celon and Lane the opportunity to quickly tack on to port and set off into a little extra pressure. A drop in breeze to around five knots and a port hand shift as the leaders approached the windward mark for the first time, gave added advantage to the boats who had got furthest left. Celon led around the top mark in close proximity with Eivind Melleby on 'Full Metal Jacket' who had made a stunning comeback from what had looked like a poor situation immediately after the start. Kristen Lane went around third, with Rome Kirby on USA 620 fourth and Robby Wilkins on 'Vamoose' in fifth. Championship leader Chris Larson pulled off yet another top ten rounding in sixth place, all the time with a close eye on his series rival Zandona who rounded just outside the top ten. Down the first run Melleby and Celon were engaged in a fierce battle for the lead with the Norwegian eventually prevailing after he sneaked over the top of the Italian in the final boat lengths to the mark.
On the light air second beat new pressure developed quickly on the right. Zetzema Wietze on Dutch entry 'Gelickt' was the first to spot it and in a matter of minutes moved from the mid-teens up into fourth place. Zandona also did well out of the right hand side and slipped into sixth behind Peter Lane. At the top mark Melleby still led from Larson and Celon but with Lane and Zandona now very much back in contention. Down the run and final beat, whilst Melleby always looked calm and composed in first place, a real slugging match had developed between the next five boats for second place. At the finish as Melleby took a comfortable win, Celon edged out Larson into third with the rapidly charging Zandona slotting into fourth.
With the single discard for the twelve race series is now in play, Gabrio Zandona and the 'Joe Fly' crew have moved up to become the new Championship leaders, by just one point from Chris Larson on 'West Marine Rigging/New England Ropes'. Sixth race winner Eivind Melleby on 'Full Metal Jacket' eases into the final podium position at this stage with Bill Hardesty on 'Events Clothing/Atlantis' discarding a final race thirty-eighth to take fourth. Carlo Fracassoli on 'Gullisara' continues to impress and is in fifth place overall.
Today saw no let up in the scrap for the Corinthian Division World Title, with Bruce Ayres now leading by just one point from Othmar Mueller von Blumencron on 'Gannet' in second. A good day for Germany's Christof Wieland on 'Unsponsored' elevates him to third place overall tonight.
Full results are available from the Event Website. The championship runs until Saturday 31 October with a total of 12 races scheduled. You can follow the racing live on the IMCA Official Blog. For further information or to request photographs or video footage please contact email@example.com.
Provisional Overall Top Ten After Six Races
1. Gabrio Zandona – Joe Fly – 15 points
2. Chris Larson – West Marine Rigging/New England Ropes – 16 points
3. Eivind Melleby – Full Medal Jacket – 22 points
4. Bill Hardesty – Events Clothing/Atlantis – 38 points
5. Carlo Fracassoli – Gullisara – 41 points
6. Brian Hutchinson – Quantum Racing/Gill Race Team – 42 points
7. Lorenzo Bressani – Uka Uka Racing – 43 points
8. Brian Porter – Full Throttle – 43 points
9. Nicola Celon – Fantastica – 44 points
10. Flavio Favini – Blu Moon – 50 points
Provisional Corinthian Top Five After Six Races
1. Bruce Ayres – Monsoon – 12 points
2. Othmar Mueller von Blumencron – Gannet – 13 points
3. Christof Wieland – Unsponsored – 17 points
4. David Dabney – Conejo Racing-Ocean Sailing Academy – 20 points
5. Zetzema Weitze – Gelikt – 23 points