Bucking the recession
Having previously hosted the 2006 Melges 24 World Championship, Hyeres is firmly established as a favourite venue on the class’s international circuit; a fact which has no doubt helped to attract competitors from than 16 individual nations including Austria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland, Sweden and Ukraine.
Reigning European titleholders, Franco Rossini’s Swiss entry Blu Moon, will be sailing with two past World Championship helms on board in the form of driver Flavio Favini (2001) and tactician Sebastian Col (2004) and will be fully focused on pulling off a back-to-back Euro victory in Hyeres.
Italy has proved to be the dominant force in the Melges 24 class internationally for the last several years and their squad for this championship is a predictably strong one. The reigning World Champions - Lorenzo Santini’s UKA UKA, helmed by one-design keelboat legend Lorenzo Bressani and featuring Melges 24 guru Federico Michetti amongst the crew, are certainly expected to have their eyes firmly on the prize in Hyeres. However, they will be all too aware that several of their fellow countrymen are also well capable of stringing together a championship winning series. Amongst them are Luca Valerio at the helm of Maurizio Abba’s Alina, 2006 World Champion Nico Celon steering Fantastica for Lanfranco Cirillo as well as Alberto Bolzan driving Gianni Catalongna’s Pilot Italia Hurricane. Making a welcome return after a short break from the Melges 24 circuit is Giovanni Maspero’s Joe Fly team, who with their regular Olympic 470 helmsman Gabrio Zandona in charge, will no doubt be right back on the pace by the time racing commences and hoping to claim their second Melges 24 European title (the claimed their first in Torquay in 2005).
While the home nation has a relatively small number of entries the French squad are lacking for nothing in terms of the quality of their sailors. Denis Infante’s local crew aboard Eurovoiles have proved capable of winning races at major regattas on their home waters in the past and could easily be podium contenders this year. As could Maxime Paul aboard Marsail 1 who will also be keen to fly the flag for the French.
The main thrust of the British assault on the 2009 Melges 24 European Championship is likely to come from long time Melges 24 campaigner Stuart Simpson’s Team Barbarians whose crew included the potent combination of helmsman Jamie Lea and tactician Nigel Young. Amongst the other potential British contenders are Miles Quinton, who has current Laser SB3 World Champion Geoff Carveth on the helm aboard Code Zero, as well as Eamonn O’Nolan on High Maintenance with UK Star Olympic campaigner John Gimson steering.
The only Irish entry at this year’s championship is Conor Clarke’s Embarr. A relative newcomer to the class, Clarke has cunningly lured out of Melges 24 retirement three members of the highly successful Gill crew, including owner/trimmer Quentin Strauss and helmsman Stuart Rix for another yet another crack at a major Melges 24 title.
The hotly contested Corinthian division is, if anything, harder to call than the professional competition. Based on the formbook, both the reigning European Corinthian Champion – Olympic Medallist Tonu Toniste’s Lenny, as well as the current World Corinthian Champion - Norway’s Peder Jahre steering Storm Capital Racing Team, can be considered as the favourites. However also challenging for overall European Corinthian glory will be Italy’s Mario Ziliani at the helm of Sergio Cosano’s Fishdog, along with the newly crowned Baltic Champion Tiit Vihul helming Rock City for Martin Muur. Amongst the multitude of potential wildcards within the Corinthian Division are Allen Brown’s British entry The Dog’s…..!, Switzerland’s Michael Good steering Zeroeight and Norway’s Peder Nergaard sailing his always immaculately prepared Blow.