Santella leads Melges

After day one of racing off Marseilles

Saturday April 19th 2003, Author: Fi Brown, Location: France
Racing for the Melges 24 Class got off to a great start on day one at the SNIM with three fantastic races in light to moderate breeze and glorious sunshine on the Mediterranean waters off Marseille. 76 boats from ten nations make up the fleet for this first event in the 2003 Melges 24 European Ranking Series, which has attracted the top crews from across Europe and Scandinavia.

With the added attraction of the City of Marseille as a backdrop the starts were even more impressive than usual and despite some fierce competition the fleet was only recalled on one occasion. The course was kept short which made for very exciting first mark roundings and more than a few bumps and scrapes.

In race one the new Italian Joe Fly team, owned by Giovanni Maspero and helmed by Mumm 30 World Champion Luca Santella, gave notice that they are a team to watch. They got an excellent start and led the fleet at the first weather mark just ahead of Germany's Alba Batzill, helming for Vittorio Strosek's 'Vito' team. Down the first run Batzill had slightly better speed and overtook Santella. Behind them Britian's Jamie Lea, helming for Richard Thompson's Black Seal had pulled up to third ahead of Frenchmen Jerome Cauquil in Chacun and Jean Francois Cruette in Scuttum whilst Norway's Kenneth Thelen on Suunto rounded sixth.

In a building breeze which topped out at around 12 knots Batzill lost out on the second beat to both Santella and Thelen and Lea dropped back to fourth ahead of Cruette whilst 2001 Melges 24 World Champion Flavio Favini, helming for Switzerland's Franco Rossini in Blue Moon pulled himself up from double figures to take sixth round the final windward mark. The last beat was tight but at the line Santella held his lead from Thelen, Batzill and Lea.

A wind shift up the first beat turned race two upside down and this time it was another new Italian helm, Luca Valerio in Alina, who came out on top at the first weather mark ahead of former Melges 24 European Champion Cedric Pouligny and France's Christopher Barrue and Francois Lebourdais. Valerio hung on doggedly to his lead all the way to the finish but behind him places were changing with every tack and gybe. Eventually it was Finland's Antti Niniranta helming Marinel Patu who took second place ahead of Lebordais with Pouligny fourth and Dimitri Nicolopoulos helming Snugasa Bug fifth.

The final race of the day was full of dramas starting with a general recall and a then black flag for the second start. Unfortunately Rob Smith failed to hear his number called after the start and crossed the line in first place only to discover he was disqualified. Favini sailed a good first beat and led round the weather mark but an incident with a beating boat dropped him down to eighth. Santella had the lead by the first leeward mark and then spent the race of the race battling with the disqualified Smith. On the first lap Valerio and Batzill fought every inch of the way but up the second beat Valerio picked a few bad shifts and dropped back to sixth while Batzill held second ahead of Lea, Favini, and Niniranta. Valerio recoverd slightly on the last run and at the finish it was Santella ahead of Batzill, Lea, Valerio, Niniranta and Favini.

Overall Luca Santella leads by six points from Valerio with Batzill third, Thelen fourth and Lebourdais fifth. With three more days still to go and a change in forecast with wind and rain on the way the regatta remains wide open.

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