Strong start for Jeff Madrigali
The first day of racing at the Sperry Top-Sider Melges 24 World Championship 2013, hosted by The San Francisco Yacht Club in Belvedere, California delivered three excellent races sailed in bright sunshine and winds ranging from eight to 14 knots.
All three races had different winners, with American Terry Hutchinson at the helm of Scott Holmgren's Rose Bud taking the first race, fellow countryman Brian Porter on Full Throttle winning the second and Bermuda's Alec Cutler on Hedgehog victorious in the third.
Consistency was a hard to come by commodity throughout the fleet today and almost all of the top ten boats at the end of the day are counting at least one double digit score.
The exception to that rule was Jeff Madrigali at the helm of Kevin Welch's American entry Mikey who managed a 7-2-4 score to lead overall tonight. In second with a 13-10-1 scoreline is Alec Cutler on Hedgehog. Third by way of three eighth places is Italian Andrea Racchelli on Altea. Leader Madrigali sits on 13 points with Cutler and Racchelli tied on 24 points.
The first race of the day started in around seven knots and saw Madrigali round the windward mark in first, closely followed by Nathan Wilmot at the helm of Conor Clarke's Irish entry Embarr in second with Hutchinson in third. Wilmot quickly dropped out of contention after having to do penalty turns soon after at the start of the first downwind leg. Hutchinson meanwhile held his nerve and his lane on the right to take the lead at the bottom end of the run after Madrigali had gybed away.
Once ahead, Hutchinson could not be touched and extended his lead throughout the rest of the race to finish over 40 seconds ahead of second placed 2013 Melges 24 European Champion, Italy's Flavio Favini on Franco Rossini's Blu Moon, who remarkably made up six places on the last leg. Third was Harry Melges III on Team Windhover.
After an initial general recall, the second race got away at the second time of asking in 12 - 14 knots of breeze. Madrigali once again rounded the first mark in the lead, this time with Brian Porter on Full Throttle close behind in second and Hutchinson in third. Porter got the better of the final couple of gybes into the leeward gate to lead at the start of the second beat.
Second placed Madrigali was in no mood to concede however and harried Porter mercilessly for the the rest of the race. Despite having Madrigali breathing down his neck for the last two legs Porter kept his cool to ultimately close out the win. Doug Wilhelm's American crew on Wilco made huge gains on the last leg to snatch third from Hutchinson close to the line.
"It's tough sailing out there, with a lot of great sailors and a lot of good boats." said Porter afterwards. "It's good to get a race win because it gives you a lot of confidence to be able to pull away from good boats."
Clearly not wishing to break the pattern from the first two races, Madrigali yet again led at the windward mark in the third race of the day, after a dying sea breeze pushed the breeze on the first leg to the right. He rounded ahead of Corinthian Loren Colohan on Lounge Act in second and Alec Cutler on Hedgehog in third. These three escaped a major windward mark scramble behind them which slowed the chasing pack and sparked a string of protest flags.
By the leeward gate Cutler had hit the front, with practice race winner Dane Kim Christensen on Soffe 2 moving up to second and Altea had slid into third.
While Racchelli dropped to eighth on the next beat, Cutler continued to be chased by Christensen and these two rounded the final top mark in one and two - positions they maintained to the finish. Meanwhile Bora Gulari on West Marine Rigging/New England Ropes had moved up to take third.
Hedgehog crew member Mike Wolfs said they had benefitted from a little bit of luck from a right shift on the first beat after a slow start. Having made that comeback Wolfs said a good hoist at the windward offset mark had given them a jump on the boats ahead. After that, Wolfs said delaying their gybe in relation to the leaders had given them the lead.
"We probably went another 100 to 150 yards and gybed and we were able to slowly sneak past them to leeward with a little bit more pressure on the low side," he said. "We ended up rounding the leeward mark by a good 15 lengths."
Three races into the scheduled 10 race series the consistency of Jeff Madrigali means he is the overall leader with 13 points. In second on 24 points is Cutler, which is tied on points with third placed Italian Andrea Racchelli.
Despite topping the leaderboard at the end of the first day, Madrigali - a member of the host club - said he and his crew would nevertheless need to work on their downwind performance after conceding their first mark leads in all three races.
"A lot of that was tactical and mechanical," Madrigali said. "I have sailed here my whole life and normally you get around the top mark and you are gone. Today though, the wind was quite spotty and there was a lot of pressure in different areas and tidal rips that were helping you upwind and hurting you downwind. We didn't handle the downwinds very well and other boats did. We need to go to school on how they did that."
In the Corinthian (no professional sailors allowed) Division - who race with the main fleet but also have their results extracted separately - America's Loren Colohan on Lounge Act tops the standings with six points after three races. Colohan is tied on points with second placed Don Jesberg on Viva. Italy's Andrea Pardini on Maitech lies in third place. The top three Corinthians are close: Jesberg sits in 19th, Colohan in 20th and Pardini in 21st.
Second placed Corinthian Jesberg said he and his crew had been focused solely on their overall result and had been pleasantly surprised to find they were tied on points with first in the Corinthians. Nevertheless, Jesberg said he was a fan of the Corinthian Division at Melges 24 championships.
"It was a tricky day out there and we had to be concentrating on our place in the fleet," he said. "Those of us who have jobs and careers and families that demand a lot of our time enjoy being able to score ourselves against a peer group." he said.
Racing at the Sperry Top-Sider Melges 24 World Championship 2013 continues until Saturday 5 October. Three more races are planned for tomorrow and ten races are scheduled for the championship series.
Full results here