Early lead for Harry Melges
First points in the Gill Melges 24 Australian Open Nationals, one of the Festival of Sails’ opening events, went to Harry Melges and his Star crew from the USA. Melges, who founded the class in 1993 with his brother Hans and crewman Andy Burdick, began their Australian foray impressively with a perfect scorecard.
International teams had no trouble reading the local breeze on day one of the class’ national title on Geelong’s Corio Bay. The Americans were first with two bullets, the Swiss second and Japanese team aboard Threebond, skippered by Tetsuya Matsunaga, third.
The best placed Aussie team in fifth overall was Nathan Wilmot and Heath Walters’ Melges Asia – Kaito.
Federico Michetti, a five-time Melges 24 World Champion, arrived last night to join the rest of the Star crew who are racing a brand new Melges 24 built and shipped to Australia for the nationals and next week’s Gill Melges 24 World Championship.
“Today was fun in good breeze and having those practice starts was handy,” said Melges. “Now we just have to keep it going. There are a lot of tough crews here.”
Flavio Favini’s Blu Moon finished second on the pointscore. Still recovering from jet lag from their long flight, the crew are not at full strength yet hints Favini. A scary proposition for the rest of the field.
Wilmot, the 2008 Olympic 470 gold medallist, hasn’t steered a Melges 24 at Geelong previously and admits the crew are still putting the boat together. A new crew combination means energy is also being spent figuring out each person’s role, a great reason for holding a national championship just prior to the main event. “We’ll have it figured out in time for next week,” assured Wilmot.
While waiting for the southeast sea breeze in the early afternoon, the 23-boat fleet was offered three practice starts by the accommodating race committee. Principal Race Officer Hank Stuart gave competitors the opportunity to settle their nerves and officials the chance to go through the start sequence without the pressure of a first recorded race.
The trusty southeaster began to fill in around the edges of Corio Bay’s inner harbour around 1400, Stuart upping anchors and moving the course into Stingray Bay on the eastern shore to meet the new breeze.
After a general recall the fleet was more conservative and race one started almost cleanly, Bent Dietrich’s Kleine Rainbow the only boat pinged by the committee.
The steadily building 15-20 knot breeze produced intense and noisy mark roundings, thrilling downwind rides and great camera action in both races of the day.
The Melges 24 Australian Open Nationals is a four-day precursor and a handy form guide – though many of the rated international teams are yet to arrive - for the 2014 Gill Melges 24 World Championship starting next Wednesday. It’s also one of four Australian championships falling under the Royal Geelong Yacht Club’s Festival of Sails’ umbrella.
The Maui Jim Sports Boat division kick-started their series today with two races on the western side of Corio Bay. Noel Leigh-Smith’s Viper 640 called Viper QLD leads Mark Buchbach Stealth 8.5 Raptor, by three points. Cam Rae’s Monkey Business is third overall.
Melbourne to Geelong passage race
Tomorrow, the bulk of the Festival of Sails’ 310 entries will arrive at Geelong in the afternoon for the finish of the Melbourne to Geelong passage race. The cannon will fire at 0930 off Port Ormond, Elwood, for the 34 nautical mile sprint across Port Phillip Bay.
The monohull passage race record is 1 hour and 40 minutes 17 seconds set by Grant Wharington’s Wild Thing in 2006.
On Corio Bay, the Morris Finance Sydney 38 Australian Championship will commence with up to three windward/leeward races scheduled tomorrow for the class, the first due to start at 1230 (local).
The Melges 24 and Sports Boats’ series will continue on Corio Bay tomorrow, isolated showers during the afternoon and the chance of thunderstorms replacing today’s glorious summer conditions. The forecast breeze is westerly 10-15 knots tending southwesterly 15-20 knots in the afternoon and increasing to 20-25 knots by the evening.