Photo: Teri Dodds

Harry Melges' sign of intent

Class founder comes out on top at Australian Open National Melges 24 Championship

Sunday January 26th 2014, Author: Lisa Ratcliff, Location: Australia

Harry Melges’ Star came out on top at the Australian Open National Melges 24 Championship, the warm-up event to the class' World Championship.

Melges felt right at home on Geelong’s Corio Bay with his Star crew. “For us the venue is awesome, we love shifty conditions and lake-style sailing on flat water,” he said. “We are pretty used to it, and comfortable. Every day we learnt more about how the wind acts and every day was very different which made it so interesting.”

Second on the leaderboard was Flavio Favini’s Swiss entry Blu Moon with 26 points. Favini and Melges are old rivals on the racetrack with Melges now one-up by nine points in this Australian double-header.

Third were Canada’s Zarko Draganic and Chris Larson’s Melges 24 Cavillino/McLube with 39 points.

On Australia’s National Day, 26 January, the foreigners flexed their muscles and held the locals out of the top five in the 8-10 knot nor’easter breeze.

Nathan Wilmot’s Melges – Asia Kaito finished sixth from 23 starters and Australian class president Warwick Rooklyn finished eighth with Bandit. Cameron Miles’ Roger That completed the top ten.

The Melges 24 Open Nationals was a four-day tune up for the majority of teams backing up next week for the 2014 Gill Melges 24 World Championship, taking place over Wednesday this week until Sunday 2nd February,.

More hot prospects from overseas will join those who have had the benefit of time on the water this week. All up organisers are expecting 26 one design boats to lead off the starting blocks.

“The Worlds will be really tough; it will be a whole new regatta,” added Melges, the 2002 class World Champion.

In the coming days the Star crew will do a little bit of boat work, sail checks and measurement, head back out for some more training and relax and enjoy Geelong. “We don’t want to wear ourselves out,” Melges added.

Heath Walters, jib trimmer on Kaito says they are happy being the top placed Australian team: “Between here and the worlds we have a new jib that will hopefully help our speed and height in the lighter stuff. We also need to keep out of trouble; we did a few circles [penalty turns] today. We need to keep out of our own way. The level of competition here is fantastic. It’s so great to see all the Europeans and Americans on the course, we are learning all the time."

For the Worlds the pressure cooker is starting to heat up. Crew have hauled their boats out to polish the bottom and do repairs and will be back out on Tuesday for the scheduled afternoon practice race.

Four days of hard slog takes its toll on the body and physical fitness is a major factor in sports boat racing, especially when the wind’s on and crew are hiking out. “Most of the guys put the work in before they got here,” explained Walters. “Fitness is a big factor especially when it blows. You’ve got to look after your crew so they don’t break down or suffer muscle injuries.”

With just one day’s rest tomorrow then straight into Tuesday’s practice event, stamina will be put to the test.

Hank Stuart, International Melges 24 Association championship coordinator and Principal Race Officer for the open nationals and world championship, travels the world conducting high-end regattas. He says Geelong is a fantastic venue and uses the analogy of a golf course to explain a unique Corio Bay.

“It’s like a golf course with several holes all with different characteristics under the one facility. Coming down here and having the nationals as a tune-up for the worlds and as part of the Festival of Sails was terrific. The general vibe has been great.”

The same race management team will assemble for the opening bout of the Gill World Championship next Wednesday, Stuart declaring “I’m as comfortable as I’ve ever felt getting ready for a worlds from a race management side because our team is all put together”.

From the talk on the dock Stuart says the pressure is starting to ramp up. “The intensity is starting to come alive. You’ve got some fantastic sailors here. It’s going to be anybody’s regatta.”

For this evening’s trophy presentation at the Royal Geelong Yacht Club for the new open national champion Stuart jokes he has his iPhone ready with both the Australian and American national anthem loaded, so he can play either when Harry Melges and his crew collect the trophy.

“Happy Australia Day to everybody,” Stuart added.

Best dressed Melges crew on Australia Day went to No Comment who sailed the final two races dressed in red, white and blue onesies. They even had a Matilda on board though she’s Finnish and didn’t really appreciate the significance.

Tomorrow Harry Melges, Flavio Favini and the IMCA chairman Riccardo Simoneschi will host a clinic for the entire fleet so the gurus can share their vast knowledge.

Most divisions will wrap up their Festival of Sails tonight, Sunday 26th January 2014, with a final twilight race.

Tomorrow the Racing Series divisions will head back out for a last points grab and the remainder of the trophies awarded, bringing to an end the 171st running of the long standing sailing regatta.


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