|HYERES, FRANCE-(27-8-2006) Day one of the Melges 24 World Championship in Hyeres on the French Riviera brought stunning conditions for the 119 competitors from 14 nations as they completed the first two round robin races of the championship. There was plenty of close action and more than a few thrills and spills with broaches galore and two broken masts by the end of the day. It was also a very long day on the water, particularly for the teams sailing on race course Alpha who did not get back to the dock until after 6pm.
In the overall standings top Italian match racer and America’s Cup sailor Paolo Cian, helming Sherekhan for Maurizio Cardascio, has just a one point lead. Fellow Italian and double Mumm 30 World Champion Luca Valerio, helming Alina Helly Hansen for Maurizio Abba, is tied on points for second place with Reigning North American Champion Brian Porter of Chicago, whose Full Throttle crew includes 2002 Melges 24 World Champion Harry Melges. Simon Strauss's Team Gill, with Irish Olympian Mark Mansfield at the helm, is in fourth place and Switzerland's Jean Marc Monnard lies fifth just one point behind them.
There are currently five boats counting a score of 10 points which can only be separated on count back. As a result John Pollard's Excellent (GBR) lies sixth, Francois Brenac sailing DRP Partner & Partners for Philippe Ligot (FRA) and Sandro Montefuseo helming GEBL (ITA) are tied in seventh with Eamonn O’Nolan's Wild Thing (GBR) ninth and Antoine Frickey helming Benjamin Cohen's Sogeti Hyeres (FRA) in tenth. Clearly the next few days are going to be very interesting.
The pink and yellow groups sailing on course Bravo had the slightly easier day as their racing got underway sooner, they had shorter courses, less delays and fewer recalls. Initially course Bravo was set in the channel between Porquerolls and Giens where the sea breeze built rapidly enabling racing to get underway after a half hour delay. At the start of race one there was 15-18 knots which rapidly built to a steady 25 knots. Mark Mansfield got a lovely start then stayed right and took advantage of his clean air tacking on 10-15 degree shifts to lead at the weather mark from Germany's Alba Batzill, helming No Woman No Cry for Eddy Eich, Jean Marc Monnard and Eamonn O'Nolan. Mansfield kept control of the race throughout the following two legs and Monnard pulled up into second. In the closing moments of the race Monnard held off his final gybe gaining valuable yards to slip past Mansfield r ight with O'Nolan third.
For race two course Bravo was moved into the lee of the Giens peninsular which reduced the wave height slightly although the wind was still a steady 25 knots. It was another tense race and this time the trick was to hit the corners with the right appearing slightly favoured. After some incredibly hard racing it was Luca Valerio who took the honours from Switzerland's Chris Rast, helming Franco Rossini's Blu Moon with Francois Brenac third.
On course Alpha that day did not go as smoothly with false starts, two complete course moves and several general recalls. Initially the course was set on the Hyeres shore and after a one hour postponement the first race was started in around 5 knots but was abandoned within minutes following a massive shift. The course was then moved south to the Porquerolls shore where the sea breeze was well established at over 20 knots. Despite the delays the race officer set a long six leg course to test the crews to the maximum. Almost from the off the race was a dog fight between Christophe Barrue helming French Class President Denis Infante's Euro Voiles and Brian Porter with Porter eventually getting the upper hand on the final leg. Frenchman Bruno Jourdren sailing FR Environnement Nautique took third with Italy's Nicola Celon helming Bette for Ezio Amadori fourth.
After a long delay course alpha was moved back up onto the Hyeres shore for the second race which eventually got underway at the second attempt when the boats found themselves sailing into the now setting sun. Whilst the battle between Maurizio Cardascio, John Pollard, Sandro Montefuseo and Antoine Frickey was a stunner the spectator's were momentarily distracted at the first mark when two boats lost their rigs in rapid succession as they hoisted spinnakers in a strong gust. Ultimately Cardascio held his lead with Pollard second, Montefuseo third and Frickey fourth.
Two further races are scheduled for tomorrow with racing due to start at 1100.