Melges 24 world title up for grabs in Miami
The 2016 Melges 24 World Championship taking place this week in Miami, Florida marks a return to the big league in the United States for the class that launched the asymmetric sportsboat revolution back in 1993.
An immediate hit with racing sailors looking for a more exciting alternative to big boat handicap racing, the class grew quickly and soon established itself as the world’s premiere sportsboat.
An unsurpassed uniformity of build quality along with sensibly conceived and consistently enforced measurement rules made the Melges 24 the most evenly matched one-design on the market.
Other classes challenged for this this mantle over the years but none have been able to match the Melges 24’s potent combination of ease of sailing and breath taking performance.
Easy to sail certainly, but to consistently squeeze out the extra fractions of a knot required to win a Melges 24 world championship takes instinctive genius from the helmsman – and the Melges 24 is the definitive helmsman’s boat – along with telepathic boat handling skills from the rest of the crew.
The professional sailing world soon recognised that the Melges 24 world and European titles were the ones to win. Olympians, America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veterans flooded in, making the class the de facto Grand Prix sportsboat around the world.
The class may have waned more than it waxed over recent years, particularly in the US, but that has been down to outside factors like the global recession and a degree of poor class management, rather than the quality of the boat itself.
There is no denying that this year’s 74-boat Melges 24 championship fleet is a far cry from the 124-plus boats that raced on Italy's Lake Garda for the 2012 title. It's also well down on the 100-plus entries originally touted on the official website and it is missing some title favourites, like Italians Flavio Favini (double world and European champion) and Lorenzo Bressani (three world and one European titles) or American past-world champions Dave Ullman (2007) and Chris Larson (2009).
Nevertheless, the fleet racing in Miami this week is significantly larger than the 54 boat turnout for the last US Melges 24 World Championship in San Francisco and the fact that this time almost half the fleet are amateur crews surely bodes well for the future.
Up to 15 races are on the schedule for the five-day event which starts on Tuesday. With just one possible discard/throw-out race - and only after six races - there is virtually no margin for error. The winners will likely be the team who make the fewest mistakes and avoid any terrible race results.
If conditions allow, racing will take place out on the open ocean, meaning a long sail/motor out and back, but also the potential for the big breeze, big wave sailing with which the Melges 24 is synonymous. The regatta rules allow also for racing to be run inside the more protected waters of Biscayne Bay if conditions are too severe.
As Reigning world and European Champion, American Chris Rast’s Swiss flagged entry EFG is the title favourite. A veteran Melges 24 helmsman, Rast won the 2015 title in Denmark and followed up with the Europeans victory in France earlier this year.
Two other past world champions are competing in Miami - Italian Carlo Fraccasoli and America’s Brian Porter.
European champion in 2011, Fraccasoli won the bumper 2012 worlds in his home country on Lake Garda. This week he will be at the helm of Gian Luca Perego’s Maidolis.
Porter and his Full Throttle crew have been synonymous with the Melges 24 since the earliest days of the class. After many years of narrowly missing out they eventually won the worlds title in 2013 in San Francisco. Porter and his long-time tactician, Melges Performance Sailboats president, Andy Burdick, have always been potent in windy conditions and could well shine if the breeze is up in Miami.
Another American sailor who several times has been within snatching distance of the world title is Bora Gulari on Air Force 1. Gulari is the current US national champion and has a 4, 3, 3 score line in the last three world championships. He comes to this event hot on the heels of representing the US at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in the Nacra 17 class.
Conor Clarke’s Irish entry Embarr features two of Gulari’s Olympic team mates. Helmsman Stu McNay and tactician David Hughes finished fourth in the 470 class in Brazil. They pushed Gulari to the wire at this year’s US national championship and will be gunning for a podium spot this week.
Several other teams stand out as capable of winning races and possibly even stringing together a championship winning performance including past-J70 world champion and one-design expert Tim Healy on New England Ropes and Rigging, Italian class stalwart Andrea Racchelli on Altea and fellow countryman Andrea Pozzi on Bomarda, Americans Jason Carroll on Argo and Bruce Ayres on Monsoon.
The favourite for the all-amateur Corinthian title is reigning Corinthian champion Tonu Toniste. The Estonian’s crew on Lenny won their world title in Middelfart, Hungary where they also finished sixth in the overall rankings. Nobody will be surprised to see Toniste challenging for the podium in Miami come the final day.
Racing gets underway on Tuesday November 28 and runs through to Saturday December 3 with up to three races per day.