The second and final round of judging takes place in La Spezia, Italy under some special conditions

There are worse assignments to be sent on than a week long posting to the west coast of Italy at Porto Venere, a beautiful and ancient small town that clings to a steep sided and impressive rock formation. With its picturesque backdrop, pleasant temperatures and gentle breezes, (for the moment), there can be few better places to conduct the second and final session of European Yacht of the Year sailing trials. But welcome though the location is, you don’t expect to be under fire from live shells as you carry out your business.

La Spezia is a major Italian naval base and while I’ve been here several times before and watched grey hulled vessels pass in and out of the military port, I’ve never witnessed real guns with real weapons being fired across the bay and more worryingly, across our path. But as we headed out of the small, traditional harbour on the first of three days of intensive testing, we were ordered to stop and wait before being hustled across the path of the guns in a quiet moment between firing.

Thirty minutes and several litres of fuel later we were the other side of the firing line heading towards the southern side of the bay. We knew we were in the clear as we could see the plumes of water thrown up by the missiles behind us before hearing their boom echoed around the surrounding mountains. In the ten years that I’ve been involved with these prestigious awards we’ve had some strange sailing conditions, but sailing to a soundtrack of a practice war is a new one on all of us.

Nevertheless, the event so far has provided a fascinating mixture of everything from 62 feet LOA of wall to wall carbon fibre aboard the Mylius 18E35 to the diminutive yet beautifully built Sailart 22, a day sailing lake boat. In the middle ground in between we have sailed Bavaria’s latest 37 footer along with the aggressively styled Dehler 38 and the Elan 400. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time mulling over some of the latest examples of innovative thinking aboard Beneteau’s new Oceanis 38 and Dufour’s 410 Grand Large. We’ve also been peering under the huge blue asymmetric spinnaker of the Sapphire 27 and enjoying the ease of push button sailing aboard the classic looking but deceptively quick Essence 33.

The trials are always a fascinating reminder of just how varied the sport is as well as revealing some truly innovative thinking, often where you least expect it.

The jury is made up of representatives from Europe’s top ten sailing magazines and the results of this and the first session of trials, that were conducted in Southampton shortly after the boat show, will be revealed at the Dusseldorf boat show next year.

For the remainder of the week we are bracing ourselves for the arrival of some truly British weather for the next few days, wind and rain, but it’s not all bad news. The firing range is closed tomorrow.

Watch out for our European Yacht of the Year coverage in the January and March issues.