Ocean BMW Melges 24 European Championship wide open with one race to go

Racing on the penultimate day of the Ocean BMW Melges 24 European Championship yesterday was as challenging and hard fought as ever and today’s final race will decide the winner in this competitive and high scoring regatta.

The day opened with more light airs from the south-south-west, but gradually the wind built as the sun burnt off the haze. By the final race it was up to 10-12 knots with everyone fully powered upwind but not quite able to plane downwind.

It was all change on the scoreboard as crews battled the shifts, the tides and each other. Overall Andrea Racchelli, sailing Altea, has now moved into the lead on 55 points with Gabrio Zandona, helming Joe Fly for Giovanni Maspero, snapping at his heels on 56 points. Stuart Rix, helming Gill for Quentin Strauss, has dropped down into 3rd on 62 points whilst Alba Batzill, sailing for Eddy Eich aboard No Woman No Cry, moves up into 4th and continues to lead the Corinthian Division with 72 points.

For overnight joint leader Gill the day started badly with a 19th in race nine. A mediocre start was compounded by a couple of bad calls on the first beat leaving them 23rd at the first mark with only limited opportunities for recovery. They went on to take 2nd in race ten and then won the final race of the day by an impressive margin.

Fellow overnight leader Joe Fly’s game plan was clearly a conservative one. Three moderate starts saw them round the three first marks in 12th, 18th and 13th respectively, but smart sailing gained them places on virtually every leg and they came home with two 5ths and a 6th to add to their haul. Aboard Altea, Racchelli was also taking no chances as his 4, 7, 3 score shows. He managed to avoid the many start line scrums, got away cleanly and never dropped below 9th spot at any time during the day.

Old-master Alba Batzill was the day’s most consistent performer with two 2nds and a 4th. He got an excellent start in race nine and led at the first mark but the up and coming young Michael Henning and crew were in hot pursuit. Henning got the better of him on the first run then put in a bravado performance to keep the double Olympic and reigning 6m World Champion behind him. Henning, who previously sailed aboard his father’s Melges 24 and is running his own championship campaign for the first time this week, also took a 5th in the eleventh race and moved up 7 places to 12th overall and 6th Corinthian.

For the French Partner & Partners Sailing Team, helmed by Francois Brenac, it was a disappointing day. They opened with a 7th but then had a couple of bad starts and ended up 24th in race ten and 14th in race 11.

Jamie Lea, helming Barbarians for Britain’s Stuart Simpson, troubled the front of the fleet for the first time, winning race nine from Batzill with fellow Brit John Pollard, helming Westaway Sails, in third. Lea and Pollard, both more used to heading the Melges 24 fleet, have struggled to find form at this event and find themselves in 11th and 15th respectively.

In the Corinthian Division Batzill has it sewn up. Antoine Albaret is lying second with Thomas Rouzel third, Jerome Aubert fourth and Remy Arnaud fifth.

For the final race today the wind gods are finally promising to deliver 20 knots from the west so we look set for a nail biting last race show down in perfect Melges 24 sailing conditions.