Justin Chisholm Takes A First Look Ahead At The 2009 Season

Like New York ‘the city that never sleeps' the International Melges 24 has a regatta circuit that never really stops. Whilst most other one design classes around the world are only now emerging from a long winter layoff to prepare for the 2009 season, the Melges 24 class hit the ground running as usual and already has a string of major regattas under its belt. Strong fleets in Key West Race Week in January, the St Pete NOOD and Primo Cup in Monaco, France in February and at this month's first Volvo Cup regatta in Alassio, Italy all bode well for another amazing year of Melges 24 racing across the globe

The two undoubted highlights of the forthcoming season will be the European Championship in Hyeres, France in August and the World Championship in Annapolis, USA in October. We will be bringing you detailed preview articles on both these events as they approach but I know that the teams organising both events are working flat out to deliver the best championships possible.

Those teams who raced at the one hundred plus boat World Championship at Hyeres in 2006 will recall that the venue really can produce a wide range of conditions. Few who were there will forget the incredible flat water downwind blasts we experienced whilst racing in offshore Mistral winds which peaked in the very high thirties. Ashore there are few places which can match Hyeres for the true Mediterranean dockside atmosphere. The entire fleet berths together adjacent to a promenade packed with restaurants and bars meaning that fact you can have your coffee and breakfast and your post race debrief beer all just metres from your boat.

‘Across the pond' in Annapolis competitors can confidently expect a World Championship to rival any that have gone before. Building on the success of the great racing at the highly competitive 2008 North American Championship, when the excellent race team proved themselves able to cope with the Chesapeake's capacity to produce the full gamut of weather conditions, the Eastport Yacht Club plan to deliver an event worthy of its World Championship status both on the water and ashore.

Away from these two flagship regattas in the 2009 Melges 24 calendar there are of course a multitude of other events on the US and European ranking lists and the next of these will be France's legendary SNIM Regatta in Marseille, France at Easter. For the uninitiated we should explain that over the years this gruelling event has produced some of the most spectacular racing in Melges 24 history and consequently has regularly attracted fleets of over sixty boats. SNIM starts with two races on Friday afternoon and continues with a ‘typically French' punishing schedule of four races (whatever the conditions) on both Saturday and Sunday, finishing with two races on the final day. There are some other classes racing at SNIM, but the Melges 24's are the stars of the show and get the best race area allowing the organisers to set first beats of up to two and half miles. Those who have been in Marseille when the Mistral blows will attest that the experience of going downwind at full chat, when you can only just see the top of the mast of the boat in the next trough, never mind the leeward marks themselves, is worth the entry fee on its own.

Immediately after Marseilles the focus quickly switches from Europe to the US where the Melges 24 boasts a major class start at Charleston Race Week. With the demise of small boat racing at the Miami Grand Prix, Charleston Race Week has rapidly emerged as a credible alternative option for one design keelboat owners and their teams. Certainly this year the event has attracted good fleets in several of the major small keelboat classes and looking at the entry list for Charleston as we write this (still with four weeks still to go) the forty strong Melges 24 class looks like being the largest fleet

The unique topography at Charleston has created an enclosed race area resulting in generally flat water conditions akin to sailing on a huge lake but with the added tactical dimension of some complex streams of current. If the 2008 US Nationals at Charleston were anything to go by competitors can expect the racing to be run flawlessly and the weather to produce fantastic racing conditions. Along with February's St Pete NOOD regatta and this month's Spring Keel event in San Francisco, Charleston Race Week is part of the SLAM sponsored Melges 24 National Championship Series.  This series comprises more than thirty events across all six of the class districts in the US and serves to demonstrate both the strength of the Melges 24 class in the US and the amazing range of racing options open to owners and their crews

In Italy the Melges 24 Volvo Cup Series returns for another year and kicked off in Alassio where a forty seven boat fleet enjoyed the usual mix of great coffee, excellent food and red hot racing (see Pierrick Contin's photographic evidence of this above). This series sees the Melges 24 class return to Punta Ala for the second event before moving on to a new regatta venue in Lerici.  Competitors can expect an enthusiastic welcome from the organising club and Lerici is a beautiful venue with the added bonus of the race area being just a few hundred metres from the mouth of the marina. Typical Lerici conditions are a steady onshore breeze which can produce some monster sized waves. The next leg is the 2009 Melges 24 Italian Nationals which will once again be held on the island of Sardinia in the port of Cagliari. After a lightish event last time many teams will be hoping for the big breeze and waves that the venue is more traditionally associated with. The 2009 Volvo Cup Series finale event will be on Lake Garda at Torbole's where a unique blend of sunshine, civilised lunchtime starts, breathtaking scenery and fifteen to twenty knot thermal breezes always guarantees a huge turn out

So whether you are planning a full on Europeans or Worlds campaign or just looking for great racing fleet racing it seems that the European and US regatta circuits will have something to keep Melges 24 owners and crews happy during 2009. For those who would point out that there is excellent Melges 24 racing planned in other countries than just Italy and the US rest assured that I am working on a roundup of the regatta scene in the Scandic countries, the UK and even down in Australia, for future eNews issues.