Weeping At The Worlds
Almost two years ago, the International Melges 24 Class announced it would hold its 2009 World Championship in Annapolis, Maryland in November. And everywhere around the world, racers wept.
It’s not like the IMCA didn’t know what they were in for. You can ask a dozen experienced sailors what they think of sailing on the Chesapeake, and unless they live there, they’ll all say the same thing: It’s shit. If it’s sunny and warm, there is no breeze. If there’s breeze, it’s cold, wet, and miserable, and 8 knots is enough to build up the infamous Chesapeake chop. The current is fickle and unpredictable, and at any moment the government can open upstream dams, throwing another knot or two of tide into the mix along with logs, garbage, and other debris. The racing area is covered with crabbers, oystermen, and commercial traffic, while near-invisible crab pots are everywhere. Tugs pull coal barges through the course on 200 meter cables, anchored freighters are often in the middle of the course, and if that’s not enough, it’s an expensive place to rent a house or book a hotel. As an Anarchist wrote yesterday, sailing in Annapolis this time of year is "a hate mission." Despite the lipstick they attempted to put on the Annapolis pig, the sailors weren’t fooled; a depressing 51 boats showed up to race – the smallest Melges 24 Worlds fleet in more than a decade and 3 boats less than Detroit, Michigan pulled for Nationals just two years ago. That’s right, Detroit.
So why the hell would anyone even contemplate holding a World Championship for the highest-profile sportboat in the world in Annapolis in November? The short answer: Because no one else wanted it. For the long answer, you’ll have to check back Friday when we give you our overall regatta report along with Penalty Box Productions 17-minute highlight reel.
Our pre-event predictions were far off the mark. In 6 days of racing, 4 of them were in light, shifty conditions with perenially one-sided lines and beats. One local repeated all week, "there is no right," and those that were able to start near the pin and go left, left, left made out on almost all the races. Chris Larson’s "West Marine Rigging" did just that, and with great starts all week long, Larson always found himself near the front of the fleet at every top mark. Every other team had at least one high scoring race, suckered into the right by pressure only to get beaten into submission by the shifts. Larson was the only boat in the fleet with only one double-digit finish, giving him a runaway victory of 25 points over Joe Fly and letting him and his all-Canadian crew play spectators for the final race. Photo at top of Larson, Clarke, Wolfs, and Florence courtesy of Meredith Block. Her full gallery is here.
Those who claimed that Larson’s victory was all about local knowledge missed the point; not only is his tactician Richard Clarke from Vancouver, but the second through sixth place boats were all European with extremely limited Annapolis experience. Olympic 470 sailor Gabrio Zandona helmed Joe Fly through an incredibly exciting final race to squeak out the 2nd place victory over Norwegian Volvo Ocean Race helmsman Eyvind Melleby. Melleby had a blistering start and first beat, putting 10 boats between him and Joe Fly, plenty to pass Zandona for the position. But the Italian ground him down, passing boats on every leg, and just meters from the finish, Joe Fly passed one more boat, enough to tie the Norway boat and win the tiebreak. 2006 World Champ Nicola Celon aboard Fantastica sailed a smart and conservative event to take fourth.
There was little doubt that the fastest boats in the fleet didn’t win; 2001 World Champ Flavio Favini’s Blu Moon and 2008 World Champ Rufo Bressani’s UKA UKA Racing were both blazing, but both were also plagued by tough conditions, bad decisions, and the vagaries of racing in the hell that is the Chesapeake Bay. Favini was the casualty of an OCS in a race that never should have happened; the RC called 24 boats over on that start, 5 of which never went back. Amazingly, a few others didn’t either but somehow were cleared; just one of a litany of errors from the committee led by PRO Jeff Borland. Favini made his point, though – from that point on, Blu Moon had the lowest score of the fleet with just 10 points in the final four races. Uka Uka had a different issue that put them in an early hole; bowchick Francesca Prina broke her ankle on a lumpy day 1, and her inability to get across the boat gave Bressani a big handicap as the ’08 Champs started off Day 2 in 17th place. They rallied back, but like Blu Moon, there just wasn’t enough runway left to catch Larson, and neither team got the big breeze that they are so superior in – not once. Uka Uka photo looking depressed also from Meredith Block.
Another big surprise was of course Terry Hutchinson’s Quantum Racing, who won last year’s North Americans so convincingly on the same water at the same time of year against many of the same competitors – in fact, there were only four more boats on the line this year. Despite a phenomenal crew and all the local knowledge he could handle, Hutch couldn’t seem to get off the starting line, and found himself on the wrong side of too many shifts. Quantum’s boathandling wasn’t as crisp as it was last year, but the real factor was Terry and the team’s lack of practice time. "We knew my lack of time in the boat was going to be a handicap…and it was." Photo of Terry dragging the top mark all over the bay courtesy of Sara Proctor/sailfastphoto.com. Full results are here.
Between the assembled media, the event organizers, the M24 Class, and of course, our OTW Anarchy team of Petey Crawford, Katie Burns, Aaron Siegler, Meredith Block, and me, there’s far too much coverage to wade through it all unassisted, so we’ve created a little index with all the links you need. You can easily watch any race you want from start to finish, check out all the pics, see Penalty Box Productions highlight reels, watch dozens of interviews plus the two great Cocktail Hour talk shows we did on site, and much more. CHECK OUT THE INDEX HERE, and check back on the front page tomorrow for the final highlight reel of the coverage.
While we’re still a long way off from perfection, our fully live coverage of Worlds was a huge step forward for On-The-Water Anarchy, and we’d like to thank all of the sponsors and advertisers who made our coverage possible. While there are a handful of folks who can’t stand our unique brand of coverage, the vast majority of you have been hugely supportive of OTW Anarchy, and we truly want to thank you, the Anarchists, as well. Especially those who showed up at our Anarchy Halloween Punch party, a loud, crowded mess of fun people enjoying each others’ company under the Anarchy flag. Our favorite costume was a full three-man "Weekend At Bernie’s" getup complete with (play)-dead guy, but the one I’ll remember best is ‘The Four Bees’ – Spelling Bee, Zom-Bee, Boo-Bee, and Queen Bee. Can you blame me?
If you’d like to see OTW Anarchy at an event near you or you have any comments for us, drop us a line and tell us more. And if you enjoyed watching it enough to want to see it again, take a few minutes to do some browsing while saving money on holiday gifts for the sailor in your life: Get big OTW discounts on awesome Atlantis and Patagonia (and more) gear from Point Loma Outfitting, big discounts and free Speedplay software when you buy an SC-1 or Speedpuck from Velocitek, the same electronics that powered Chris Larson to his Worlds victory, and get a big break on your next yacht or sportboat transport, rigging work, launch and haul, or concierge service from Latis Yachting Solutions. Be sure to check out our other sponsors for big discounts and Anarchist-only specials if you order now: Ocean Sailing Academy for great racing or cruising instruction in Charleston, SC; Ullman Sails Newport Beach for the fastest sails and best service in Southern California; the book Saving Sailing, which EVERY racer who gives a crap about the sport should read; RBS Battens, the choice of more than 90% of the Melges 24 and 32 fleet in either carbon or epoxy; Eastport Yachts, the builder/designer of the Eastport 32, the best damned tender/cruiser/fishing boat ever, Atlantis Weather Gear, manufacturer of the sexy and waterproof Grand Prix softshells you saw Mer and Katie sporting in all that video, Charleston Harbor Wireless Access, designer of systems for bringing wireless connectivity to an ocean near you, and Justin.TV, the world’s fastest and largest live streaming video host/provider.