A group of 62 yacht racing teams have congregated at the MKB Bank Sailing Club on Hungary's Lake Balaton this weekend for the MKB Bank Melges 24 European Championship 2014 which runs from May 2 - 9.
Eighteen nations are represented: Austria (4), Czech Republic (2), Denmark (8), Estonia (2), Finland (2), France (2), Great Britain (2), Germany (7), Hungary (12), Italy (5), Liechtenstein (1), Netherlands (1), Norway (3), Slovenia (1), Switzerland (2), Slovak Republic (1), Sweden (4), Ukraine (3).
Following three days of registration and measurement to ensure all the boats and sails conform the strict Melges 24 class one-design rules, racing is scheduled to begin on Monday May 5 and run through to Friday May 9.
The bumper 62-boat entry includes many top class professional teams as well a 35-strong contingent of talented amateur Corinthian crews, many of whom are expected to be challengers for the overall top spot. The professional and Corinthian crews will race together in a single fleet for the overall championship, with the Corinthian results extracted to determine the Corinthian European Champion.
Among the top Corinthian crews hoping to turn in a performance good enough to put them near the top of the overall leaderboard at the end of the championship is Tõnu Tõniste's Estonian team on EST 790 'Lenny'. An double 470 Olympic medallist (bronze 1988 Seoul, silver Barcelona 1992) with a long pedigree of good results at major Melges 24 championships, Tõniste said he was expecting, 'An exciting and dramatic sailing week'in Hungary and hoped to improve on the team's previous best European championship result, as well as challenging for the Corinthian European Championship trophy.
'Ideally, of course, we would like to beat our seventh position from the Europeans in the open division so far and give a hard battle for the Corinthian winner's title,' he said. However, having done most of their sailing on the sea, Tõniste said the 'Lenny'crew would have to be at the top of their game to deal with the shiftier conditions of Lake Balaton. 'We are more comfortable racing on the sea for sure,' he said. 'But we will be working hard as usual and with a bit of luck maybe we can get a good result.'
Reigning Melges 24 World and European champions, Franco Rossini's Swiss entry SUI 825 'Blu Moon', have substituted Italy's Matteo Ivaldi in place of their regular helmsman Flavio Favini who is ruled out by injury. While he undoubtedly has big shoes to step into, Ivaldi is past Olympic 470 competitor (Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000) and a veteran competitor in the Melges 24 class, meaning the 'Blu Moon'crew are unlikely to have lost any of their normal competitive edge.
The experience and skill of the sailors taking part are equally matched by that of the championship organisers and race committee who collectively have spent almost two years planning for the championship.
Championship coordinator Marta Weores - a 470 class competitor at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games - said more than 80 volunteers had given up their time to make the event happen. That team is headed up by another Olympic sailor, Enik?Németh (470 class at Atlanta 1996), who is now manager of MKB Bank Sailing Club.
The principal race officer for the championship is Gert Schmidleitner from Austria who has run major one-design championships on Lake Balaton previously. Backing up Schmidleitner is local race officer Farkas Litkey who competed for Hungary in the Finn class at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.
Providing additional support for the race committee is International Melges 24 Class Association Championship Coordinator Hank Stuart from the USA, a highly experienced race officer in his own right. Eric Mehlbaum from the Netherlands is the chairman of the five-man international jury who will rule on any official protests during the regatta.
Weores said everyone involved in hosting the championship had the same goal - for the competitors to have a fantastic week of fun and fair racing on Lake Balaton.
'We want them to enjoy their stay and have great racing and a great sailing experience on the lake,'she said. 'Lake Balaton will be a new venue for many teams and quite different to what they are used to. If the winds are nice to us we are confident we will have a great regatta.'
'The championship venue features a beautiful marina and hotel set amongst the trees at the edge of the lake. Aside from the sailing, the competitors can enjoy the swimming pool, sauna, bowling, mini-golf and tennis courts.'
The crews will have a chance to familiarise themselves with the local conditions and tune up against each other in a practise race session on Sunday May 4, the day before racing in the championship series is scheduled to start.
A maximum of 10 races will be sailed and the schedule allows for up to three races per day.
A minimum of three races are required to constitute a championship series. If six or more races are completed teams will be allowed to drop their worst result from their final points tally; otherwise every result will count.
The professional and Corinthian crews will race against each other in a single fleet for the overall Melges 24 European Championship title, with the Corinthian results being extracted to determine the winner of the Corinthian European Championship title. Event website