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See the Worlds without leaving Annapolis - Melges 24 Worlds + video

by Angus Phillips on 30 Oct 2009
Melges 24 Pre-Worlds Regatta IMCA/ Pierrick Contin
It's been 20 years and more since City Dock in Annapolis was jammed with purpose-built boats this time of year. Back then, it was oystermen from the lower Chesapeake who tied up three-wide in Ego Alley at night. They worked the waters of the mid-bay daily till Christmas, sleeping in the tiny forepeaks of their rough, wooden craft, then heading back to Smith Island, Deale Island and Crisfield to ply the home waters till old man winter froze them in.

Oystering of that sort is only a memory now as stocks of the tasty bivalves plummet. This week, a far shinier fleet will occupy the downtown waterfront as the self-proclaimed 'Sailing Capital of America' hosts its first world sailing championships on public space. The Melges 24 World Championship runs Monday through Saturday, with 55 entries from 10 nations tying up nightly under the loom of the State House, McGarvey's Saloon and Pusser's Pub.

'It's going to be awesome,' said Chris Larson, a local sailor credited with initiating the idea. A professional who roams the globe helping wealthy yachtsmen win silver trophies at big regattas, Larson hatched the concept last summer. 'I had this crazy idea and for once it worked out,' he said.

He found a willing partner in Mayor Ellen Moyer. 'It's a natural,' she said. 'We have world and national championships here on a pretty regular basis, but always at the yacht clubs, so the spectacle is lost to everyone but the sailing crowd. To be able to showcase it in the heart of town, it's a real plus.'

The 24-foot Melges race boats make up one of the world's most competitive modern fleets. Larson, the 1997 U.S. yachtsman of the year, will skipper one, as will longtime Annapolis rival Terry Hutchinson, reigning yachtsman of the year. (The title is conferred annually by U.S. Sailing and the watchmaker Rolex to the nation's most successful racing sailor.)

Despite any advantages of local knowledge, neither Hutchinson nor Larson is favored to win. To do so, they'd have to knock off the current Melges 24 world champion, Italian Lorenzo Bressani and his Uka Uka Racing Team, as well as top competitors from England, Ukraine, Germany, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and Canada.

'The class is tough,' said Hutchinson, an America's Cup veteran just back from steering the TP-52 Quantum Racing to second place in the summer-long Audi Med Cup in Europe, which he won in 2008. 'You race against a lot of people who sail these boats all the time, and the Melges 24 presents some unique challenges. For us, at least the first few days, it'll be a battle for every inch.'

Hutchinson's tactician is Annapolitan Scott Nixon, who usually steers the Melges 24 they share. When Hutchinson is in town, he gets to take over the tiller and Nixon calls the shots. The rest of the crew -- Amy Ironmonger of Charleston, S.C., George Peete of Detroit and Brian Janney of San Diego -- regularly sail with Nixon. They won last year's pre-Worlds here with Hutchinson at the helm.

But Hutchinson reckons winning the Worlds will be far tougher. 'Any one of 15 boats could win it all,' he said, 'and practically any boat in the fleet can win a race.' Eastport Yacht Club, the regatta organizer, plans two races a day starting around 11 a.m. at the mouth of the Severn River.

The fact that the Worlds are here at all is a bit of an upset. At last year's pre-Worlds, conducted the same time of year out of the Eastport Yacht Club facilities, several European and Southern California competitors complained about the weather and urged the International Melges 24 Class Association to move the Worlds someplace warmer.

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