Since its introduction in 2005, the Melges 32 has become the world’s preeminent 30-foot sport boat, and for good reason. The slippery Reichel/Pugh design features a powerful sailplan and a massive asymmetric spinnaker and offers the sort of Grand Prix sailing experience that draws championship-level racers, professionals, and top-shelf Corinthian sailors.
Add some good breeze and planing-friendly seas, and the Melges 32 will challenge crews while also providing the adrenaline rushes that fuel class growth and the kind of critical mass needed for great racing.
Simply reviewing the names of former Melges 32 World Champions is akin to reading a who’s-who list of great sailors, and the class also has a knack for choosing beautiful, racing-friendly venues for its international events. For example, the 2014 Melges 32 Worlds unfurled on the waters off of Miami, Florida, while the 2015 Worlds took place off of Trapani, Sicily. This year’s Melges 32 World Championship regatta will be hosted by Sail Newport and the Newport Shipyard, in Newport, Rhode Island, from September 29 to October 2.
Sail-World.com recently caught up with Melges 32 North American class manager and secretary Sam Rogers to get a pulse on this year’s Worlds, the fleet’s fastest guns, and the gravity that keeps so many good sailors actively engaged in this high-end class.
Can you describe the level of competition that you are expecting at this event?
Typical of any Melges 32 regatta, it really is a showcase of some of the best sailors in the world. We’re looking at guys like Terry Hutchinson and Federico Michetti; Vasco Vascotto; Cameron Appleton; Warwick Fluery; Mark Mendelblatt and Jonathan McKee just to name a few, so it really does showcase some of the best professional sailors in the world and also some of the best owner/driver helmsman in the world as well.
Are there any teams that you particularly have your eye on for this year’s Worlds?
Yeah, there’s a couple of [team that are in the hunt]. First up we have Alessandro Rombelli’s Stig team from Italy that will be coming back to defend their title [from the 2015 Melges 32 Worlds]. We’ve got the two-time World champ [Jason Carroll] on Argo who will be looking to go out on top. We’ve got the Inga team led by Richard Goransson who will be very tough, and then we’ve got both the DeVos boats [Delta and Volpe], which will be really tough, so, I’d say it’s a smaller thirteen-boat fleet, but there’s probably seven to eight teams that could win the title.
How was Newport chosen as the host city for this Grand Prix event?
We last hosted the Worlds in 2012 in Newport, and looking at kind of iconic North American locations, Newport is always at the top of the list. It’s easy for European teams to get to; it’s easy for American teams to get to, and then you throw in the options to sail either inside or outside [of Narragansett Bay] depending on the conditions, and the town [itself], and hosting at that time of year in the fall, which is a really special time to be out in Newport.
It all just lined up and came together very well, and then hosting together with Sail Newport and we’re also combining forces with the Newport Shipyard as well. Sail Newport [runs] first-class regattas; they know how to manage Grand Prix fleets and they’re just first-class all the way around. So, we’re looking forward to working with them and the nice thing about working with them is you don’t have to worry about a lot, because they handle everything from the race committee, jury, judges, and all the stuff that kind of completes the regatta. They take care of everything, so it’s great working with Sail Newport and the Newport Shipyard.
How would you describe the class’ development in the past few years? Or, in other words, how has it changed since, say, the 2011 Worlds?
The Melges 32 Class, I think like any Grand Prix Class, has had a lot of undulations, I guess you could say. We saw probably our peak in 2010 [to] 2012 in the U.S. when we had thirty-three to thirty-four boats at the World Championships. Now the fleet’s quite a bit smaller, but still the level of competition and kind of all the same values of the thirty-two [boat] fleet are there and that’s teams that want to sail at a very high level, and [who want to] sail fast boats and have a lot of fun on the water.
So all the same aspects are still there; we’re just kind of down to, I guess you could say, the hardcore teams and the teams that are still looking to satisfy the high performance-racing urge. So, yeah, we’re down a little bit this year, but spirits are still high and we’re looking forward to a great World Championship.
Entry numbers seem down a bit for the 2016 Worlds…is this still early days for sign-up, or is the event experiencing some attrition due to the overlap with the J/70 Worlds? Or, do the registration numbers reflect some other change?
The fleet in the U.S. in particular has shrunk a little bit. I think it’s got a lot to do with classes like the J/70, the new C&C 30 has come out, and that sort of thing, but…you look at the Melges 32 and even as a ten-to-eleven-year-old design, it’s still ticking all the boxes that you want in a thirty-foot boat.
I think a lot of people are out doing things like the J/70 Worlds, which did impact a few of our teams, but the Melges 32 is still hanging around and still providing a platform to do some Grand Prix racing in a thirty-foot boat. So we are working hard to continue to have circuits and racing series either here in the U.S. or over in Europe that will be attractive to teams.
The nice thing with the smaller number is I think the quality of racing is actually a little bit higher than when you have the bigger fleets. You can have a smaller compact fleet and the racing is still incredibly tight and the quality is still very high.
We are a bit smaller this year, but we’re still looking to grow the Class in the next year or two and keep the 32 going.
What is it about the Melges 32 class that keeps so many top-flight owners/drives and professional crew engaged and active? Any thoughts?
First of all, I think it comes down to the boats. The boats are simple, yet they deliver an experience that, again, I don’t think any other 30-foot boat on the market can do right now, and that’s high-performance sailing, and all the boats are extraordinarily similar.
The nice thing after being around for ten or eleven years is the sail designs and everything kind of gets very uniformed in terms of we’re all kind of figuring out what works and what doesn’t work over the last ten years. So all that’s left to do at the end of the day is get a solid team together and whip around the racecourse.
I think the other thing about the [Melges] 32 Class that we’ve had from the get-go is [that] the overall experience is superior than what you’re going to find elsewhere [in other classes]. Melges 32 owners know when they come to a regatta what they can expect on the racecourse, which is first-class racing; racing that is going to be quality and well-run and also [fun] onshore [entertainment]. We’re going to some great yacht clubs; we’re going to attractive destinations, and we’re really putting the complete experience together for owners, their families and their teams to have a fun week of sailing. So, I think between the boats–they’ll be in a great boat to race–and the overall experience, the Melges 32 Class will deliver.
Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?
Well, Jason Carroll is going to be throwing a rip-roaring party on Tuesday night after the pre-Worlds, featuring the world-class Ravers band, so the [Melges] 32 fleet is very much looking forward to kicking off the week with that event.
We’re very excited to be back in Newport. [I] wouldn’t call it the home of Melges 32 racing, but it’s definitely a familiar place and we’re really looking forward to having it [there]. Then the [Melges] 32 Worlds will be back in Europe next year, where we will probably be back up to eighteen to twenty boats, and then hopefully we’ll be figuring out another attractive location here back in the States [in 2018].
by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor