Despite today’s troubled times, we’re not particularly surprised to see the Melges 32 rapidly becoming the "it" boat in Grand Prix sailing, and the recent Ft. Lauderdale Gold Cup was a great example of why. Since the first Lauderdale ‘tuning regatta’ event just two years ago, the LYC and M32 Class Prez Jeff Ecklund have refined this regatta to a point that it is low stress and high value – even at $1350 per entry – for owners that are used to money-sucking beasts like Farr 40s and Swan 42s. Sail costs are relatively low and with 6-8 crew, the owners we spoke to call a program "affordable," though that’s not really what’s bringing them in. The adrenaline is doing that.
"It was like NASCAR out there," our driver Ron said, watching a particularly hairy mark rounding when Team Barbarians wiped out for about 3 minutes, clashing rigs with one boat and wrapping their kite around at least one more. "They looked like a skier falling down an entire slope, taking out people all the way down," said another spectator. Check out the vid – probably the most exciting of the entire week.
Every owner we spoke to – and there were a lot – agreed that the speed and excitement of the boat is what they’re in it for, the price makes it realistic, and the job that Melges and the Class is doing keeps them content that their investment is a good one. With both the 32 and the 20 showing consistent growth in such a horror show of an economy, other builders and classes should be taking notice; this may not be the only way to launch a one-design class, but it’s clearly one that works when little else does.
The racing added another massive reason to laud the Melges 32; serious parity in the competition meant that each of the eight races had a different winner. You can claim we’re drinking the Melges Kool-Aid, but for a fleet with this much attention and recent development to have so many different winners is a major triumph for the future of the class.
The Class’s early stars, like Star and New Wave, struggled to stay on top of the upstarts to no avail, with Ecklund getting Eighth and Carroll/Kullman 14th. The fourth-place boat at Worlds, Argo, didn’t even make the top 5 podium in Fort Lauderdale.
Even more surprisingly, third-place Rougarou and winner Ramrod have been in the class for less than a year, with Ramrod’s first one-design event being…last weekend. Annapolis boatyard owner Rod Jabin is a hell of a racer and tactician Gavin Brady is a great tactician, but their victory was less a result of stellar boat speed or skill than it was risk reduction, smart positioning, luck, and an average-points redress after Dark & Stormy skewered their stern with their bowsprit. There was some grumbling in the fleet over the redress, and a redress-from-the-redress request from multiple boats that held up the awards ceremony, but in the end, Jabin was as good as anyone out there, and there will be some new rivalries for the next event in Key West. They’ll need to get on their game soon though, because Bliksem would likely have kicked all their asses – and the irascible Pieter Taselaar will soon be back from competing with USA 169 in Europe – with a new boat in Miami. Listen to Jabin talk about the class and his success in the new boat in this long interview from the dock on Day 2.
A class is only as good as its events, and this one is definitely tops of the trifecta that makes up the M32s Winter Series. Multiclass events are fun for the crews, but the kind of quick RC work, tailor made to the short races these boats like, and the kind of camaraderie and hands-on help available when everyone is in one place without distraction are definitely high on the owners’ and crews’ wish lists for the future. Planning events at likely times for good conditions doesn’t hurt either; the Gulf Stream provided 10-20 knots all weekend long with plenty of steep waves, and Bahia Mar’s Yachting Center seems like it was designed for this kind of thing, with a huge parking lot, extremely accommodating management, and easily accessible docks all just yards away from a big luxury hotel with a packed bar. Key West and Miami should provide more warm water racing for the class as the level continues to ramp up toward the 2010 Nationals in Harbor Springs and then Worlds in San Francisco.
On-The-Water Anarchy’s been to this one before, and it’s pretty easy to cover this event with the blessing of LYC, and the boats and driving provided by LYC member Ron McTighe and his brokerage, MII Yachts. We were glad to welcome aboard Sharon Green and Ultimate Sailing as new sponsors for OTWA (see some great Ultimate Sailing stuff in this vid), and to continue with the support of Latis Yachting Solutions, which totes these bad ass boats around the country and sets them up for events at big discounts for OTWA fans, and Point Loma Outfitting, which gave away three pairs of Kaenon sunglasses to lucky spectators online. Finally, thanks to Charleston Race Week, which just opened registration last Wednesday and already counts 33 competitors in the fleets.
Check out all our coverage in the OTW Forum right here, with all the action and interviews from everyone from the junior sailors to Bliksem alums to Speedboat owner Alex Jackson talking about future plans for the behemoth. More great Meredith Block pics and slideshows, and commentary on how it all went down. For best results, watch it with Kattack’s awesome race player from the entire event; Kattack’s live tracker combined with OTWA’s great video and written commentary is a real winner, and something we hope to put together for you in the near future. Photos by Meredith Block and her full for-sale gallery is right here.