from the ashes

from the ashes

A whole lot of people have come together to revive Melges 24 racing in California with the well-conceived California Cup series, and last week, San Diego saw its first M24 one-design start in over a decade.  There are a lot of screwed-up reasons that the little sportboat – a perfect boat for San Diego racing – has been invisible in town for so long, but Cal Cup brainchild Andre Peixoto isn’t dwelling on it.  Instead, he and Chris Farkas along with SD M24 racer John Downing are doing something about it, and here’s the story from the first of three 2010 California events: 

With twelve boats on the line, the Melges 24 was the second largest class in this year’s running of the prestigious Yachting Cup.   Sailing at SDYC is always a treat. Walking around the clubhouse, it is routine to see Americas Cup, Olympic, and World champions. To top it all, this weekend we got to race against them. The San Diego Melges 24 Clinic after the racing on Friday helped get the rest of the fleet up to speed and in tune with some of the finest Melges sailors in the world, including Vince Brun, Brian Porter, and Charlie McKee.

Friday’s racing in San Diego’s South Bay brought flat water and 10-16 knots of puffy, shifty breeze. The first two races were mostly sailed in 10-12 knots of breeze out of the West, which oscillated through about 20 degrees. During the last race, the wind picked-up to about 15 knots and changed the downwind strategy as the boats could get on a plane during the puffs. Very tight fleet with changing positions on every tack. Brun/Porter started to leeward of the fleet at the pin, rounding the top mark in first, they scored three bullets for the day by playing the left side. Later at the Clinic, Brun and Porter explained: it’s easier to bear-off and accelerate with no boats to push you up. 

Saturday was a completely different style of racing. Sailing on the open-ocean Road’s Course, about a mile south of the breakwater, we were greeted on the motor out by six-foot residual swells and a light 8-10 knot sea breeze. Challenging, to say the least. The racing was all about keeping the boat moving through the waves, sailing low, and surfing the swells downwind. Pressure favored the left side again and the boats that could keep a good lane on the left usually did well. Again, a very tight fleet all day; any small mistake or kelp almost guaranteeing a loss of position. That said, the Clinic must have worked: Kent Pierce (USA303) finished first, followed by Loren Colahan (USA556) in second, with Brun/Porter in third. The last two races of the day saw the dream team of Brun/Porter securing two more bullets for the weekend.

Sunday morning began bleak. With low clouds blocking the sea breeze, we motored out to find 5-8 knots of breeze and 3-4 foot swells. With loose powered rigs, everyone was prepared for a slow day. Luckily the breeze built throughout the morning and we were able to pull off two races in 8 knots of breeze. On the last day of the competition, all but first place was open. Once again those who went left were favored throughout the day. Everyone was pushing hard with several boats OCS at each start. Two more bullets for Brun/Porter, whose lead was unassailable and they opted not to sail the final race. Light breeze with waves and lots of the famous San Diego kelp made the day hard for the drivers and tacticians trying to find clean lanes and keep their boats moving, but once again the racing was really close and Kent Pierce (USA303) earned his second bullet — securing second place.

Overall Vince Brun and Brian Porter on USA 553 Bailout dominated the regatta and showed us all a few tricks for sailing the Melges. USA 303 Average White Boat came in second, with USA 556 Lounge Act taking third. With sunny weather, great friends, and beer dockside each evening courtesy of Point Loma Outfitting, SDYC San Diego Melges Race is on track to see 20-plus boats next year.

Next stop for the Melges California Cup is the TYC Tahoe Melges Race Week + Trans-Tahoe Regatta on July 8-10, which promises to have close to 15 boats from San Francisco to San Diego and beyond.

For full results visit the California Cup website.  Photo credit Bob Betancourt/SDYC and more here