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First Dance with the M 20

After realizing that it did not make sense to take the Farr 40 south this winter due to the small fleet we were looking for other One Design options that had really competitive racing as our goal has always been to try and race against the best. For KWRW we charted a J70 and had a great time learning the boat and racing against 45 boats. Enjoyed the boat enough to put a deposit down figuring at the least it will be the best fleet at KWRW next year. Had also been keeping a eye on the growing M 20 fleet as the competition seemed to be getting better all the time, the Nationals are out our home club MBYC this year and a first World championship is to occur in December. Previously have owned a M24 and M 32 so know the Melges style well.

The M 20 was different though with it’s legs in rules and tweaky 49er like rig. So finally pulled the trigger and picked up a boat and my first sail on a 20 was the practice day before February Miami event which would boast a 47 boat fleet. With the J 70 I had heard she was good upwind but not as fun downwind and I learned that she was plenty of fun downhill. I had been told the M 20 was painful upwind and a blast down wind. I found the boat plenty of fun to sail upwind as it is more tweaky with the rig, flat bottom and smaller foils. Of course she is a riot downhill.

As with any one design it is the team on the boat that makes the difference. One of the appeals of the M 20 is the caliber of professional sailors in the fleet, the same cast and characters we have been racing against in the Farr 40 and M 32 class. The difference is you have close to 50 boats on the line and that is a much different start than lining up with 12-15 boats. Another nice thing about the fleet is that there are several owners from my club MBYC.


Micheal Kiss has been the top boat and he used Quantum sails so that made it easy for me to continue to go with Quantum as we have for years in the other boats. After years of trying to organize a 8-10 person team the appeal of only having to get two more sailors for the M 20 is huge.

The problem is getting the right team. Past history had shown that 49er sailors Like Chris Rast had done very well in the boat with the similarities in the rigs being part of that. So off I went looking for young energetic 49er sailors and Morgan Reeser hooked me up with Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes, 49er World Champs and two time British Olympic team reps. I have had the pleasure over the years of sailing with Buddy Melges, Kostecki, Hutchinson, Cayard, Lowell North, Larson, Renyolds to name a just a few so I gave plenty to compare too.

After meeting and spending a regatta with Stevie and Ben you could immediately see the telephonic communication line they have with each other and the skills the have honed with the help of the British sailing team. When you look at the support they get vs. what we do for American Olympic sailors it is easy to see why they have done so well in the Olympics…

We struggled the first day with the rig settings, there is more to be done with the sliding cap shrouds and diamond rig. Unlike the J 70 where sailmakers are still figuring out the sails and are shortening the caps the M 20 sails and rig tuning is pretty mature. The Quantum sails were great but we just needed time to learn the jib lead/inhual positions along with the caps. It did not take long for Stevie and Ben to start making progress and we ended up a respectable 11th for our first time sailing together and first time on a M 20. I found the boat fun to sail upwind. I thought I would not like the legs in hiking(easy for the skipper to say!) but is was great as entire team talks trim and tactics. We were also sailing the boat in flatter water on the bay, will be interesting to sail the boat up wind in some big Lake Michigan chop come the August Nationals. Of course the boat is as advertised downwind, fun to send it downhill just like any Melges boat. The only difference here is more emphasis on getting the weight back.

There are great guys that have helped build the class and interesting that many other big boat programs are now moving in so will be fun to watch as the competition and depth in the class is hard to beat now. One area the M 20 class stands out in is its organization and rules which seem to be enforeced more than the M 32/J 70. Hopefully the J 70 class will settle on a reasonable weight limit, number of crew and legs in rules. With the current lower numbers in the bigger boat fleets it is exciting to see these two small classes flourish. Hard to beat jousting with 50 boats on a starting line and paying immediately for mistakes in fleets like that. Until another big boat one design gets established I am looking forward to learning these two exciting classes and trying to climb the ranks!  – Robert Hughes, Heartbreaker Sailing.