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An interview with Zane Yoder about the 2019 Melges 24 U.S. National Championship

by David Schmidt 20 May 2019 16:00 BST May 22-26, 2019
It was busy off the start line on the final day - 2018 Musto Melges 24 Nationals © Ally Graham

The Melges 24 hit the U.S. sailing scene in 1993 and forever changed the landscape. Suddenly, sailors of all stripes had access to a high-performance boat that was ergonomic on her topsides and plenty slippery on her undercarriage. Featuring a big mainsail with a generous roach cut, a flat-cut headsail, and an asymmetric kite that’s flown off of a retractable sprit pole, the boat could be sailed by just a few hands while still providing plenty of challenge, both for the driver and the crew.

Not surprisingly, class numbers swelled, and the boat eventually earned its place as one of the absolute most competitive sub-25-foot classes afloat. To date, there are roughly 850 Melges 24s sailing worldwide, and the list of previous world-championship winners reads like a who’s-who of the sailing world, with names including Vince Brun, Harry Melges III, Jimmy Spithill, the brothers Jonathan and Charlie McKee, and Dave Ullman.

Today, the class features highly competitive racing in Australia, North America, and Europe, and its World Championship events regularly attract some of the sailing world’s fastest guns. Additionally, the class also enjoys an active racing tour in both Europe and the USA

I checked in with Zane Yoder, Gulf Coast District Director of the Melges 24 Class, via email, to learn more about the 2019 Melges 24 NorAm Tour and it’s Fairhope, Alabama regatta (May 22-26, 2019).

How many boats are you expecting at this year’s Melges 24 Nationals? Also, when looking at your entry list, are there any geographical concentrations or does the fleet represent a who’s-who of the country’s fastest Melges 24 teams?

We have always been expecting between 35 -40 boats. We have 32 as of right now, and I know of several boats that have yet to sign up. So we are on track to hit those numbers.

There are boats from Canada, Washington, Connecticut, Michigan, California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Tennessee, Utah. So the entire country is fairly well represented.

The Atlanta, GA region, and the inland states are representing with large numbers of boats. Which is great to see. They also make up some of the top-preforming Corinthian teams.

The diversity of the Melges 24 makes this such a good boat for so many areas of the country, it is hard to find an area not represented. Our local fleet is well-represented with teams from New Orleans, Mobile, Fairhope, and Panama City.

While these are certainly still early days, do you have your eye on any pre-racing favorites? What about any dark horses?

The boats I expect on top of the fleet are the same top teams we have been seeing for the last few years. Monsoon (Bruce Ayres), Mikey (Kevin Welch), Zingara (Richard Reid), and Blind Squirrel (John Brown).

I would expect a good battle from every one of those boats. As for Corinthian teams, Decorum (Megan Ratliff), Ex-Kahn (Brent McKenzie), Jaws (Rodger Counihan) and Rocket Science (David Hoye), or Ryan Glaze from Heath, Texas on Gringo.

All of these teams have a good shot at the top spot. The Corinthian group (full amateur teams) has been getting hot lately and have been battling the pro teams all around the coarse. And I expect nothing less than the best from them. There are several sleepers in this group. In fact, there are to many to list.

How important do you think local knowledge will be at the regatta? Also, how heavily does your answer to this question weigh in on your answer to my question about pre-racing favorites?

There shouldn't be any local knowledge to it. The sailing at Fairhope Yacht Club is pretty standard. Seabreeze, very minimal tides, and 4-6 degree oscillations.

Now if we do get some strange front come in, it might be a little more tricky, but these teams should be able to figure it out. Melges 24s have great sailors and are very in tuned to wind shifts.

If you think you have the right strategy, but are all alone on the race coarse, odds are you are doing it wrong.

I feel Fairhope is going to be a great medium-air event that puts boat placement in regards to the fleet, at a premium. Teams that are consistently fast, should excel here. There is no magic shift or current to deal with. This regatta should be about keeping clear air, going fast, and avoiding traffic. Preparation and team balance is crucial to this event.

If you could impart one piece of local wisdom to visiting sailors, what would it be?

Local wisdom? I would say drive carefully as Fairhope has a friendly, yet active, police force.

On the water? Go fast, as it will be a speed race.

What are the best case/worst case scenarios in terms of weather?

Best case is the seabreeze comes in early. I expect 14-17 knots coming in at noon everyday with short, steep chop. Worst case, a low front comes in and parks on top of us. Which could create light air. We chose this time of year because of the consistency of the seabreeze.

I feel confident that is what we will have. Warm weather and water is what to expect so have plenty of water to hydrate.

In trying to connect the dots in the Melges 24 U.S. Class schedule, there were limited options on dates, years and overall planning. The ideal wind conditions in Fairhope hit in May and October. While trying to fit this around Charleston Race Week and Bacardi Cup, and various other events, this seemed like the ideal time to run on Memorial Day.

The weather should be warm to hot, and the wind should come rolling in hard. Being a city that gets lots of rain. Expect it. Seattle and Fairhope/Mobile swap spots on the rain charts constantly.

Small squalls could pop up and change the wind patterns. These storms rain hard, fast, and are gone just as quickly as they arrive. If caught on the coarse, be ready for increased wind, and as the storm blows through, a big light spot.

Sailors in our area are so accustomed to these squalls we see them as part of the race coarse. Most of them land ten miles south of the race coarse or eight miles north. The Fairhope Yacht club falls into a zone that gets hit much less than the rest of the area. But please don't take that as a certainty.

What kind of evening/evening entertainment is planned for the regatta? We get everyone’s day started with a good breakfast. Our chef has simple yet tasty treats lined up for every morning. We have a keg of beer and plenty of water and food as soon as boats hit the dock, a band playing several nights, and multiple daily give-away's that we hope will keep everyone happy.

For those teams that show early, the FNG/Eelsnot team have some things planned that are not part of the "official" event. Being held on Memorial Day weekend, the city of Fairhope has lots of visitors and activities going on throughout the town. So entertainment is readily available for all.

The Fairhope Yacht club has an amazing pool, a great beach and if anyone wants to take a short trip, there are tons of historic sites. If you have a shopper in your group, Downtown Fairhope is a shoppers dream. I won’t go into details, but it seems like half of Hollywood flies here to shop.

Fairhope is home to artist and writers. I'm sure people can find something they like. This is where Jimmy Buffet was raised, and Mobile, just across the bay, is home of Mardi Gras. So that alone should tell you we know how to have a good time. We have heritage to keep up with.

Can you tell us about any steps that you and the other organizers have recently taken to help green-up the regatta or otherwise reduce its plastics/CO2 footprint?

The race organizers for the 2019 Melges 24 U.S. National Championship are partnering with Sailors for The Sea by implementing their Clean Regattas Program, and hope to leave a positive impact on the environment. We are striving to reach the Silver Certification Level by implementing at least 13 Best Practice indicators from Clean Regattas. [For example,] water-bottle-filling stations, functional items for awards, and online registration are just a few of the things Fairhope Yacht Club are doing for this event.

Chef Jacob Merritt of Fairhope Yacht Club discontinued use of plastic bags for To Go orders and replaced them with paper bags. He has eliminated Styrofoam To Go boxes and replaced them with compostable containers. The demand for straws could not be overcome at this time so Chef Merritt found a supplier that produces a plant-based straw that is 100% compostable.

The Alabama Coastal Foundation will assist with organization and coordination of volunteers for the “Green Team”. The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program will be raising awareness for the Clean Water Future program. The Manatee Sighting Network and the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network are providing competitors with information regarding encounters with endangered or injured marine life.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

Southern hospitality is paramount to this event. We hope that if anyone needs help, they [will] ask. We have hundreds of yacht club members [who] are willing to jump in and give you a hand.

The fact [is that] the Gulf Coast hasn't held the event since the mid 1990s, and our area has several boats and some great sailors. I thought putting a bid in for Nationals would be a great way to get some excitement into our local area. The fact that Alabama is a good bit cheaper than most of the standard sailing venues, coupled with the number of boats in close driving distance, it made sense.

The Gulf Coast has been known as having a pretty deep talent pool, and I felt it was a good time to showcase this.

Some of the things we hope to convey during the Nationals are that we know how to run a great regatta. The PRO Hal Smith, had recently retired to the next town over. So that made it a no-brainer for us to pick him as our PRO. Hal has been running large Melges 24 events for a number of years and I see nothing that should stop him on this one.

Our goal for the event was to make everyone feel as they get something good from this event. If the sailing isn't enough, the bands and entertainment should be. If that is not enough, than local hospitality and flavor should win people over.

[Also,] the amount of daily giveaway's should have something for everyone. Racegeeks is giving away an instrument package provided by Sail22. Quantum Sails has given more things than I know of. Several Local sailmakers, Schurr Sails, and Pro Sails, are helping us with bags and packages. Barefoot Wallets has numerous items up for grabs.

I feel this event will have something good for everyone involved.

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