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An interview with Laura Grondin and Megan Ratliff on the 2021 Melges 24 U.S. Nationals

by David Schmidt 14 Sep 16:00 BST September 17-19, 2021
Tõnu Tõniste's Lenny EST790 - Melges 24 European Sailing Series 2021 - Event 2 Riva del Garda, Italy © IM24CA/ZGN / Barracuda Communication

There's something about 24-foot boats that attracts great sailors. This tradition arguably began with Rod Johnstone's J/24 (1977), which passed the proverbial torch to the Melges 24, a sportboat that was drawn by Reichel/Pugh in 1993 and has been built by Melges Performance Sportboats ever since. While both boats carry 24 feet on their waterline, the similarities tap-out quickly: The Melges 24 carries a retractable sprit pole, off of which it flies a powerful asymmetric spinnaker. It also has a significantly lighter-weight hull that carries its beam farther astern than the J/24, and the newer sportboat also employs a flatter, planing-friendly undercarriage.

More importantly, the Melges 24 has also attracted—and retained—some of the world's best sailors since the class held its first U.S. Nationals (Galesville, Maryland) in 1993.

While the 1993 Nationals "only" drew 22 boats, this fleet included some serious talent, including Mark Reynolds, Harry Melges III, Brian Porter, and Andy Burdick.

Flash forward 28 years, and the 2021 Melges 24 U.S. Nationals, which are being hosted by the Crescent Sail Yacht Club in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, from September 17-19, is (as of this writing) drawing 25 boats. Impressively, the talent list involves (but is not limited to) some familiar names, including Brian Porter and Harry Melges IV.

I checked in with Laura Grondin, chair of the International Melges 24 Class Association, and Megan Ratliff, president of the U.S. Melges 24 Class Association, via email, to learn more about this exciting national-level regatta.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, are there any notable geographical concentrations to this entry list?

Currently, there are a total of 25 teams registered for the 2021 Melges 24 National Championship. This compares quite favorably to past events and includes three teams from Canada.

There has been a growing fleet of Melges 24 in the Michigan area, so it is no surprise that there are 12 boats from Michigan alone. There are another five boats from the Midwest.

When selecting locations for these events, it is important to rotate around the U.S. to give our members the opportunity to compete in such an event without having to travel a long distance.

Past registrations:
2020: cancelled due to the pandemic
2019: 35 boats (Alabama)
2018: 18 boats (California)
2017: 24 boats (South Carolina)

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off of Grosse Point, Michigan on the waters of Lake St. Clair in September? Also, what are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

September is generally a fantastic time to sail on Lake St. Clair. The temperature is typically in the low 70s and there is good to great breeze!

The best-case scenario would be winds out of the Southwest at 12-18 knots, sunny and 72 degrees. If the breeze blows out of the North, Northwest we could see wind 10-20 with cooler temperatures.

The worst case would be winds Northeast sustaining more than 25 knots, possibly leaving us on shore.

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta's outcome? Can you please explain?

Local knowledge typically plays a small role in September. There is current that runs near the shipping channel that could be a knot or less.

If the breeze was under ten knots that current could play a role; however, September typically brings bigger breeze at which point the current plays little to no role. The breeze patterns are generally straight forward.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) teams, what would it be?

Depending on the direction of the breeze, there could be some weeds to contend with. Thankfully, they are manageable with the Melges 24's kelp cutters!

Do you have any teams that you are eyeing for podium finishes? What about any dark horses who you think could prove to be fast, once the starting guns begin sounding?

There are several teams who have had podium finishes this year that will compete in the open division including Harry Melges IV's Zenda Express, Bora Gulari's New England Ropes, Laura Grondin's Dark Energy and Bruce Ayres' Monsoon.

Having said that, you can never overlook past champions such as Brian Porter's Full Throttle and past top finishers such as K.C. Shannon's Shaka and Steve Boho's The 300.

As for the Corinthians, podium finishers this year that will be present include Kevin and John Shockey's Wombmates Racing and Megan Ratliff's Decorum.

As for dark horses, there are many teams from Michigan that have been tuning their skills with local regattas; and any number of them could prove to rise to the top of either the open or the Corinthian divisions. The podium finishers have included Mike Dow's Flying Toaster, Fred Rozelle's Rustler, and Scott Zimmerman's Bad Idea.

How many races do you and the other organizers hope to score over the course of the regatta? Will these be windward-leeward races? Finally, will you use traditional racing marks, or will you use some of the new GPS-guided autonomous robotic marks such as MarkSetBots to administer the racecourse?

Organizers plan on sailing eight races. The races will be traditional windward-leeward with four legs sailed.

GPS-guided marks will be used on the racecourse.

Obviously organizing and running a big regatta amidst a still-churning pandemic isn't easy. Can you tell us about the biggest logistical and organizational hurdles that you've had to clear to make this happen?

Thankfully, there are no club restrictions, but we do have the delta variant looming which could keep registration numbers down.

There are six to eight boats from Canada who are itching to race. They are in limbo at the current time due to border restrictions. Despite Lake St. Clair touching the U.S. and Canada, the restrictions apply on the water as well as on land. We are hopeful the restrictions will be lifted and they will be able to participate.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

Utilizing Mark bots will allow us to run the regatta with two fewer committee boats.

The Melges 24 fleet is generally very considerate in keeping plastic usage down by utilizing re-fillable water bottles. Multiple filling stations will be present around the club to help keep everyone's bottles full and the competitors hydrated.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

Boats are traveling from all coasts of the United States with excitement to participate in the Nationals. This will be our first National Championship since May of 2019 and we are looking forward to welcoming everyone back on the water at a fantastic fall sailing venue.

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