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Henri-Lloyd - For the Obsessed

An interview with Keiran Searle on the latest developments in the Melges 20 class

by David Schmidt 14 Dec 2023 16:00 GMT December 14, 2023
Melges 20 racecourse action © Scott Trauth

When it comes to designing race boats, Reichel/Pugh has a long reputation for drawing some of the world's slipperiest hulls. This includes the Melges 20, which entered production in 2007, and which became an international class in 2012.

The two-to-four-person boat features legs-in hiking and doesn't impose crew weight restrictions. Couple these enticing attributes with the boat's ability to get up on a plane and generate big grins in a breeze, and it's easy to see why the boat remains a popular One Design class.

While the class experienced a time when some ultra-competitive teams pushed competition levels to an extreme, the class has now entered a new chapter that’s more focused on creating great times for all participants.

Better still, there's fresh energy afoot in the form of some new class-led initiatives that are aimed at fostering better racing, while helping to give motivated newcomers a new fast lane to podium finishes. These efforts include class-provided coaching, a mentorship program, data analysis and sharing, and a charter program.

I checked in with Keiran Searle, Melges 20 class manager, via email, to get the latest downloads from this fast-and-fun One Design class.

The Melges 20 turned Sweet 16 this year. How is the class doing in terms of numbers and participation levels?

Absolutely, it's been an exciting journey for the Melges 20. In terms of numbers and participation, the class is growing with a new look. We've seen consistent growth and engagement over the past 12 months.

The Sweet 16 milestone has brought renewed energy to the class, and we're looking forward to even more success in the coming years with the stigma of the ultra-high-level teams behind us. We are working hard to make the Melges 20 class, the most fun on and off the water!

Does the class have any geographic hotspots or are boats fairly ubiquitous at this point?

In the last two years, the Melges 20 class has seen a growing focus on Miami, while maintaining active fleets in Japan and Italy.

Despite this emphasis on Miami, the racing events continue to be diverse and widespread.

Looking ahead, the U.S. class is gearing up for Miami event #3 in February, #4 in March, Race Week in Charleston and a standalone event in the spring of 2024 in Charleston, with plans to extend the U.S. reach even further in the summer of 2025.

The class seems to be alit with some really cool initiatives, which we'll unpack in a minute. First, though, who or what is driving these new initiates?

We're making moves together!

The class organization, class board, and enthusiastic Melges 20 fleet members are teaming up to drive these cool initiatives.

We're all about embracing innovation and constant improvement, and these projects show our dedication to making the class more welcoming and easier for new teams to join in with the lowest barrier to entry possible!

I see that the class is now providing class coaching at class events. Will this be the same coach for all events, or will the baton be passed from coach to coach, based on where the regatta is unfurling?

The class coaching initiative is indeed an exciting addition. We have a roster of experienced coaches who will bring their unique perspectives and expertise to different events. This ensures that teams receive varied insights and guidance, enhancing the overall learning experience.

Our coaches at the past two events have been both Champion One Design Racers and Olympic class coaches, a stellar lineup.

As a follow-on to the last question, is this coaching more focused on helping the top teams move advance to international events, or is it geared more towards pulling up the entire state of play? What's the big-picture thinking?

The coaching initiative has a dual focus. We want to create an environment where every sailor, regardless of their experience level, has the opportunity to enhance their skills and enjoy the Melges 20 class.

The overall goal of the class coach is to increase the quality of racing, not to raise the bar

The mentoring program sounds really smart. Can you please tell us more about how will this work?

Certainly! The mentoring program is designed to pair experienced Melges 20 teams with those who are new to the class.

This one-on-one mentorship is setup by the class management each regatta and stipulated by the owners. We are pairing the most experienced teams with brand new teams. The mentor program allows new teams to have someone to ask rigging, tuning and setup questions on the dock, someone to tune with before racing and someone to socialize with after!

It's a fantastic opportunity for knowledge-sharing and building a strong sense of community within the Melges 20 fleet.

Very cool to hear about the data analysis and sharing. Will this data reside on a cloud so that teams all over the world can benefit? Or, will it only be available to participating sailors at events?

We're embracing a modern approach with the data analysis and sharing. All reports are stored online and accessible to any sailors, not just Melges 20.

Anyone can see the 2023 World Championship reports here (ib-sailing.com/sailviewer-reports/2023-melges-20-worlds).

The reports cover everything from starting, bias, speed and tactics.

The data does not lie!

Great to hear that charter boats are available. What's the best path forward for sailors who are interested in getting into a charter boat?

The class has two great charter boats available for a discounted rate for the upcoming February and March Miami events.

We also have access to six charter boats just one hour from Charleston for the Spring regattas. Any enquiries can be directed to Melges20USA@gmail.com There is also used boats for sale starting at around $20,000.00 USD.

Is there anything else about the Melges 20 class that you'd like to add, for the record?

I'd like to emphasize the sense of camaraderie and passion that defines the Melges 20 community.

Whether you're a seasoned sailor or a newcomer, the class is building a welcoming and supportive environment. We're excited about the future of the Melges 20 class and invite sailors from all walks of life to join us on the new Melges 20 adventure!

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