North Sails LOFT NEWS
Story Contributors: Geoff Moore
MELGES 32 FLEET BUILDS IN GREAT LAKES
Popular Class Extending Reach Into Fresh Water Territory
Sooner or later all the boats will be launched, and summer will come. This season will be especially sweet. There is no end to the type and size of sailboats on Lake Ontario, but it is worth noting a small burgeoning fleet of Melges 32’s moving into the GTA, and the Great Lakes. There is a long standing tradition of older designs finding their way to fresh water. And why not, older boat prices will have depreciated by a huge margin, boat longevity is longer in freshwater, and maintenance is easier. What is notable about the Melges 32 is that there is no pretext of amenities. These boat owners have all had larger cruise/race boats in the past with lots of creature comforts, but they have found that they didn’t enjoy overnighting aboard them. At the same time the extra weight of all that furniture, and the upkeep of all those systems, diminished their excitement for racing. On the other hand the fun versus nuisance ratio of Melges 32 ownership is a bargain.
The Melges 32 was first built in 2004. During the intervening years the class enjoyed a great deal of international success, with a long list of high powered owners and well known professionals battling for glory. Most of those players have now moved on to other venues, but the class persists. The boat is a bit dated now by east coast standards, but it still has plenty of attributes that make it ideal for western Lake Ontario including its competitive design, rating, and how exciting it is to sail. There have been plenty of boat reviews and youtube footage of these boats so no need to recap all that here. But let’s take a look at why the Melges 32 is enjoying a second life on the Great Lakes.
The price of the boat is very reasonable. Some of these boats were campaigned at the extreme high end. Nothing was spared to make the boats faster, and easy to transport. Often they come with trailers full of valuable sails and spare equipment. There are covers and pads for everything. All the boats come with a trailer, and the keels retract into a trunk. That makes trailering dead easy, and it allows for the possibility of racing at distant locations. There are currently a number of small fleets around the great lakes, and in Florida. The last few winters Davis Island Yacht Club in Tampa has hosted a winter circuit of three separate weekends. They have allowed the boats to be stored there with the masts left up. Traveling to regattas is a nice way to maintain excitement, but more importantly the boat owners are all like minded. They are talking to each other, and coordinating regattas where they can get together. There is a lot of camaraderie. The focus is on fun racing, and sharing skills, rather than expensive diners or elaborate awards. The atmosphere at the boat park is friendly and helpful. If you need a tool, or some help pushing a trailer around there is always someone there with a smile because they may need something from you soon.
The main reason the Melges 32 is a good fit for western Lake Ontario is because the boat lights up in as little as 6- 8 knots true wind. Unfortunately, this part of our lake is notorious for light air. Too many evening races have us sitting on the leeward rail minimizing tacks. For example Port Credit Yacht Club has had two Melges 32’s racing Wednesday evening PHRF fleet for the past three seasons. It isn’t uncommon to have the wind drop, and have the entire race/cruise almost stop. While the rest of the fleet is just trying to maintain steerage the battle rages on between the Melges 32’s. Sometimes it is like racing through an obstacle course where the heavier boats appear to be motionless. The 32’s are always the first boats back to the dock sometimes hours before the rest of the fleet.
The boats are all cockpit, and easy to sail, but they aren’t for everyone. When there is a bit of breeze the boats are lively, and capable of unbelievable downward speed. With that speed can come the occasional “spinout” That is the exciting part. But, they recover well and are easy to get them pointed back downhill. It is the kind of boat where you get suited up “before” you push off the dock. The extra large cockpit is also perfect for après race socializing. For those sailors who don’t enjoy overnighting aboard their boat, and who enjoy the racing, and the social aspect of it the Melges 32 may be a good option. Stop by one of the 4 or 5 boats that will be racing in the GTA this summer. I am sure the crew will be smiling and happy to give you a tour. If you have any interest in joining in on the fun, feel free to contact local North Sails expert Geoff Moore.
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