Local perspective: Melges 32 Worlds

Published on September 15th, 2010

(September 15, 2010) Sailing journalist Michelle Slade chatted to Stephen Pugh, current North American fleet president of the Melges 32, and Don Jesberg, winner of the 2009 Melges 32 North American’s held in San Francisco, about the upcoming Melges 32 Worlds Championship. Both Pugh and Jesberg call the Bay Area their home, and are preparing to compete in the event which will be held September 20-25, on the Olympic Circle in San Francisco Bay, and hosted by the St Francis Yacht Club.

MS: The Rolex Big Boat Series is a pre-event to the Worlds, that’s a lot of racing over the next few weeks.

Pugh: We’re going to be doing 20 races over the next few events which is a lot of stress on the boat – 7 races during Big Boat, and then who knows for the worlds – could have as many as three every day for 4 days. It really depends on the wind conditions. Big Boat is good preparation for everyone, particularly for those who are not accustomed to sailing on the Bay. Even for those of us who are local, it’s a chance to really do a shake-out of the crew, learning more about the conditions overall, but really polishing their game. Obviously the conditions may be such that they may cause a boat to miss a race or two as the primary goal is to compete in the World Championship, but it just depends on how it goes for everybody as far as conditions. No-one wants to be in Big Boat and force their hand to end up with crew injuries or a broken sailboat.

MS: Where do you expect the competition to come from?

boatPugh: The competition is going to come from right here on the Bay, from all across the country, and Europe, Quite honestly there’s not a bad boat that will be competing in this – everybody out there is good – you don’t get to this level of competition especially on these boats without a first class program, best in crew – some of the tacticians coming to town and sailing on these boats are truly the who is who of sailing. The likes of Russell Coutts, John Kostecki, Gavin Brady – world champions in every class, national and Olympic champions, right on down the list. On our boat we have Mark Ivey who was 2009 US Sailing Coach of the Year. You have to come prepared to absolutely have your boat in the best condition and to have your crew rock solid. One mistake here or there and you’ll find yourself at the back of the pack where you don’t want to be. It’s going to be tough. As North American Fleet President, I can tell you without a doubt it’s absolutely impossible to figure whose going to rise to the top in the Worlds because it’s going to be a marathon. It’s going to be who can hold up the best, it’s like other sports, whoever makes the least mistakes get there first.

MS: Don, you bought Viva just for the Worlds. How’s your prep coming?

Jesberg: We did buy the boat with the intention of racing it in these world championships. We scheduled ourselves to go down to Florida in December last year and then again in March of this year to get a gauge by racing against the Europeans and boats from other parts of the country. Here on the Bay, in August we finished a regatta out of the SFYC (Melges California Cup), with 12 Melges 32s, with one boat from Japan and the other 11 from the US. Everybody had coaches out on the water – we brought in a coach from Canada who spent four days with us. Now is really the time to figure out, for example, if the sails you have are cut correctly, if you’re tuning to them correctly, and do all the preparation that you can. We’re going to take this week and next to spend some practice time tuning to what we learned last weekend.

MS: Anything else you’ve been doing to train?

Jesberg: Actually, I went out with the British coach during the recent Finn Gold Cup just to spend more time on the Olympic Circle (off Berkeley) where the Worlds will be sailed just to figure out the right and left shifts and so forth. I’ve also been racing Etchells this season because we’ve had six or seven regattas on the Olympic Circle and the more time I spend in a good fleet of boats and in the Circle, the better off we are – as an aside, as a result of that I think we’re going to qualify for the 2011 Etchells Worlds so we’re going to have to pick up a boat and go down to San Diego and compete in that as well.

MS: Why the Melges 32 for you?

Jesberg: I sailed the Melges 24 in several championships but the fleet was fading on the west coast so it wasn’t as fun anymore. A guy named Richard Leslie bought the boat I now own and I sailed on it with him for a year when he decided he wanted to sell it. I bought it from him and have had it for three years.

MS: Who is crewing for you and how do you think you’ll do?

vJesberg: Steve Marsh (Marin), Eric Baumhoff (Marin), Jeff Wayne (Marin), Andrew Holdsworth (Marin), Zarko Draganic (Marin), Mark Chandler (Santa Maria), and Vince Brun (San Diego). A year ago on the Olympic Circle we were able to win the North Americans and having a lot of confidence in our ability to race around that race track is important. We’re getting faster and faster, we’re probably one of the fastest boats on the race track right now. If we sail smart we should be competitive.

MS: What’s involved in the measurement process for the class?

Jesberg: It’s kind of a mystery actually – I’ve never seen a measurement certificate for our boat, and others don’t have their own measurement certificates. They send someone out from the factory who does have all the information on all the boats and he’ll do the inspections and make sure everyone is compliant with the way that the boats were originally set up so there’s no room to cheat because you don’t know what you’re cheating against!

MS: What does the competition look like from where you’re standing?

Jesberg: There’s a French team called Teasing Machine who did very well at Key West and then they won the regatta in Miami. They’re just very good sailors. There’s a second team coming in from Japan who are all Farr 40 sailors who have come down to the 32 because that’s where all the action is and they are really good sailors. Red from England has always been competitive in every regatta they sail. A wild card is Star skippered by Jeff Eckland who has always had a very strong team and with the upcoming regattas they have John Kostecki sailing with them – he was out with them last weekend and he’s pretty good at figuring out how to get around the Bay.

MS: How does the 32 do on the Bay?

Jesberg: They have too much sail area to sail in the Bay, that’s the reality, so we’re all struggling with the boats being over-powered all the time. Down-wind, they are full lit up. It’s typical that on a run, you may tip over – that’s part of the game. Everybody is going to have to deal with going out of control, broaching and having to get the boat under control, spinnaker back down…whoever can minimize mistakes in a big breeze going downwind will make a big difference. At least it’s a little less crazy over at the Circle.

MS: Where do you think the class is headed?

Jesberg: I think nationally and internationally the 32 will continue to be very strong. The boats are pretty event driven, so that you’ll take the boat to Rhode Island and do an event, to Detroit and do an event, to Miami and so forth. We’ll continue to have events on the west coast – we’ll never be a J105 kind of a 25-boat fleet because of the challenging nature of 32. Even the best guys in the fleet are in awe of sailing the boats. Even with one thousand three hundred and eighty seven pounds on board, it’s all about righting moment.

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