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Melges 24: Making changes to help itself

Published on January 8th, 2014

American Bora Gulari, who finished fourth at the 2013 Melges 24 Worlds, provides an update on what the class is doing to help itself…

One design classes in general need to focus on rules that make it easier to compete versus harder. On January 1, the Melges 24 class took a big step toward this goal.

The Melges 24 class passed a huge rule change to the boat by shortening the lifeline stanchions. While that might not seem like a noteworthy change, the move significantly improves the user friendliness of the boat.

The class had become synonymous with the “Taco Hiking” demonstrated by crew members hanging their whole weight on a padded lifeline. It was not a comfortable condition. This had evolved over time, and it was compounded by the stanchions being too tall. When the boat was launched in 1993, their length followed the ORR regulation at that time.

Last year at Key West Race Week, I was able to do a trial with shorter stanchions, which were reduced by 10cm. Instead of a loose “hiking strap” lifeline, it was necessary to keep it tight to prevent the crew from sliding overboard.

The short stanchions and tight hiking line were a total game changer. The whole crew was more comfortable and was able to keep their weight fully hiked out without the discomfort (and nerve damage) that was there in the past. They were also able to keep their butts on the deck which has been the class goal for quite some time.

While our team then saw this prospective rule change as a no brainer, it was still meet with a fair amount of opposition. Concerns I heard were: the cost of changing 800 boats, reduced righting moment, and the stanchions being too short for people in the front and back to be comfortable.

To minimize the cost of changing the boats, the builder came up with an ingenious solution of being able to just cut the old stanchions and fastening a machined cap on the top of the stanchions, at a cost of $35 each.

Reduced righting moment, while in theory the crew could not project their weight as far out because of the tighter lifelines, we witnessed no reduction in performance since the crew were able to stay hiked the whole time instead of constantly shifting around trying to restore blood flow to their lower extremities. The other part of this is the M24 is such a great beer can boat that making sure it can still sail to its rating is an important part of any rule change.

For the comfort of the crew (particularly the front and back positions), this was quickly dealt with as people got to try out the new shorter stanchions at the Annual Class Meeting this year; most everyone realized that this was the right thing to do for the boat.

Though the Melges 24 was the original sport boat class, the class needs to keep evolving with times. Next up is the crew weight rule as the constant crew weigh-ins during regattas is a bit of a pain. Much simpler to let people decide their crew weight rather manipulating their weight around a rule.

With the stanchion/lifeline change, the class has made it physically easier to compete, reeling in the hiking practice that has pushed people away. Hopefully the rules committee can keep going down this path in hopes of increasing class size again.

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