Melges 32: State of the Union

Published on February 24th, 2014

The Melges 32 class is starting the year off with its three event Winter Circuit. The first stop was Key West Race Week in January, with the next two events in Miami on February 28-March 2 and April 4-6.

JCWith the class eager to build momentum toward its 2014 World Championship in Miami on December 1-7, Scuttlebutt checked in with newly appointed Class President Jason Carroll for an update…

How long have you been in the class?

My first event was in a chartered boat in Newport in 2007. I ended up buying that boat and have been fairly active every year since.

How would you best describe the class to someone who had never heard of it?

It’s a highly-competitive international class with teams and events concentrated in the Eastern US and Italy, but not exclusively. The boat’s a blast to sail but takes some commitment to sail well, the events are always in fun locations, and I’ve made some friends for life during my time in the class.

Do you have any specific goals as Class President?

This class is among the most competitive out there, and I’d like to do what I can to help keep it fun for all the owners. Having spent some time sailing in other classes, one thing I’d like to improve in the Melges 32 class is communication among owners. At the end of the day, many of us are here to compete at a high level, but we also want to have a fun time — for most of us this is a break from our day jobs!

Also, I’d like to make the class more welcoming to newcomers through a combination of helping people get up to speed quickly with sail selection and boat setup, as well as making sure new owners and their teams meet the rest of the class and have a very enjoyable first event.

Is the class growing, holding, or shrinking?

If you look at attendance at recent events over the past several years, you’d have no choice but to observe that the class has shrunk, particularly in North America, over the past few years. I believe that’s an easily reversible trend, and already we’re seeing renewed interest in the North American fleet to get involved in the 2014 season, and in addition to getting owners excited that took 2013 off, we’re seeing some new teams either buy boats or line up charters for events in 2014.

Are there any trends/attributes that are strengthening the class? Are there any that are challenging the class?

I’d like to think that a trend that we’re in the process of setting is getting owners more involved with setting the class schedule and atmosphere. I’d like to encourage a mindset among the teams of helping out others in the fleet. One of the biggest challenges that the class has for growth is that people view it as an intimidating class to join both from a cost and talent/knowledge base perspective. I’d like current class members (myself included) to start doing more to help newcomers navigate these challenges.

Participation for the class at Key West Race Week has dropped steadily for the last three editions (along with a couple other classes). To what do you attribute the decrease?

I know many people see Key West as one of the premiere events in North America every winter. As much fun as I’ve had the few times I’ve raced in it, I haven’t been for several years because it’s a big time commitment. To do Key West properly you’re effectively away and practicing or racing for 7 or 8 days.

The rest of our regattas take up 4 or 5 days of a team’s time. I suspect that most teams are willing to give up 7 or 8 days for their class’s World Championship, but few teams are willing to do that during the regular season.

My other theory is that if your team’s focus for the season is on the World Championship, which for us is almost always in the fall (and this year is in December), you want to focus your efforts on sharpening your skills in the month or two prior to Worlds, not 11 months before Worlds.

What is the North American race schedule and event style that class members are looking for?

From talking to owners, it seems like the majority would like to see our travel schedule simplified. Working out logistics for eight people and a boat or two is no small feat, and it becomes easier and less costly if owners don’t have to tackle as many different locations every year. This year we’re focused on two primary locations for all the North American events: Miami for the winter event and Newport for the summer events.

For those owners who do want greater adventure, I highly recommend chartering a boat for an event in Europe. The other thing the class is going to try to do better is map out our event schedule a little farther in advance.

The grand prix end of the sport seems to be a shrinking niche. Is this a concern for the class?

The trend in sailing for the past few years is that people are turning toward classes that are logistically simpler to compete in. The Melges 20, the J/70 and the Viper 640 (I can’t help but include the Viper since I’m an owner…) fleets have all grown a lot in the past several years, and you see many teams moving from larger boats to these smaller sportboats. I don’t think the competition is any less fierce; there’s just been a trend to compete in a different arena.

So I can’t speak for other classes, but I know you can be highly, highly competitive in the Melges 32 class without having a huge budget. The challenge for our class is to convince new potential teams that this is true. So for those of you reading this and looking for a 30foot-ish really fast and really fun boat that races in awesome venues, give me a shout. Either myself, or someone on my team, would be happy to tell you more about the class, answer questions and help you line up a charter or a fill in some slots on your team if you want to show up at an event for a test-run.

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