Phoenix rising: Melges 24 bringing families together

Published on December 8th, 2014

Recognized the world over as a breakthrough boat for its speed and ease of sailing, the Melges 24 rode a wave of elite competition that slammed into the beach. At one time ripe with local and regional racing in USA, the grand-prix approach within the class slowly exceeded the ability of most people to keep up with it.

But with the used boat market now providing options in the $20-30,000 range, the class is seeing a pulse again. The US Nationals in November had 31 entrants, with half the teams completely comprised of Group 1 (amateur) sailors. Better yet, as Brian Hutchinson reports, the boat is bringing families together…

There has been a resurgence of family teams in the Melges 24 class and it is a healthy development. Nearly half of the crews in the fleet have two or more family members at the core. Some of the family teams start with a couple. Other teams have grade-school children, high school, and college-aged or young adults in their makeup.

A family team could not have picked a better boat, for the Melges 24 delivers uncompromised speed in a very comfortable package that can be managed by smaller-sized crew members. Due to the light overall weight of the Melges 24, a 145 pound, (66-kilogram) trimmer can handle the large, 666 square foot (62 square meter) asymmetrical spinnaker. Without winches (the jib has efficient 2:1 sheeting like a Star boat), there are fewer opportunities for bruising.

Krak and Kimberly Arntson, now of Lake Tahoe, CA bought their first boat, (USA15) in 1995 and sailed with another couple before starting their own family of Melges 24 sailors. A decade later they started to get some production out of their 9 and 11 year-old boys (who did the trimming) and won the 2007 Claus Regatta and Whidbey Island Race Week.

“Stein would pull the jib around and cleat it, then Rudi would hang off the boom and jump up and down on the sheet to bow-string it,” says Krak Arntson, California’s new Melges 24 District Governor.

“Of course, most of our Melges sailing in the last 7 years has been as a complete family… mom, dad and both grade school and later teenaged kids together… which has always been a special challenge what with weight, size, maturity, sibling rivalry…other crew willing to sail with kids on a 6 person team,” he says with a smile.

Now, with the boys aged 16 and 18 the Arntson family team, sailing Nikita (USA379) has become a force on San Francisco Bay, recently taking it down to the wire with another Tahoe boat for first and second in the Melges 24 fleet of the 130-boat Great Pumpkin Round the Islands Race (Alcatraz Island and Angle Island).

The Australian family of Glenda and Kevin Nixon recently traveled to the states and won top Corinthian honors, 6th overall, at the US Nationals sailing Accru (AUS812). Kevin and his son, Daniel, bring their Aussie18-foot skiff sailing skills to the Melges 24, while Glenda, daughter Bonnie and Daniel’s girlfriend, Christine Linhart, balance the crew on the bow, kite and jib.


The Nixon Family travels from Australia to the US Nationals and wins the Corinthian trophy

“It is definitely a different dynamic sailing together as a family,” noted Kevin. “As you might expect, everyone is a bit more vocal. Daniel is a boat handling perfectionist and we put in the training as would be expected of a professional crew and sometimes in training things can be heated. Even though we are a Corinthian crew we pride ourselves in been able to do any maneuver whether it be roll tacking, gybing or gybe-setting as good or better than the professionals.

“Sailing with the women, I’ve noticed their lack of ego and great concentration in trimming the spinnaker or jib. They also seemed to be able to hike harder and longer and never complain. What more can you ask for in a team?

“We observed later, that any point when things were tense someone would chirp up and do the motivation speech and lift spirits. This may be attributable to more freedom of expression that exists when family members make up the team. I’m sure you would get a similar behavior happening in a really good group of friends sailing together.”

Most families that can sail together find that it adds another dimension to their relationships. They find it rewarding and it often leads to the creation of top-level teams. There are also many examples of siblings who started sailing with the family early in life and grew to become top-level sailors too.

The Toniste brothers of Tallinn, Estonia are multiple Corinthian Melges 24 World and European Champions and multiple Olympic medalists. In the USA, the McKee brothers won the 2005 Melges 24 World Champions and are each multiple Olympic medalists. Additionally, John and Brian Porter won multiple Scow and Melges 24 National Championships together and Brian won the 2013 Melges 24 Worlds and Rolex Yachtsman of the Year.

Top photo: The Arntson family Melges 24 team winning the 2007 Whidbey Island Race Week when the boys (on the rail) were in grammar school.

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