Melges 24 – Speed Guide (Part I) by Brian Janney

Who sails in the Melges 24 class?

In the early 2000s, sailors in the Melges 24 class began to enlist coaches and include professional sailors in their crews, but that trend collapsed and participation dropped way off after 2009. Gradually, the class has been growing again and we are seeing an increasing number of Corinthian teams sailing at major events, using older boats. Local fleets are coming back in North America also, in places such as Vancouver, Western Michigan, and Atlanta. There are more regional regattas on the schedule, and they are by nature much more Corinthian. (Learn more at the International and North American websites.)

How physical is the Melges 24 to sail?

The Melges 24 is a great boat if you like to be active when you sail. It requires athleticism, but not brute strength. The loads are not that high and there are no winches—ratchet blocks only. You have to hike hard, but since the class changed to shorter stanchions and tighter lifelines, hiking is less painful. Overall, it’s a good combination of keelboat and dinghy. In light air, it rewards roll tacking and jibing, but in heavy air it loads up like a keelboat and you have to think about the timing of your maneuvers.

What are the top 3 ingredients to compete successfully in the Melges 24?

1. Practice mark roundings—good sets and douses are key.
2. Practice light-air downspeed maneuvers—the pre-start under main alone is key.
3. Build a consistent crew—top performance is all about teamwork.

What is the ideal Melges 24 crew size?

Top teams sail at the max weight limit of 825 pounds (375 kilograms). The majority sail with five in the crew. Larger people sail with four.

What does each crewmember do on the Melges 24?

The helm drives and handles mainsheet and backstay. The tactician trims the jib upwind and sometimes handles the mainsheet downwind. The spinnaker trimmer hikes upwind and hoists the chute if they are the biggest crewmember. On a boat sailing with five, the two forward crew furl the jib, douse the spinnaker, and handle the tack line and pole.

On boats sailing with four crew, the forward crew handles the tack line, jib furl, and spinnaker hoist/retrieval. The tactician pulls the pole out and then grabs the spinnaker sheet, handing it off to the trimmer once the halyard is up.

New or used Melges 24s— what are my options?

A new Melges 24 costs in the $70,000 range and includes a trailer, covers, and an upgraded line package. The company periodically builds runs of four or five boats. As of 2018, hull numbers ran up to about #900. Used boats range from a 1990s boat for less than $20,000 to somewhat newer boats with covers and a trailer with dock boxes for about $30,000.

Beyond the basics, what kind of prep is needed to make a used boat competitive?

Older boats may need mast-step reinforcement or repair of stanchion bases. They may also need the new, shorter stanchions. The Melges 24 has a carbon-fiber rudder and keel. Look for a boat without dings in the foils, or be prepared to make repairs. We keep a close eye on the trailing edges of keel and rudder. When we trailer the boat, we pad the back of the keel with a pool noodle we’ve cut in half. Check for wear on normal gear as well, such as cam cleats.

The jib halyard system is unique and needs attention on all boats. Instead of the usual separate forestay and jib halyard, the halyard connects to the wire in the luff of the jib, which then serves as the forestay. Where the wire goes over the halyard sheave, it can break strands on a windy day, so we recommend checking it after every windy day of sailing and replacing the wire frequently.

How do you transport the Melges 24?

Melges 24 trailers come from the builder with shaped supports. The boat rides about five feet off the road, at shoulder height. You put the boat in the water with the keel in the “up” position and then lower it with a “keel crane,” which fits into a molded socket right behind the keel. You can also ramp launch the boat if you wish.

What’s involved in rigging and derigging the boat?

To rig the Melges 24, first attach the shrouds, spreaders and backstay, then pull the halyards down from the top of mast. Because the mast is deck-stepped, two people can raise it. Rig the spinnaker halyard forward so it acts like a temporary forestay. A team that knows the process can be ready to launch within an hour. Once you’re in the water, put the keel down, fasten down the cover plate, and attach the rudder. There is a small gas outboard, so once that’s in position, you’re ready to go.

What kind of inventory does North recommend?

North’s standard Melges 24 sails are aramid tri-radial, but the newer 3Di sails will help jibs last longer. North offers one mainsail design and two jibs, though we are phasing out what’s called the J-Zero jib (designed specifically for ocean swell sailing). There are two spinnaker designs, a reacher and a runner. You are allowed to carry two spinnakers, and most top teams will have one of each aboard. The reacher is used in planing conditions when you’ll spend more time sailing in a “bow up” mode. The runner was recently redesigned to be a bit twistier, allowing a larger crossover with the reacher.

More interesting articles about this great one design class are coming…

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