Photos  |  U.S. Melges 24 Class Association

Some of the top sailors in North America will converge on Mobile Bay this week for the 2019 U.S. Melges 24 National Championship. Fairhope Yacht Club (101 Volanta Avenue) will serve as host for three days of racing in this one-design class.

The history of the Melges 24 can be traced back to 1992 when Buddy Melges and Bill Koch won the internationally acclaimed America’s Cup aboard America3 in San Diego. The boat’s innovative design by Reichel Pugh was based on extensive scientific research.

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Later that year, Pugh began testing a new class of boat that would become the Melges 24. It quickly became the standard in the high-performance sports-boat category. Within four years of its introduction, a world championship took place in England.

Two years of planning

Zane Yoder serves as the Gulf Coast District Governor for Melges 24, which covers Alabama to Texas. He bought his 24-foot-long boat FNG/Eelsnot (USA-9) 12 years ago, but it wasn’t until three years ago that he began to compete.

“They are a very fast, very responsive boat,” he said. “It is well designed and can be easy to sail. However, to sail it to perfection takes a lot of practice, a lot of timing and a lot of effort.”

The idea of having the championship on Mobile Bay began two years when Yoder was at the U.S. Nationals in Charleston, South Carolina. “I started talking to the Melges 24 Class Officers,” he said. “I did some slow politicking there.”

It was about six months after that Yoder and Jennifer Stanley presented a 15-page PowerPoint presentation to the organizers about why Fairhope Yacht Club could host.

The process continued through the Canadian Nationals in Toronto. Yoder said he met with another group from Traverse City, Michigan, that was also interested in hosting an event. “We sat down and decided who was to bid on what,” Yoder said. “We went for the Nationals (governed by the U.S. Class) and they applied for the North Americans (governed by the International Class) that will be in August.”

When Yoder got the phone call one year ago that the Fairhope bid was accepted, he was not surprised. “I felt we had a very strong shot at it,” he said. “We were very confident.”

Team effort

Yoder said there has not been a Melges 24 Nationals locally since 2003 when Pensacola was the site. He added the U.S. officials like to move the event around the country, having it in San Francisco in 2018.

“Fairhope has hosted a lot of national regattas, but this is one of the largest status symbol events,” he said. “Melges 24 is the cream of the crop with the top echelon of sailors. Some of these people go around the world to compete.”

Although Yoder is listed as regatta chairman on the website, he said the true director is Scott Hartwell of Fairhope Yacht Club. Hartwell was the club’s rear commodore last year when the bid was received. Since then he has been tasked with running the regatta.

“Scott comes up with ideas and we try to respond,” Yoder said. “Jennifer has gone above and beyond in keeping this organized. She has kept the wheels moving.”

It has been a team effort to have the current facilities ready for the race.

“Ellis Ollinger worked hard to get about $400,000 to have the Fly Creek Harbor dredged to get all the boats in and out,” Yoder said. “The City of Fairhope and the Fairhope Yacht Club have been great partners. A lot of great things are happening because of this event that will bring in at least 300 people.”

Very impressive field

At the time of this interview, there were 37 boats registered. Yoder expects a few more as the races get closer.

Included is the 2018 winner Kevin Welch of Anacortes Yacht Club in Washington state. Welch, who will be aboard Mikey (USA-835), is fourth in the current national rankings.

The three boats atop the list will be coming to Fairhope. They are Travis Weisleder’s Lucky Dog/Gill Race Team (USA-858), Bruce Ayres’ Monsoon (USA-851) and Brian Porter’s Full Throttle (USA-849).

“It is a very impressive field,” Yoder said. “All the big players are coming to Fairhope.”

At least two local teams will compete.

Eddie Adams, Robert Adams and Chris Morrison will join Yoder aboard his boat. He explained the unique name of the vessel comes from Friday Night Gigolos (FNG) and from Eelsnot hull wax, which is run by his friend Toby West.

“We will have two classes,” Yoder said. “You have the Open Class, which has the rock star sailors; some getting thousands of dollars to compete. Then you have the Corinthian Class, which is for amateurs like us.”

Yoder said because of helping to plan the event, it has limited the amount of practice time for his team. They hope to continue their successes, as they have finished second at the Canadian Nationals and fourth at the U.S. Championships.

Another local entry will be Josh Deupree. He will be aboard Hippy Chick (USA-30) along with John Marshall, Jimmy Murray, Kent Snell and Min Min Kelly. All are members of the Mobile Yacht Club except for Marshall, who sails out of Buccaneer Yacht Club.

As for the history behind Hippy Chick, his Melges 24 already had that name when it was purchased in 2010 and he liked it.

“This is our regular crew,” Deupree said. “We have sailed a lot together, mostly on the coast. It can get pretty expensive to travel with a team. We are very lucky to have the Nationals at Fairhope this year.

“The Melges 24 is a great boat and we have really enjoyed it. This will be a highly competitive fleet at Fairhope and we can’t wait to see how we do.”

Busy schedule

Sailors will check in starting on Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. The boats will also be weighed, as one-design racing tries to match nearly identical boats that are separated by the skill of the crews.

On Thursday, practice will begin for the boats at noon. Racing will start at approximately 11 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A dinner for the competitors will be Saturday night.

The race committee plans to run up to three races each day. However, four races may be run to anticipate weather disruptions or to make up for races not sailed the previous day.

“We really want to throw out the red carpet,” Yoder said. “We will have bands every night, along with giveaways and door prizes. This includes a $1,500 instrument package from Race Geek of Europe. They are a major sponsor along with Quantum Sails and Barefoot Wallets.  Pro Sails and Schurr Sails are local sailmakers who are also sponsoring.”

For more information on the race, visit https://usmelges24.com/2019-nationals

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