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A Q&A with Sam Rogers about the 2017 Melges 20 World Championship

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 2 Oct 2017
Melges 20 World League fleet Barracuda Communication / Melges World League
In 2007, Melges Performance Sailboats released a 20-foot, high-performance sportboat drawn by the design wizards at Reichel/Pugh that delivered screaming-fast runs, great overall feel and-most importantly-fantastic on-the-water competition, especially once the class started gaining serious traction. This legs-in sportboat offers a decidedly different experience than Melges’s larger 24- and 32-foot wind-driven rocketships, and one that has proven popular with sailors of all sizes, genders and nationalities.

Also unlike the bigger Melges boats, the Melges 20 class doesn’t restrict sailmakers or limit crew weights, however the boats and rigs are built-and measured-to exacting One Design standards. This same open allowance also allows teams to be creative with their racecourse numbers, and the boats are designed to comfortably accommodate between two and four sailors (size and breeze depending, of course).

In the decade that has unfurled since these hot little boats were first splashed, the Melges 20 class has grown considerably and now features a robust and active racing circuit that stretches from the Mediterranean to Florida and up through large swaths of the USA, including Melges’s Great Lakes home waters (and beyond). In addition to active local fleets, the class offers a great, class-sanctioned winter-sailing program in Florida, providing much-needed respite for European and North American sailors fleeing snowy, icy and bitter-cold climates.

While the Melges 20 class has enjoyed a great 2017 season, the year’s grand finale-the 2017 Melges 20 World Championship-is set to unfurl off of Newport, Rhode Island, from October 3 to 7, and will be hosted by the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) at their beautiful Harbour Court facility. I caught up with Sam Rogers, the Melges 20 North American fleet manager, via email to learn more about this exciting regatta that’s expected to draw competitors from four continents and nine nations.

Can you give me an update on the Melges 20 class?
The Melges 20 class continues to remain strong in both North America and Europe. In North America, we are looking forward to our 10th season in Miami for the Winter Series and we are seeing new excitement in the Northeast.

After Miami, the 20s will participate in Charleston Race Week and host our National Championship in Charleston Harbor in May 2018. Europe had a great five-event series this past summer and with the Worlds shifting back to Italy next summer, teams are already making preparations to get as much Melges 20 sailing as possible in 2017 and 2018.

There are also rumblings of the 2019 Worlds taking in place in Miami, the Winter home of the Melges 20 which would be a blockbuster event.

What kind of participation numbers are you seeing for this world-championship regatta? Also, how has participation been at more regional events?
We are looking at 40 boats from nine countries for the 2017 Worlds. What we lack in numbers is made up in quantity as most of the teams are well-polished and it will be a streetfight all the way around the racecourse.

The Melges 20 fleet based out of Newport all summer, which was a great experience and we hope to come back again next summer, and the winter series continues to remain a staple for longtime Melges 20 owners.

In thinking about the 2017 Worlds, what aspects of the regatta are you the most excited about?
Sailing in Newport is always a special experience. The history, the surroundings-it is always special as Newport is a true sailing town with hundreds of cruising and racing boats on the water at anytime. Having the New York Yacht Club as the hosts will be special, as well as being able to visit Harbour Court and have an event at such a prestigious yacht club will provide a great experience for the sailors.

And of course, the racing in Newport is some of the best in the world. With the option to race on the 'outside' course and have an idyllic seabreeze, or race inside in flat-water, shifty conditions, either racecourse provides for an awesome day of sailing.

All of the above, combined with being in Newport in Fall, and it should be a great event. We are crossing our fingers that we avoid the famous New England Nor' Easters, which it looks like we will.

Ideally, how many races can competitors expect at this year’s Worlds? Also, will these all be windward-leewards or will the RC take advantage of Narragansett Bay’s beautiful geographical features for a bay tour or a distance race?

For the Worlds we are shooting for ten races, with no more than three races per day. We have four days of racing scheduled for this years Worlds, so if the conditions cooperate we should be able to get in the full series. While it would be fun to do some bay touring, being a World Championship we want to keep the racing as fair as possible and will stick with standard Windward Leeward courses.

Serving as PRO will be the famous Peter 'Luigi' Reggio, and we will have a very qualified international umpire team to ensure the integrity of the racing remains intact. Depending on the conditions, the call will be made to race on the inside or outside course with competitors being notified that morning.

If you were placing a gambling man looking to place a wager, what teams do you see vying for podium finishes? Or, will the competition be too fierce to place safe bets?
Phew, that is a tough one. With any world-championship [regatta], the fleet inevitably gets stronger and there are a lot of good Melges 20 teams that will be pushing their way towards the top.

Drew Freides and his Pacific Yankee team have been winning most everything in North America the past year. They finished second at the Worlds in Italy in 2016, and [they] have been working hard to win the [2017] Worlds.

Igor Rytov and his Russian Bogatyrs team from Russia have been performing well in Europe winning the last two series events over there, so if they get hot they could be tough. You can't rule out either John or Liam Kilroy, they have been putting in some solid training hours in San Francisco Bay and will be well-polished.

With a fleet full of great helmsman and rock star sailors from North America and Europe, it is shaping up to be a great series.

Can you tell me about any steps that the regatta made to lower its carbon footprint and/or to green-up?
The Melges 20 fleet has always been conscious of reducing our carbon footprint. At past events we have provided reusable water bottles to help reduce waste at events, and always look to ensure we leave no trace behind.

Partnering with Sail Newport and the NYYC, we are conscious about reducing waste and leaving the area in better shape than when we arrived.

The NYYC formed a Sustainability Committee a year or two ago and they've been aggressively looking at how we can reduce our overall carbon footprint in both houses. At Harbour Court, all disposable bar items (cups, stirrers, straws) are made from plant-based products that are fully compostable.

We've also been doing what we can to eliminate single-use water bottles both in the house and on the water. We have a high-pressure filtered water hose on the dock for refilling water bottles. For our team races, for example, we bring five-gallon jugs on the water and tell all the competitors to bring water bottles to refill throughout the day.

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