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Andy Burdick on Melges Performance Sailboats' 75th anniversary

by David Schmidt 21 May 08:00 PDT May 21, 2020
The new Melges 15 struts her stuff on the waters of Wisconsin's Lake Geneva © Image courtesy of Melges Performance Sailboats

If you’re into sailboat racing, odds are almost 100 percent that you’re familiar with Melges Performance Sailboats’ impressive fleet of high-performance One Designs boats, which stretch from singlehanded Melges 14s to fully crewed Melges 40 keelboats. Most famously, this line-up includes the Melges 24 and Melges 32, which are two of the most popular One Design boats afloat. Additionally, Melges also manufactures the now-classic O’pen Bic singlehanded junior racers, four different scows, and the Melges Power 26, which, as its name suggests, is a hard-chined powerboat.

More recently, the lineup also includes the brand-new Melges 15, which was unveiled on May 19, 2020.

Melges boats are well-loved and raced hard all over the world, but the iconic company also accomplished something big by business-world standards by reaching its 75th anniversary this year. The company, which was founded in Zenda, Wisconsin—conveniently right near the shores of Lake Geneva—in 1945 by Harry C. Melges Sr., is now run by CEO Harry Melges III (Harry Sr.’s grandson) and president Andy Burdick.

While 75 years is a long time to be in business, innovation runs strong at Melges Performance Sailboats, as does a desire to press sailing’s envelope(s), and the company has partnered with the design offices of Reichel/Pugh for several of its boats, including the Melges 20, Melges 24, and Melges 32. More recently, Melges Performance Sailboats teamed-up with yacht designer Mark Mills to create the Melges IC37 class, which has replaced the Club Swan 42 as the One Design racing platform for the Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup and the Canada Cup.

I checked in with Burdick, via email, to learn more the company’s proud boatbuilding history.

Congratulations on reaching 75 years—that’s proud. In your opinion, what have been the biggest milestones in Melges’ history?

The company has done a lot of fantastic things over the years. We take pride in providing great boats for our customers, and seeing them enjoy the boats we build is a milestone in itself.

When it comes to specific areas, we certainly love our scows and the scow community; it is still some of the best sailing and racing in the world. The Melges 24 has been a major hit, as well as the other Melges sportboats.

Now, we’re launching the brand-new Melges 15, which we feel will leave a permanent mark in Melges’ history.

When you think of all of the different designs that Melges has built over the years, is there one that jumps out “the boat”?

The Melges 24, which we introduced in 1993. The boat is fantastic and still well ahead of its time.

How important are scows to Melges’ historical arc?

Melges’ scows are a hallmark of our business. We started building these in 1945, and to this day, we love to build scows for our customers.

We just delivered a new E scow to a customer that has purchased 17 new scows in his lifetime, which is incredible - really!

We have many customers like that. They love the boats and the service our team provides, which is what keeps them coming back.

How much of a day-to-day legacy have Harry Melges Sr. and Buddy Melges left on the company?

There is a strong legacy in place. Statements such as: Promote the sport. Be fair to your customers on and off the water. Go beyond in service when helping your customers. Sportsmanship while racing is everything…

These simple statements are the norm here at Melges.

Does Buddy still have any involvement in the company, or is Harry Melges III fully running the show these days?

At age 90, Buddy still comes in and checks on us weekly. He always has a great story to share, and [he] wants to know how the Melges’ employees are. We are fortunate to have him stopping by.

[Buddy’s] son Harry III leads the company and has taken the organization to a new level. His positive approach and eagerness to create new products has put Melges on the map for many years to come.

How important do you think the company’s Midwest and Great Lakes roots have on the company’s exponential growth over the decades?

The honest, caring Midwest approach has certainly provided the company an opportunity to grow. That is, just simple ethics.

The lakes, big and small, have allowed us to do a lot of sailing in many different types of venues with different boats. Our lineup of boats shows the diversity created by the environment we have here the Midwest.

Has Melges ever built hard-water boats, or has the company always been focused on soft-water racing?

Iceboats – YES! We love iceboats! However, our sailboats have taken over our full time. We built iceboats and have supplied equipment for years, but in the last 25 years it has been mostly soft-water sailing for us.

How does the new Melges 15 fit into Melges’ lineup? Also, what kinds of sailors is this boat designed for? The double-handed boat is a great addition to our current lineup and works for families, kids, couples – really anyone.

The Melges 15 performs for a range of skill levels with [its] asymmetrical spinnaker and a hull that’s eager to plane.

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