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An interview with Keiran Searle on the 2021 Melges 20 World Championship regatta

by David Schmidt 8 Dec 2021 08:00 PST December 8-12, 2021
Melges 20 racecourse action on the waters off of Miami © UP TOP Media/ Felipe Juncadella

The Melges 20 grew from a linesplan that was draw by the design wizards at Reichel Pugh Yacht Design in 2007. It entered production at Melges Performance Sailboats that same year, and soon the class, which is sailed by three- or four-person crews and features legs-in hiking, a lifting keel, a big A-sail, and a powerful square-top mainsail, began taking root nationwide.

While hindsight might suggest that 2007-2009 wasn’t perhaps the greatest time to launch a new One Design class, given the backdrop of the still-churning Great Recession, the Melges 20 had some great things going for it, including a slippery hull, a strong and dedicated builder, and the fact that it costs significantly less to campaign a Melges 20 than it does to seriously race bigger keelboats such as Melges 32s or Farr 40s.

The recession eventually passed, and the class contested its first annual World Championship regatta in 2013. Today the Melges 20 class enjoys healthy national (including a winter series in Miami) and international racing circuits. The 2021 World Championship regatta, which is being hosted by the Coconut Grove Sailing Club (CGSC) and Shake-A-Leg Miami, is set to unfurl on the waters of Florida’s Biscayne Bay from December 8-12.

I checked in with Keiran Searle, North American class manager of the Melges 20 class, via email, to learn more about this exciting world-championship event.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, are there any notable geographical concentrations to this entry list?

The Melges 20 class is currently in a great resurgence! The upcoming Worlds is the biggest U.S. event since 2016, we have 24 boats from all around the world. The biggest contingents are from Italy and North America. It’s great to see the Russian attendance growing too.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off of Miami in early-to-mid December? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

Miami in December is tough to beat, it always brings a mix of conditions from many directions and all wind strengths. The temperature varies from 70-90 degrees [Fahrenheit]. Where else would you want to be during winter!

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta’s outcome? Can you please explain?

The Miami racecourse is an open track, the results will come from getting off the starting [line] well and getting to the top mark in good shape.

Biscayne Bay has limited geographical and environmental effects compared to other venues.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) teams, what would it be?

Be sure to enjoy Miami on and off the water. From restaurants to Museums, Miami has it all.

The Melges 20 class has a social event planned most evenings at CGSC, be sure to not miss [it]!

Do you have any teams that you’re eyeing for podium finishes? What about any dark horses who you think could prove to be fast, once the starting guns begin sounding?

The North Americans in November showed Jason Michas’s Midnight Blue, Daniel Theilman’s Kuai, and Peter Mcclennan’s Gamecock [as] all [being] contenders.

It will also be terrific to have the top EU teams in Brontolo, Nika and Russian Bogatyrs back in the fleet.

How many races do you and the other organizers hope to score over the course of the regatta? Also, how are you guys managing the racecourse? Traditional racing marks, or will you use some of the new GPS-guided autonomous robotic marks such as MarkSetBots to administer the racecourse?

Our agenda includes one day of “Pre-Worlds” racing and four days of World Championship racing. We have 11 races on the schedule. Coconut Grove has done a terrific job with their COVID-19 protocols and our racing has been fully operational since the beginning of the pandemic.

CGSC uses a traditional racecourse and do a terrific job of keeping the races fun and fast.

Organizing and running a big regatta amidst a still-churning pandemic isn’t easy. Can you tell us about the biggest logistical and organizational hurdles that you’ve had to clear to make this happen?

The ever-changing COVID-19 travel restrictions, testing procedures, and protocols have been a challenge. We worked with USOPC and US Sailing to attain exemptions to the travel restrictions for competitors, [and] it's great to see the international teams returning.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta’s environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

CGSC does a great job of running races efficiently with just the perfect number of on-water volunteers.

The Melges 20 Class doesn’t allow contact with coaches during race days, this certainly reduces the amount of team chase boats on a day-to-day basis.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

It’s exciting to see the Melges 20 class growing again, the cost to entry has lowered over recent years with a strong second-hand market. Used boats are in the $18,000-$30,000 [USD] range.

The class also has access to some terrific charter boats, if you are interested in trying the class, please contact: Melges20USA@gmail.com

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