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Happy Birthday - Buddy Melges
Team McLube


The Publisher

Jan 28, 2010, 11:45 AM

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Sailing legend Buddy Melges was in Key West last week, enjoying the warm weather and checking out the two grand prix classes that bear his name at Key West Race Week. Melges figured watching a sailboat racing in the Keys for a few days beat the winter cold of Wisconsin so he hopped a flight to the southernmost point of Florida and settled into a bunk aboard Jeff Ecklund’s motor yacht Starlight Express.

Melges grew up on Lake Geneva racing the boats designed and manufactured by his father - Harry Melges Sr. He eventually took over operation of Melges Performance Sailboats while at the same time building a remarkable resume as a competitive sailor. Melges won Olympic medals in the Soling (Gold, 1972) and Flying Dutchman (Bronze, 1964) classes then captured consecutive Star world championships (1978, 1979). He is also a five-time E-Scow national champion and seven-time Skeeter Ice Boat world champion.

He does not take credit for the enormous success of the Melges 24 and 32 sport boat classes, which have attracted many of the finest sailors in the world. “I didn’t have anything to do with that. That was all due to the work of the kids,” he said, referring to sons Harry III and Hans. “They went to Reichel-Pugh and got the 24 designed. That boat obviously did very well so they went back to Reichel-Pugh and got the 32 designed. Then they added a 17-footer and the 20-footer. All four boats are fun to sail, every damn one of them.”

“I have to congratulate Harry and his staff. They have done a wonderful job of providing service to the fleets,” Melges said. “Harry demands quality and excellence, which is quite clear to me when I come to a big regatta such as this and see what is going on. What impresses me the most is the level of sailing that I am seeing in our classes. It is much improved from the first time we came down here. ”

Melges is pretty much retired now and will be celebrating his 80th birthday on January 26th. Melges spends his time duck hunting, ice boating and tinkering in his work shop these days. “Every day is Sunday, but I only go to church one of the seven,” he joked. “I still love the Skeeter class and it’s a development program so I am always trying new things in terms of hardware and equipment.” -- An excerpt from Race Week News (Pg 9):

The Publisher

Jan 28, 2010, 11:46 AM

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From Scuttlebutt 3016:

* From Walt Spevak:
To any kid growing up racing on Midwest lakes in the 60s and 70s the “Wizard of Zenda” was literally a larger than life icon that all of us wanted to be like. For the chance to see him compete against Lake Okoboji, Iowa’s Jerry Huse and Bob “Boober” Schneider, fellow C-scow champions, plus others from lakes Geneva, Pewaukee and Minnetonka was always a thrill. I remember him hopping on my C-scow one time to tinker with the jackstays, play with the rear traveler, pull on more vang and cunningham and voila…I was faster. Sweet. Happy Birthday Buddy on your 80th...I hope you have many happy returns of the day both on and off the water.

* From Tim Patterson:
It was great to see the article on Buddy Melges (in Scuttlebutt 3016). Having grown up in the midwest, many friends who followed the America's Cup enough to know some of the skipper's names asked me who Buddy was when he was the helmsman on America 3. I said he was probably one of the great helmsmen of all time in many different venues. I watched the races and was tickled to see that when Buddy was at the helm upwind, the track was a series of very straight lines. I think it was one of the first races where GPS tracking was used to show how the boats were moving through the water. Some of the other boat's tracks were a series of squiggly lines that seemed to me to show too much activity at the helm.

The Publisher

Jan 28, 2010, 11:47 AM

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From Scuttlebutt 3017:

* From Peter Isler:
Keep those Buddy Melges stories coming! Buddy has always been revered and respected by his competitors for good reason. Not only did he raise the game to a new level in Scows, Solings and Stars, but he was always ready and willing to share his "secrets" with anyone who asked (no matter whether they were customers of his fast sails and boats or not).

Thirty years ago, when Buddy turned 50 at the Soling World Championships in Puerto Rico, we learned about the big day and planned a "Happy Birthday" song moment for the warning signal of the first race of the day. We passed the word and everyone agreed that at the 10 minute gun (my how times have changed), all the boats in the fleet (some 50 odd boats as I recall) would sail in a circle around Buddy's boat while we all sang a rousing Happy Bday to the man. It was a pretty special moment for all of us, and I've never seen anything like it since!

* From Barry Johnson, Perth, Western Australia:
I had the honour to to be asked to assist the Heart of America syndicate set up its base in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1986 (for the America’s Cup). During this time I had the fortunate opportunity to meet and also socialise with the Wizard of Zenda. Sadly as time went by I lost contact with both Buddy and Gloria Melges. But last week, whilst taking time out before the annual Miami Olympic Classes Regatta where I am acting as the Event Chief Measurer, I was fortunate enough to literally bump into Buddy whilst dockside after racing in Key West. This marvelous man was still the Buddy I met some 24 years ago and he remembered those Fremantle days very well. Happy Birthday Buddy!

- Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

The Publisher

Jan 28, 2010, 11:48 AM

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From Scuttlebutt 3018:

* From Robert Hughes:
Over the years the Heartbreaker program has been fortunate to have some of the World’s best and well known sailors grace her decks, but I will never forget the first! Back in 1989 was the second year with our J/35 Heartbreaker and Melges Sails (before they were Sobstad and North) decided they wanted to get into the bigger boat market.

I had read Buddy’s books and as I got more into sailing he was becoming the ultimate sailor I looked up to the most. As an inexperienced owner at the time who was impressed with well established sail makers, this sounded like a risky move….but in a rare smart move I went for it and purchased a Dacron main, Kevlar jib and chute from Melges Sails and Eric Hood. This was the also the beginning of the NOOD regattas and they started out as a big deal.

We were doing our first J/35 class regatta at the Chicago NOOD and on the last day of the event Buddy showed up and agreed to sail with us! Simply amazing…from the moment he got on the boat and shared many funny jokes about his recent Cup campaign down under (the jokes are still funny today) to everything he taught me about steering a boat that day as he trimmed the main next to me. It seemed like magic at the time when he would call out to the crew “puff header hitting in 10!” and sure enough the blast would hit the boat like clockwork.

In my 23 years of big boat sailing this day remains one of the best. Of course we won the race (because of Buddy) and all of us got a lifetime memory from one of the classiest and most talented sailors ever….and to see how his kids have continued to impact the sport with fantastic modern classes few people have made racing sailboats so much fun as Buddy, my first Pro sailor! It was great to see him in KW where of course he still had some steering hints for me! Thanks Buddy!

Rob Emmet

Jan 28, 2010, 7:34 PM

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I don't claim to know Buddy well, but we have met, sailed together and I have a memory to share.

I think it was sometime in the early 90's when the Return of the Legends was in Annapolis. We were on Endeavor heading out to the race course when a flock of geese on the horizon caught Buddy's eye. As they came closer to the boat, he became more and more fixated on the approaching flock. Suddenly, he belted out a bird call. The crew was astonished, the birds circled in and I thought for sure they were gonna' land on the deck.

Happy Birthday and thanks for the memory old man!

The Publisher

Jan 31, 2010, 7:52 AM

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* From Eric Sharp, Detroit Free Press:
Here's something that might fit into your recent tributes to Buddy Melges.

During the 1987 America's Cup at Fremantle, Australia, I was about the leave the media center one afternoon when a group of 8-12 year old kids wandered in.

It turned out they were disadvantaged children whose teachers had brought them down to see the America's Cup facilities, but it was a day when not much was happening and they were disappointed because there was nothing to see.

I walked with them down the row of AC camps, and when I got to the Chicago club's compound I had them wait while I went in and found Buddy and explained what was going on.

He brought the kids in and gave them a personal tour of the compound and boat and spent an hour explaining what it was all about.

They went away as happy as clams, and one of the teachers told me, "I have been told that the American teams are very arrogant, but if the rest of them are like Mr. Melges then you must have a lovely country, indeed."

Bur Z

Feb 1, 2010, 9:52 AM

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My Buddy Melges story takes us to Captiva Island, FL and Steve Colgate's Offshore Sailing School, circa March, 1977. The boats being sailed were Solings and if I recall, there were about 5 boats in the intro to racing program. Buddy was the guest expert for the training portion of the week.

He would rotate between boats and offer advice. He never touched a line or steered. The one thing that could be counted on was that whichever boat Buddy was on, would be the one that would win the race. To this day, I am amazed at his powers of observation. Happy Birthday, Buddy!


Feb 3, 2010, 11:27 AM

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At the 1980 Soling Worlds in Puerto Rico (the site of Peter Isler's Buddy story), I witnessed a display of Buddy's unique ability to apply both sailing skills and "animal husbandry" skills on the racecourse. During one light-wind race (probably the first time in memory that strong trades didn't blow in PR), Buddy was the first (probably only) one to notice that cows grazing on a hillside were giving important clues. He took a sharp turn toward the edge of the course, and proceeded to sail past the fleet with a new breeze signaled by the cows' rear ends. This sailor from the "Heart of America" was surprised that the rest of us didn't know about cows' instinctive tendency to graze downwind.

Happy Birthday, Buddy!

Eddie Trevelyan

Paul Henderson

Feb 3, 2010, 11:55 AM

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We were sailing in the 1963 North American Flying Dutchman Championship in Lavallette, New Jersey. It was a nice place to sail when New York City heated up and the heat bubble rose, sucking in the wind.

One day the bubble over New York did not rise and we were sitting around the club waiting for the wind to come in. Entering the boat park, Skip Lennox (my crew) had picked up a large, discarded brassiere. He immediately went over and hoisted it up Buddy’s mast where it stayed as we waited until about 3:00 p.m. for the wind to come in.

When we were finally able to start racing, Buddy was first and I was second at the first weather mark in a fleet of over 60 boats. As we rounded, I notice that Melges and Billy Bentsen had stopped without launching their spinnaker. Instead, they just sat there looking back at us. This was the North American Championship, a serious ranking regatta, so we knew something was up.

“Up spinnaker!,” Skip barked as usual. And then Buddy broke up because sewn to the bottom of our spinnaker was the largest pair of silk bloomers you ever saw, with our number KC 41 neatly embroidered by Mother Melges, as we all affectionately called Buddy’s wife Gloria.

Best Regards,

Paul Henderson

Frank Whitton

Feb 7, 2010, 10:23 AM

Post #10 of 10 (17015 views)
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I first met Buddy in 1972 . I was a Soling sailor and had purchased one of the boats he outfitted. It was also featured in Lands End catalog. I contacted Buddy to see if he would like to come out early and race in a practice round for the Olympic Trials. He, Bill Benson and Bill Allen flew out and three of us raced together on the Berkely Circle.

He had blinding speed with a light weight crew. At that time everyone was looking for 400 pounders. We had a commanding lead at the first weather mark and proceeded down the leeward leg. I had to minihike and trim the chute without a winch in 25 knots of wind. My adrenalin was up or I wouldn't have been able to handle it. At any rate, I carefully watched and learned from the master. His sails were trimmed flat going to weather with the leads way out/traveller down. It kept the boat flatter and was much more effective than the normal heavy weight crew with leads in the normal position.

I watched Buddy and his steering ability was the best. Downwind is where he shines. That's where we gained the most and it was clearly apparent that his feel for speed and downwind angles was superior to anyone I had seen before. That ability came from his winter iceboat sailing. It served him well and gave him a large advantage over his competition.

At any rate, it was clear to me I wasn't in the same league and opted to not participate in the Trials. Very wise decision on my part. One other thing he did which everyone took notice of was that before we put the boat in the water, he got out a rag and unmarked can of whatever. He slathered it all over the bottom, swirling it around so he could see the looks the others were giving him from behind. Psychcologically he won the start before getting to the starting line. I have never heard or have seen that goop since. Of course I bought some when I returned to San Diego and learned a psychological advantage doesn't in itself win a race. In his case it was a sight to behold to see his competitors completely baffled as to what he was up to.

When the Trials came along I sent my power boat up to assist him on the water. The first race out of seven was a tragedy. He broke his mast and immediately dropped out. West coasters had not been exposed to this Wizard from Zenda. He spent the whole night long repairing his rig and washing down martinis at a strong pace. He showed up on the race course the next day and proceeded to win every race left to destroy his competition by a fair margin. The rest is history, and he went on and took the Gold.

There was and still is no better representative for the sport of sailing. He is a genius with a wit and one of the sports greatest gentleman who has time and again given back to the sport as much or more than he ever received. I still run into him from time to time and he gets a twinkle in his eye and gives me a warm greeting. He was and still is one of our sports greatest ambassadors. May he live to be 180. Even than he will be remembered by everyone he touched with his smile and wit as well as his sailing prowess.

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