Gen­er­a­tionally Speak­ing

Buddy Melges needs no in­tro­duc­tion, but his young grand­son, em­bark­ing on an Olympic 49er cam­paign, does.

Sailing World - - Starting Line -

Few grand­chil­dren can boast that their grand­fa­ther won not one but two Olympic sail­ing medals. Sev­en­teen- year- old Harry Melges IV is one of those. His grand­fa­ther, 88- year- old Harry Melges II, more widely known as Buddy Melges, has a bronze and a gold medal to his credit, along with a slew of wins in other big- league cham­pi­onships. And Harry IV is a chip off the old block, al­ready dom­i­nat­ing a num­ber of scow classes and re­cently win­ning the Melges 14 Na­tional Cham­pi­onship. Young Harry and his crew, Wis­con­si­nite Finn Rowe, have jumped into the 49er class, and while it’s very early on in their cam­paign, the clear goal is to match his grand­fa­ther’s achieve­ment.

At the Lake Geneva Yacht Club on a mid- June af­ter­noon, Buddy is dressed in his usual khaki pants and non­de­script polo shirt. Harry’s white T- shirt says “Melges-rowe” in bold black block print.

Buddy: Nice shirt! It’s fun to see what you and Finn are ac­com­plish­ing. Those boats you’re sail­ing now, by God, it’s a lit­tle, nar­row hull, and you’ve got these big wings and every­thing — that’s some­thing else. How did you get started on all of this?

Harry: We won the E Scow Blue Chip about the same time Peter Burl­ing and Blair Tuke started to get re­ally di­aled in the 49er. They were two years into the quad for the Rio games, and they’d won ev­ery sin­gle re­gatta they en­tered. Since this was an Olympic class, it was even more im­pres­sive. They are just crazy good sailors. Finn and I re­ally looked up to them. We also thought that the 49er looked su­per fun, fast, just like the E, so we de­cided to work hard to­gether to get into that class. We started with the 29er, learned how to sail that pretty well, then grad­u­ated up into the 49er, and it’s been go­ing re­ally well.

Buddy: And I heard that, for the first

time, you felt con­fi­dent in the boat, that the boat wasn’t go­ing to rule you af­ter all. Is that true?

Harry: Yeah. We’ve spent a lot of time in the boat, a lot of work­ing on our tech­niques, on our tack and jibes. Now I can con­fi­dently say that we won’t tip over in any­thing up to 25 knots. Buddy: That’s some­thing. Harry: I think sail­ing on Lake Geneva has been a huge help. We have big chop here, as well as re­ally flat wa­ter, and it’s re­ally great how shifty it is, es­pe­cially for the 49er. With that boat, boatspeed is all about tran­si­tions in puffs and shifts, and this is the best place to train for that be­cause of all the puffs and lulls and shifts.

Buddy: The thing is, it forces you to get your head out of the boat and work on pre­sent­ing the boat to Mother Na­ture as she’s ap­proach­ing.

Harry: We couldn’t sail the boat with­out look­ing around. If you have your heads down and look­ing at what you’re do­ing in the boat, it’ll tip over.

Buddy: I’ve been watch­ing you and your crew put in mon­strous hours. I think you’ve put in your time, and now you can be­gin to build from there.

Harry: Part of that build­ing must have to do with your mind­set. How was go­ing into the Olympics dif­fer­ent than, say, a world or Euro­pean cham­pi­onship?

Buddy: You’re talking about the pin­na­cle of the sport, so I guess you would have to say that the Olympics are be­yond a world cham­pi­onship. Even rep­re­sent­ing your coun­try in a world cham­pi­onship, you could be one of five peo­ple in that event from your coun­try, but when you’re in the Olympics, you’re the one, and it’s a spe­cial spot. And then when you do re­ally well in the games, you win a medal, not just a bronze or a sil­ver, but a gold, they play the na­tional an­them, and you know you made that hap­pen — boy, oh boy! If that doesn’t make the shiv­ers go up your spine, I don’t know what will. Harry: Is the prepa­ra­tion much dif­fer­ent? Buddy: In 1973, there were so many things hap­pen­ing in my class, the Sol­ing, be­cause the class was sort of new. If we go back to ’ 63, the Fly­ing Dutch­man was also sort of new. In both our Olympic ef­forts, my crew Bill Bentsen brought so much in­for­ma­tion to the ta­ble. He knew what all the other peo­ple were do­ing. Once we knew that, we could say, “OK, we’ve al­ready been do­ing that — we’ve scuffed that out the back door.” We were also in the busi­ness of build­ing sails, so that was a plus in our cat­e­gory. When push came to shove, the fact that we had peo­ple us­ing our equip­ment, and win­ning, gave us a point of re­lax­ation in re­gard to equip­ment — sails and other stuff. Go­ing in, we knew that our equip­ment was as good or bet­ter than any­body’s. In the 49er, every­thing is sup­plied, right? Harry: Yes, every­thing is the same. Buddy: Then it falls more on your shoul­ders as far as where you’re plac­ing the boat on the race­course and how you place it there. And then, af­ter you place it, you find all the op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to you to get the max­i­mum per­for­mance, not only from your­selves, you and Finn, so that maybe you can present the boat a lit­tle bit bet­ter than your com­pe­ti­tion, and that’s all you have to do. The rest of it is start first, in­crease your lead and fin­ish first. It’s a mind- bog­gling sit­u­a­tion for some, but you put the time in, and the re­sults will come out.

In the sec­ond race in Ja­pan, in the Dutch­man, we’re lead­ing pack and the rud­der breaks. Look­ing back, it seemed like that was a good ex­cuse, when, in fact, it wasn’t. We didn’t do the due dili­gence to make sure that our boat was 100 per­cent.

You have to press not only your equip­ment but your phys­i­cal level too, so that it doesn’t let you down when it counts. If you’ve got a crew that gets tired, or you get tired, there’s no ex­cuse for that. Train prop­erly, and it all falls to­gether, whether it’s the boat, the equip­ment, the con­di­tion­ing. The bet­ter your phys­i­cal con­di­tion­ing, the clearer your think­ing is. When you get to the Olympics, be­ing too tired is no ex­cuse.

The other thing is, ev­ery op­por­tu­nity that you get to race, to sail in dif­fer­ent wind con­di­tions. The last cou­ple of days have been pretty light, and no one sails. To­day is lovely, and ev­ery­body goes out. But you’ve got to be ready to sail in all con­di­tions to do well. Think about the con­di­tions as another op­po­nent you’re try­ing to rule over. The more ex­pe­ri­ence you get in your boat, jib­ing and tack­ing in the range of con­di­tions, all the bet­ter. I would never go out for a sail. I’d go out for a train­ing ses­sion. And it led me to good re­sults.

Harry: The Olympics must have made a pretty big im­pact on your life.

Buddy: In a lot of ways. First of all, I was go­ing to make damn sure I was never go­ing to let it af­fect the friend­ships I had with my com­peti­tors, re­gard­less of their rank in the peck­ing or­der. And I wanted to make sure I could talk with young peo­ple like your­self, as they asked ques­tions about sail­ing and how to ap­proach it. And I shared as much as I pos­si­bly could with my com­peti­tors. I also al­ways thought I could learn from some­thing they might say, even though I had achieved things in the sport that many of them hadn’t. They might not even know what they’re say­ing or why they’re say­ing it — how they’re han­dling their boat and stuff like that — but it might sud­denly hit home to me, like a brick on your head, and it would be use­ful.

Harry: Both boats you sailed were crewed. What should the goal be there?

Buddy: Your crew is so im­por­tant. You have to be­come one in all your move­ments and stuff like that. Some­times, the more time you spend to­gether, the more lit­tle in­di­vid­ual man­ner­isms be­come a prob­lem, but you have to over­look those. You have to look at what the crew is bring­ing to the ta­ble. If you feel he could do more, well, I would cer­tainly talk to him about that. But I would never stop short of fig­ur­ing that he was 100 per­cent in about what our goal was.

Harry: What do you re­mem­ber most about ei­ther the tri­als or the Olympics?

Buddy: The Sol­ing tri­als were in San Francisco, in the Berke­ley Cir­cle, and we were over early in the first race. But we clawed back and ended up fifth. That was all right, and it told us we had good speed. The next race, it’s re­ally smokin’, and we go around the wind­ward mark in first place, set the kite, and I’m not sure — maybe

You can present the boat a lit­tle bit bet­ter than your com­pe­ti­tion, and that’s all you have to do. The rest of it is start first, in­crease your lead and fin­ish first.


Olympic 49er hope­ful Harry Melges IV now car­ries the fam­ily name to in­ter­na­tional events, al­ways heed­ing the wis­dom of his grand­fa­ther, Hall of Famer Buddy Melges.

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