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Buddy Melges and the Star


THE BUDDY MELGES STORY published in Starlights, February, 1983
Reprinted courtesy of Yacht Racing/Cruising, where it appeared as part of a feature article in January, 1983.

Melges is the kind of person who is at his best when the challenges are new and the odds long. Buddy Melges needed a new and seemingly impossible challenge to surmount. So at the age of 48, he turned his attention back to the Star class, more than 25 years after he had sailed one in the regionals in Chicago. Says Melges, "The Star had been nice to me in the past since it introduced me to Gloria, but it was a class I had always admired since it attracted the so-called 'best sailors in the world.'

As crew Melges chose Nova Scotian Andreas Josenhans, a world-champion Soling crew who had no previous Star experience. Their first regatta was the '78 Bacardi Cup, in which they competed in a borrowed and breakdown-prone boat and finished sixth. Their next regatta together would be the World's, scheduled for October on the now-familiar waters of the Berkeley Circle.

The championship attracted a mammoth 100 boat fleet with many observers calling it the most talented group of sailors ever assembled. A few days prior to the World's, pre-race favorite Dennis Conner, already a two-time world champ, claimed, "Whoever wins this regatta will be the best sailor in the world."

Melges and Josenhans arrived in San Francisco with a boat they had begun rigging in Zenda only three weeks before the first race, and since a preliminary tuning session in Chicago had not gone especially well, they went into the series without the highest expectations. Admits Josenhans, "We were pretty scared."

Midway through the first beat of the first race, however, it was obvious that the Melges / Josenhans team had nothing to fear. Just as he had done in the Soling Class at CORK eight years earlier, Melges had arrived on the Star scene with an obvious speed advantage, due, in part, to a flatter sail shape. Says Melges, "We were really smoking. We rounded the weather mark and the next boat was more than a quarter mile back."

But if Melges and Josenhans were fast around the course, it was on the starting lines that they truly dominated the fleet, winning every start they participated in. Melges gives much of the credit to Josenhans: "Andreas is a big man 238 pounds and once we had carved out a place on the line he would sit facing me and the boats behind us and point at anybody that might even be thinking about setting up to leeward of us. He'd look them right in the eye and yell, 'Here comes a guy, don't let him in, don't let him in!' I know Andreas talked quite a few people out of starting below us." With their take-off ramp to leeward well intact, the Melges/Josenhans team would pop their boat onto to a plane in the seconds prior to the start. Says Melges, "Andreas would straight-leg hike, I'd ease the sail and we'd just zing down the line. As the gun went off, I'd head the boat up, Andreas would drop into a droop hike and we'd be in the lead."

They clinched the series with a day in hand, a feat they would repeat in '79 at the World's in Marstrand, Sweden, without sailing together the entire year. During those same two years Melges won his third and fourth E Scow nationals, against competition he feels was as tough as anything he went up against in San Francisco and Sweden.

Now, with that period of incredible achievement well behind him, Melges admits that the need to test himself has "mellowed" a bit. Comments Bentsen, "I think nowadays you don't find him sailing with his heart really set on any one victory." But there have been such periods in his past before, and inevitably they preceded yet another incredible chapter in the Buddy Melges story. One wonders what pinnacle might be left for the Zenda Wizard to climb ... the America's Cup, perhaps? We'll lust have to wait and see.