EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Harry Melges, III
1 January 2005
EH: Congratulations on winning the Melges 24 World Championship this past year! We would like to learn more about you, your career as a sailmaker, boat builder and everything that has led up to this latest great championship win. First, a most obvious question for some would be how is your dad and what is he up too?
HM: Buddy is doing great! He is busy sailing and working on his iceboats all winter and this summer he will once again be racing the A scow, E scow and MELGES 24. He is still the one to beat on the water, I am sure you will all see him on the water soon.
EH: Growing up with Buddy and your grandfather Harry Sr. who also founded Melges Boat Works must have really been special. At what point when you were a youngster did you realize that sailing was something you loved and were going to stick with? Also, tell us about growing up with your older sister Laura and your younger brother Hans and how they affected your sailing in the early days?
HM: Sailing was our life. That is what we grew up with and that is what we knew. It doesn't take much to fall in love with sailing and sailboats. I think at a pretty young age I was hooked, at least with boats and sails and building and designing them. I think when I was 9 or 10 I built my first boat and my brother and I won our first championship. From then on, I think my future was pretty well laid out.
My brother and I grew up sailing together and crewing together for Buddy. Together we learned a great deal about sailing and going fast. Sailing is a great family sport. For several years our entire family sailed together on an E scow, all five of us, Buddy, my mom, Laura, Hans and myself. Those were great years!
EH: Tell us about your early days working in downtown Zenda at Melges Boat Works and Melges Sails? At what point did you focus on Melges Sails? Also, who were some of the influential sailors that shaped your thinking with regards to sailmaking?
HM: In the early days, Hans and I would come to Zenda and sweep the floors and clean up, that is when we were 8 or so. As the years progressed, we began to work in the shop building boats. We learned every aspect of the business at a young age, building a boat from start to finish, delivering it to the customer, tuning all the boats, racing all the boats, and we learned what a fast sail should look like. Buddy was the most influential in terms of sailmaking and what a fast sail should look like. I learned from Frasier Beer, John Gluek, Bill Allen, Jeff Baker some finer points of sail construction, material, and how to design and build a sail from scratch. I always enjoyed creating new sail designs, visualizing fast shapes and what would be the fastest sail and then trying to put that imagined shape into a real sail. First, by hand on the floor with some shaping battens and pins and now with the aid of computer sail design software and 3D flying shapes on the computer.
EH: You now are President of Melges Performance Sailboats, Buddy is fun-retired (we sure see him a lot in Zenda), Hans is at the Chicago Board of Trade. Tell us a little about your two companies Melges Performance Sailboats and North Sails Zenda. Who are the key sailors in the group? I know a pretty big portion of your company includes employees with lots of service years to the organization. How do you attract such a good group to the cornfields of Zenda?
HM: Melges Performance Sailboats and North Sails Zenda are as dedicated as ever to producing the greatest high performance recreational sailboats and their sails in the World. We have a great team of boat builders and sailors, some who have been in Zenda for over 35 years, true craftsman with loads of experience. We all have a passion for sailing and boats and that has probably brought us all together. To learn more about our people, please visit melges.com Zenda is kind of a strange place to have a sailing business, but, there really is a tremendous amount of sailing and talented sailors in the middle part of the country. I believe that the strongest one desing sailing in the country is in the Midwest and in the scow fleets. They are still very family oriented and about having fun while doing well too.
EH: Your sailing career has just about as many, in some cases more national and world championship victories than your dad Buddy. The one thing missing from your resume would be the Olympics or America’s Cup. Do you have aspirations to do the Olympics or America’s Cup? You certainly have the talent to be driving a cup boat. If you joined a group would that be your goal to drive or join as a tactician?
HM: I really do not have high asperations to go to the Olympics or sail in the America's Cup. I love to sail and I love to win. I have a lot of confidence in my sailing ability, but, I problaby sail more to advance our business than to advance my own sailing career. I have a stronger desire to maintain and grow our business to new levels of prosperity than to sail at a higher level.
EH: Being one a sailing industry leader in the world of Sportboats how do you see the future of sailing? I guess the question is fair to say how do you view the sport as a whole. Also, in your view what is the most important thing to growing and promotion of our sport of sailing?
HM: The future of sailing is definitely one design. This is the grass roots of the sport and this will always be it's strength. One design will always be there and will always be the proving grounds for talented young sailors. One design puts sailor against sailor, not boat against boat. One design feeds all other aspects of the sport. Our goal is to continually simplify and improve our one design products to make the sport more fun and easier for all involved. There are so many other things to occupy everyones free time these days and we must make the sport as enjoyable as possible. The most succesfull fleets are the ones that are the most family oriented and focus on fun first and fore most, and not on winning at all costs. Keep it light, keep it fun!
Harry, on behalf of North Sails One Design we would like to thank you for your time. Again, congratulations of your recent Melges 24 World Championship win.
North Sails One Design