The crew of the"US 600", from bow to stern: William Bentsen, Bill Allen, and Harry Melges Jr.
While the ILYA has been home to some of the greatest sailors in the world, the most internationally recognizable name among them is Buddy Melges. In his prime, he was almost universally considered the greatest sailor in the world, and his roots—and home—are firmly in the ILYA.
Dr. Thomas A. Hodgson
is the author and has
Copyright 1997 Thomas A. Hodgson
All Rights reserved.
Excerpts have been reproduced with
permission of the author.
|Buddy Melges graduated from Cub boats into the competitive vacuum created by World War II. When ILYA sailing resumed in 1946, Melges entered his C boat, Widgeon, in the Annual Regatta and parlayed a 19-20-7-19 series into seventeenth place overall. Though he didn't go north to Minnetonka for the 1947 regatta, he went to Oshkosh in 1948, finishing seventh.
When the Annual Regatta came to Lake Geneva in 1949, Melges won the first C race and was never out of the top five for the rest of the regatta. Clearly spurred on by intraclub competition, Melges and his lakemates Cuppy Goes, Jane Wiswell (later Pegel) and Smiley Freytag took four of the top eight places in the ninety-two boat fleet.
Throughout his career, Melges sailed and crewed in all the scow classes, the A being his favorite. As a crew, his tyrannical coaching style has transformed many a good ILYA skipper to greatness, and the list of ILYA champion yachts that list "H. Melges Jr." among the crew is indeed long.
But Melges also ventured into national and international sailing venues, beginning around the mid-1950s. About this time, Jack Shethar from Chicago approached him about campaigning for the Mallory Cup—the men's championship of the North American Yacht Racing Union. Shethar and Buddy and Gloria Melges teamed up to win the area finals in Chicago. The three of them then traveled to Seattle to compete with the best of the best.
During the regatta, Shethar had to leave early. Undeterred, the Melgeses picked up a girl off the judges' boat and went on to finish the regatta.
At the Mallory Cup finals, Buddy Melges came under the tutelage of George O'Day, who taught him the finer points of sailing downwind. Melges remembers learning much about tactics and the placement of the boat relative to others on the race course.
After one other unsuccessful Mallory campaign, he found that the third time was the charm, but only by the narrowest of margins. The 1959 regatta was held in Texas in keel boats, and the fact that he won the Mallory Cup in an unfamiliar class made it even more gratifying. The next year, the Mallory Cup was sailed in E boats on Lake Geneva, and Melges won by the widest recorded margin. He won for an unprecedented third time in 1961 in Montreal, sailing Dragons.
In 1963, Buddy Melges and Bill Bentsen of Lake Geneva launched an Olympic campaign in the Flying Dutchman class, choosing the FD because of its similarity to the scow. That winter was an unusually mild one in southern Wisconsin, and Lake Geneva never completely froze over. This allowed the crew to train in the boat throughout the season, focusing on winning the Olympic trials and the opportunity to go to Seoul, Korea, for the 1964 Olympiad. Their hard work under trying conditions paid off: They won the trials so convincingly they clinched the Olympic berth before the final race.
At the games themselves, a poor first race and some boat damage cost them a chance at the gold medal, but Melges and Bentsen refocused and came back to win the bronze.
They campaigned the Flying Dutchman up until the World Championships in Montreal. The winds were light and the fleet around them were engaged heavily in sculling and kinetics. Knowing that the sailing venue for the Mexico City (Acapulco) Games was likely to present a light-air event, Melges knew that he would rather engage in sailing than acrobatics. He sold his boat and left the FD class with a bitter taste in his mouth. "I was depressed and didn't do much of anything for a couple years," he recalls. "I trained a lot of Labradors."
In 1972, as part of the business, Melges got involved with a syndicate that was importing Soling-class keel boats from France. After looking at the production boats and sails coming across the Atlantic, he decided to design his own rigging scheme for the Soling, one that brought the controls back to the skipper and crew in hiking position. With this innovation, Melges and Bentsen felt they could at least "win the parking lot" by having the most promising craft at the launching area.
But they needed a third crew for the Soling. They recruited veteran E-boat champion Bill Allen of Lake Minnetonka, and in their first regatta together, the hastily formed crew found that they were considerably faster than the others. Melges credits much of their success to the rigging innovations that made the boat more controllable and to new sails of his own design. The trio dominated the Soling class for the rest of the year, easily winning the 1972 Olympic trials. From there it was on to Kiel, Germany, where they clinched the gold medal, even before sailing and winning the last race. Among those who trailed in their wake was the legendary Dane Paul Elvström. The victory over Elvström, who was considered the greatest sailor of his era, was a huge triumph for Melges.
Three times in his career—1961, 1972, and 1978—Melges won the Rolex Yachtsman of the Year honor, and in 1988 he received the W. Van Alan Clark Jr. Trophy for sportsmanship. By that time, he already had earned two Olympic medals, world championships in three classes, and three U.S. Men's Championships. Few would argue that he deserved to be considered the best sailor in the world.
2018 Regattas - send your confirmed dates
- 25- ILYA Board Meeting - White Bear, MN
17-18 - Adv. RC Course - Geneva
- 6 Rules discussion - Harken
- 7 Judges Course - Bruce Martinson - Harken
- 28-29 Basic Race Committee Course - John Strassman
- 5-6 Cedar, IN Icebreaker
- 18 - Bilge Puller South Meeting
- Bilge Puller North Meeting
- 19-20 E Spring Regatta - Lake Geneva YC
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- 16-17 XTreme X Regatta - Oshkosh
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- 21-22 ILYA C Invitational - Beulah
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- 23 - ILYA No Tears - Beulah
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8-9 George Dorn MC - Beulah
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