The next big thing?

We speak to owner Joe Woods about his Melges 32 campaign and bringing the first new boat to the UK

Monday January 22nd 2007, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom
The Melges 32 is set to reach UK shores in a major way when Joe Woods' example of the 24's big brother arrives in his native Torquay this coming March.

Woods is a highly astute businessman, having earned an honest crust in the drinks trade. He set up his company Beverage Brands 15 years ago and today it is the second biggest manufacturer of 'Ready to Drink' beverages in the UK, with lines including the successful Vodka-based alcopop WKD and the non-alcoholic Woodys.

As a sailor Woods is highly accomplished aboard his Melges 24 having bought his first example of the Reichel-Pugh designed sportsboat for the first World Championship, held in Torquay in 1998. Since then he's owned eight 24s and currently keeps one in the UK and another ready to race in the US.

A long term supporter of the 24, for some while Woods says he has been looking to graduate up. He describes how he came to buy his new Melges 32. "I’d seen them for the first time at Key West in 2005 when they launched it, but I’d previously been very interested in what was the original version of it - the Melges 30, which had the same hull shape just with a different rig and a different rudder set-up. I’d seen that at Key West in 1999 and was quite impressed by it."

Woods says he also considered the Mumm 30 but realised he had become so used to sailing with asymmetrics he wasn't prepared to make the step back into a conventionally spinnakered boat.

Other reasons Woods gives for opting for the 32 are: "It is easily trailerable, which is good because it is similar to the 24: the keel comes up, it has a gin pole arrangement to help you take the mast down, but most people just use a crane for that. And you’ve got this lifting rudder arrangement which is very similar to what you may have seen in a Henderson 30." The rudder blade slots down into a large cylinder in the aft deck, the entire cylinder able to rotate via bearings in the hull and deck. Woods continues: "It weighs 1.8 tonnes, you stick it on a trailer and off you go. It sits very low so it is not much different from towing a Melges 24 quite honestly." (Read more about the Melges 32 at the end of this article).

Woods is fairly unique among UK owners for racing actively both in the UK and in the US. He acquired his first 32 there last year, competing on the fledging 32 circuit at Miami Race Week, the New York YC's Annual Regatta in Newport and was the only British boat competing with the 32s at Charleston Race Week.

"Both Charleston and Miami were heavy weather regattas, so we haven’t really sailed it in less than about 20 knots of breeze. So I’m hoping it is not going to be quite as windy," he said just prior to leaving for Acura Key West Race Week. His wish to sail in lighter breeze was fulfilled. Aside from 18-20 knots during the practice races, the wind was generally 7-10 knots for the week with 12-14 on the final day.

While they were holding sixth on Wednesday, they had dropped to eighth in the 20 boat fleet at the conclusion of the regatta. "We were very very quick especially upwind, we just weren’t putting ourselves in the best spot all the time," admitted crewman Ruaraidh Scott, this week starting his new job at North Sails. Aside from Scott and Woods, was tactician Steve Burbeck, Jamie Binmore, Paddy Bettesworth, Tim and Genivieve Spink and Tim Edwards.

Class act of the week was Let's Roll, raced by an Italian team led by top Melges 24 sailor Claudio Recchio. As Scott puts it: "The Italians pretty much outsailed everyone. They weren’t ballistically fast, but they were fast enough and they sailed smarter and won it with a race to spare. Then there were boats like New Wave and Fresh Guidance who were getting better as the week went on. They have pretty flash line-ups."

From here Woods plans to do most of the Melges 32 one design circuit in the US. Next up is Acura Miami Grand Prix in early March, the Annapolis NOOD at the end of April and the nationals in Newport mid-July. While only nine boats sailed the Nationals in 2006, with 20 entered at Key West the nationals should have a very much better turn out this year.

"Between all that we have to slot in the Melges 24 Worlds in Santa Cruz and over here we’ll be doing Round the Island Race, and the 24 Nationals. So it is a fairly busy campaign," says Woods.

Meanwhile Woods will be duplicating his Melges 24 set-up when his second Melges 32 arrives in March. This will be the first new Melges 32 in the UK - Falmouth sailor Jonathan Money bought a secondhand one over last year but this has since been sold to a new owner in Dublin.

"I would hope that we might be able to get some interest in it," says Woods of what he hopes to do with his UK-based 32. "I was the first one to buy a Melges 24 in Torquay and we got that up to 12 boats. And this one will be on a HydroHoist the same as the 24s so it will effectively be dry sailed and we’ll use that mostly for crew training, that’s its main thing so that we can go and do five or six events in America on the 32 - so that we’re all pretty up to speed because every time we go out to America to do something we’ve all forgotten how to sail it!"

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