Melges 24 Goes Grass-Roots

At the Sperry Top-Sider Seattle NOOD, Abbey Norris and her Gravy crew share how this once intimidating sportboat class has welcomed them with open arms.

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Gravy skipper Abbey Norris (right, with crewmembers Elisha Van Luven and Paul van Leynseele) is breaking into the Melges 24 class—and shedding some preconceptions, too. View photos by Tim Wilkes.

There was a time when Abbey Norris wanted nothing to do with the Melges 24 class. "I actually tried to talk my dad out of buying the boat," says Norris, whose Gravy team sits in ninth place in the 13-boat Melges 24 division here at the Sperry Top-Sider Seattle NOOD. "I was like, 'You have no idea what you're getting into. This is not a fleet you want to hang out in if you have a job, are married, and are not willing to put the money into it.'

"Now here we are two seasons into it, having fun with used sails and an older boat," she continues. "It says a lot about how approachable the class can be to a newcomer."

Crewmember Paul van Leynseele explains how the Melges 24 class has come full circle in the Pacific Northwest. "When the boat first came out, it was really popular. But then it got so competitive it became unapproachable, and the fleet was down to the top five boats. Everybody else was just like, 'We're just getting beat up, and nobody's friendly. This isn't fun anymore.' The top guys were like, 'Nobody wants to race,' and we're like, 'Well, yeah! You could try a little harder.' Now people are trying to make it place where you're welcome to come racing, and they'll help you along a build a fleet out of it."

As a newbie, Norris has found her fellow competitors to be welcoming and helpful—two adjectives not always ascribed to Melges 24 sailors. "They've really been trying to embrace new people and bring them into the fold," she says. "The top boats try to bring everybody up to speed so it's more fun for everyone. Coming into the fleet last year, we had fleet meetings, we'd get together before regattas, somebody would bring a keg, or we'd do a clinic. We're just trying to make the scene more social, make it friendly."

Shared knowledge has played a big role in the turnaround, and to that end, the Gravy crew is eager to hear back from their friends currently competing at the Melges 24 World Championship in Corpus Christi, Texas. "A guy like Jonathan McKee [tactician for perennial frontrunner Uka Uka Racing] will come back to town and give a little clinic on what he's seeing in the bigger picture," says Van Leynseele. "That sort of epitomizes what's happening. The top guys feel the compunction to give back to the fleet."

Herb Cole's _Midsummer Hai-Yah! _leads the Melges 24 division. For complete results, click here.