What is Gary Schwarting’s obsession anyway? His perfectly trimmed beard? The cars in hisdriveway? His woodworking magic? The pedicured lawn of his home in Naples, Florida?
Nope. It’s his Melges 24.
“I’m anal about the boat and take very good care of it,” says the Melges 24 skipper and southeastern class ring leader who went to lengths to ensure the Melges 24 fleet at the HellyHansen NOOD in St. Petersburg was robust. Take a look at his boat, Obsession; it’s immaculate and hardly looks like a raceboat built years ago.
It’s Schwarting’s fourth Melges since he first saw one in 1999, when he was sailing his Capri 25 in a Long Island PHRF Race. “The first time I saw [a Melges 24], I said, ‘Wow!’” Schwarting was 45 at the time and said to himself that if he didn’t buy one then, he’d be too old to sail one later. “So, I said I’m just going jump in and do it.” The first year was like jumping on a thoroughbred horse, he says. The boat was way more powerful than what he was used to, and the first thing he learned was to have the mainsheet in his hand all the time.
“As a driver, if you want to be good, you have to give everything up and just drive,” he says. “A lot of controls, driving, mainsheet, traveler and backstay, and shifting gears all the time. It happens quickly. It’s taken 20 years to figure it out, but you learn something every day you sail in something different.”
Schwarting’s first Melges 24 was Hull No. 86, which he campaigned until 2005. He treated himself to a new boat from the Melges factory in Zenda, Wisconsin. He’s since sold it and bought No. 587 from Melges 24 North American champion Allan Field. He bought Hull No. 174 in 2017, fixed it up, and sold it to the MudRatz sailing team in Connecticut. Now, he’s looking at buying another new one.
You get the point: Schwarting likes his Melges 24s and he doesn’t mind racing with an all- amateur crew in a pro-laden fleet. He’s also been in the class long enough to see the proliferation of pro teams shift to the current Corinthian makeup that driving the class’s resurgence.
“There’s been highs and lows,” says Schwarting. “A few years ago, we had 45 boats in St. Petersburg and then a few years trying to get eight boats, which was tough. It’s coming back because people realize the type of boat that it is. It’s a great boat that’s affordable and way more fun than other boats like it.”
Back in Naples, Schwarting has a special garage to keep the Florida sun off his Melges 24, and after the NOOD, the obsessive post-regatta process repeats itself: “I put a lift in backyard to wax and sand the bottom and get the covers on and off,” he says. “Wash it down, clean the sails and the inside of the boat. Plug in the humidifier and dry it out again.”
That’s a healthy obsession to detail.