Melges 32Melges 32

EXCLUSIVE MELGES 32 INTERVIEW: STEVE & TOM RIPLEY

8 February 2007

It's but only ever so often that you come across the extreme Melges diehard — and when you do it's incredibly inspiring. That being said there are definitive levels of Melges mania. You have those that just love their Melges, then there are those that literally come out their skin with the subject is raised with excitement. That is very true of Tom and Steve Ripley — two marine business moguls that have overhauled the legendary Fawcett Marine into one of the most successful of its kind.

Born and raised in a little bit of everywhere and heavily influenced by a Marine family, the two brothers settled in Annapolis, Maryland after purchasing the legendary supply business two years ago. In this exclusive interview conducted during the 2007 Strictly Chicago Sail Boat show they reveal their thoughts about their Melges 32 "Badfish" — the speed, the attraction and most importantly, what exactly will keep them onboard for years to come.

M32CA: So with all the moving around with a military family, how did you find your passion for sailing?
TR: Our dad was stationed at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. I was there for three years. We learned to sail there. Had a really great relationship with professors and active military at the Academy. We started to learn to sail there. We didn't grow up sailing every single day like some of these guys. Eventually we moved to North Carolina where there was not any sailing, then we moved to Newport, Rhode Island where there was a lot of sailing. I absolutely loved sailing from the very beginning. I am hyper competitive. Love competition. One design sailing is all your experience up against, someone else's experience. It's about being given the ability and opportunity to learn something, then pair it against someone else's ability to learn something and apply it. That's what I love about it. It's an environment where everyone is on the same platform.

M32CA: Prior to getting into the Melges 32, what other boats have you sailed?
SR: We sailed on a number of boats — J.109s, J.80s — mostly J boats. The process for us purchasing the Melges 32 actually started several months prior to actually receiving the boat. About a year ago this time, we remembered looking toward the end of Festival Hall and seeing this big, black stick that went almost up to the ceiling and thought, "what is that? that looks cool." We walked across, looked at it and realized that it was about two feet off the ground and every other boat was about eight feet off the ground. Seeing that, we thought that was cool too.

M32CA: What specifically persuaded you to look closer and ultimately buy a Melges 32?
SR: Our process for deciding what kind of boat we wanted was constant. We wanted one design, because I didn't want to have to get my watch out at the end of a race to know whether or not I finished ahead of someone. I wanted boat-for-boat racing. Whoever crosses the finish line first wins! One design racing was important to us. We are in a stage in our careers and with our family that we wanted a platform where we wouldn't get beat simply because we didn't spend enough money. And, the Melges 32, the first thing that we did was, Tom took a look at the class rules. We were attracted by the fact that they were tight, restrictive and the emphasis was on being a better sailor, not necessarily having a faster boat.
TR: The other thing we liked was that it is a crew boat. We like sailing with our friends. It was as much a sailing social opportunity as it was competitive. The other exciting thing about the M32 for us was, we wanted to get in a fleet where we knew that it was going to grow. We knew that it was going to attract really great talent. Meaning, we wanted the best of both worlds, because that's when you get better. We knew we were not going to get better just going around the cans in PHRF racing. In order for us to improve our skills, we wanted to be in a very competitive fleet. However, we weren't quite ready for the very hyper competitive fleet we entered...
SR: ... but it was a level playing field. There is a cost to make the boats competitive. The class rules being what they are and the way the boat is designed that is eliminated. There is also the cost to campaign. For example, Tom and I finished work on Wednesday, loaded up the boat in an hour-and-a-half. Put it on the trailer, headed to Florida and in less than twenty-four hours the boat was in the water and ready to sail. We didn't have to hire sixty people to get our boat ready to go in the water. When we went down to the training regatta in Ft. Lauderdale we ramp launched the boat. Which is great. There is so much thought taken out of the equation with being able to put it on a trailer.
TR: That's absolutely right. It's a big boat. But, it's not a dinghy. It's a boat with a big boat feel, campaign, power and speed. You have a thirty-two foot boat that can point higher than a Farr 40 in certain wind conditions. In 8 knots at Key West, a good friend of mine that was on a Farr 40 said after racing, "In 8 knots you guys were all hiking to keep the boat flat, everybody was on the rail. We had two guys down below hugging the keel." That to me is one of the biggest indicators that this boat has a lot of power, a big boat feel and financially, being able to campaign the boat and run it to a number venues is very easy to do.
SR: You see, we don't have the budget that can afford surprises. We don't have the budget where we can buy a boat then all of a sudden — surprise — there are five things you don't have that you need. When we bought the boat it came with everything that we needed, everything but the sails. Got our first set of sails — practice sails and beat a Farr 60 upwind. It was a great feeling. And, everybody on the boat, we had pros on the boat, it was their first time on the boat and they were like, "wow"!
TR: Cool thing about this boat is that everyone wants to be on this boat. Literally. We sail in Annapolis, Maryland and everybody that we know; all sail designers, big boat racers — everybody that is someone we look up to as a great sailor wants to be on this boat. They want to see what its like. Here's the perfect example. This is a great experience. Prior to Key West, first week of January Terry Hutchison was in our store, tactician for Alinghi, he said, "I hear that you guys got a Melges 32. I was over looking at it yesterday. It looks really cool and when I get back in town I'd love to go for a ride." So I said, "Hey, were going out for a practice tomorrow because the whole crew is coming in for Key West, why don't come out?" Two days later Terry Hutchison is on the back of the boat with us for the whole day. He's one of the best sailors on the planet and on the back of our boat saying, as we were crossing, "You're pinching, you're pressing, do this, do that." The boat has such an electric environment around it, everybody wants to be on it. That's a really exciting aspect!
SR: I think another element that we didn't expect, something that we didn't count on that was very pleasant was the support from Melges. Sam takes our call, Andy takes our call, Harry takes our call.

M32CA: So officially the Ft. Lauderdale training regatta was your very first Melges 32 event with the boat?
SR: That was, and the fact that there was that event was great. The J Boat fleet doesn't do that. No other fleet says, "We have a lot of new owners. Let's have a training regatta where we give a lot of personal attention." It was interesting because of our experience with Buddy. After that, we sat down and he went through everything with everybody. And Tom was quick to point out on the first day it took about ten minutes for everyone to get around the first mark. On the second day, everyone rounded at the same time. It made a big difference, there are no secrets out there. People are sharing and helping each other sail the boat faster.
TR: That says a lot about the class. It's that Corinthian, that collegiate environment. Steve and I are magnets for when you are around boats that are willing to share their thoughts and ideas behind how you can make the boat go faster. Steve made a very good point earlier and it's a great one, the support from the people at Melges is phenomenal. I don't know Harry or Buddy, but it occurs to me that they are perfectionists. I can tell by how they carry themselves, it shows when they talk to people Andy, Sam, etc. There seems to be this laser focus on how things are done, and how they're supposed be done and it shows when we had the boat about a month. We were having some learning difficulties. I called Sam on a Sunday, he called us back and helped us solve the problem. We had things taken care of by Monday. When you buy a boat like the Melges 32, and you have an organization like that behind you you feel so much better, because there are so many questions we don't know and no answers for them. In most cases, we don't know what the questions are?
SR: Everything about the boat, specific things for example: the twisting of the main. The power ratio for the main sail in respect to the rest of the boat, and the fact that you need to twist the main to fill at the top. Even at Key West pointers on using the backstay to adjust and fine tune rather than just the traveler.

M32CA: Tell us more about the crew you have on board and the things that you need to work on as a team.
TR: Well, Steve and I call ourselves the weakest point on the boat because we know the least. We have Oakley Jones, our Harken Rep; our Ronstan Rep, Tony Arrons our New England Ropes Rep, Bob Taylor, Matt Wiemer who is one of our sales reps and a great guy is also on with us. We have a great group of individuals that can help us get around the course. The front end of the boat is not terribly complicated but boy, if you make a mistake it can be really painful. The kite is enormous, we're slow downwind just a bit and we're slow getting the kite up. But, we have made big improvements between Ft. Lauderdale and Key West. At Ft. Lauderdale all of our mark roundings was a yard sale. We didn't get around the corners very well, now we seemed to have figured that out and we have good mark roundings now I think. We just need to keep working on it. Our straight line speed, well, we have our moments. We're working on it.
SR: The point is that we know were not the slowest boat because we didn't fair the bottom of the boat.
TR: Where as in the other fleets we knew we could finish well, but we could never win because we had not invested that much money in the boat. Here the boats are the same.

M32CA: If each of you could just name one favorite feature about your Melges 32 what would it be?
SR: It's fast. It's a fast boat. It's fast. And that's what we wanted. You know out of all the other boats we looked at, the first time we took the boat out we were doing 19 knots downwind. The boat was humming and planning.
TR: What I like about it is that everything on this boat is state-of-the-art. They have placed some of the most cutting edge technology on the boat and it's not complicated. We did not want a cruiser. This is a race car that you don't drive on gravel. You don't drive over potholes. You trailer it to the track, race it around the track, put it back on the trailer and take it to the next track. This is a great one design race car.

M32CA: What other events do you plan on doing in 2007? SR: Well, for now you will definitely will see us in Annapolis. Yes, there will be a party. Annapolis is a great town and yes, we'll definitely be at Nationals!

Steve and Tom, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and Melges 32 experiences thus far. Congratulations on your boat and we look forward to seeing more of the "Badfish" crew on the course.


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