News & Events for Chesapeake Bay

Review: The Melges 14 delivers speed and responsiveness

Date Posted: 2017-04-26
Source: Robert Suhay

Editor's Note: Robert Suhay has twice broken the Guinness World Record for the longest distance ever sailed in a dinghy (male). He is also the husband of Waterwayguide News Editor, Lisa Suhay. 

Last month, Robert was asked by Shoreline Sailboats, of western New York, to test the Melges 14. Part of the test was racing the boat in the Melges 14 Mid-Atlantic Championships at the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club, which took place April 21-22, 2017. Robert won.

Having that kind of in-house resource was just too good to pass up, so we prevailed upon him to give us his review as an exclusive.

Currently, there are only about 100 of these boats out on the water in the U.S. However, given the response it got from Robert, plus the dozen dinghy sailors who helped him test the boat, that number should increase rapidly.

Even wrapped in its covers on the dolly, you know the Melges 14 packs excitement. On the water, it delivers. Sailing friends and unknown bystanders summed it up this way: “Cool boat.”

Thanks to Shoreline Sailboats of Avon, New York, I’ve had the privilege of test driving the Melges 14 for several weeks now. I’ve taken it through its paces by myself and shared it with friends in a range of conditions from near calms to 20 knots. It is simply a dream to sail.

Light at 120 pounds all up, the boat is ultra-responsive to helm, trim and weight. When the water looked like a mirror, I could stand comfortably in the open cockpit and pump the fully battened sail to drive the boat as though there were wind. In 20 knots, sitting fully hiked near the transom, I caught myself in a rare jag of whooping out loud as I carved over and around the steep swells churned up in Hampton Roads at the southern end of Chesapeake Bay.

One of the first things you notice about the Melges 14 is its modern starship look, a product of Reichel/Pugh. Its narrow-high volume bow cuts through chop. But you can stand in front of the mast without feeling like you are going to sink the boat. The wide (5 foot-2 inch) beam from midships includes the contoured wings that let you  hike out in relative comfort. The vantage point also gives a clear view of the bow, which makes fore-and-aft weight trim much simpler. For instance, in moderate breezes, I could watch the bow as I maintained a light contact with the water. In lighter winds, I could dig in deeper to lift up the transom. The high-aspect daggerboard and just slices the water and the vertical  rudder takes fingertip control when the boat is balanced.

For the traditional sailor, the fully battened main may take a little rethinking. For the windsurfer, it will feel like home. The rig takes a lot more vang to induce luff curve and give the battens room to work. The downhaul has massive effect on the rig and boat speed. The first time going upwind in a breeze, I yanked hard on the downhaul and felt a moments palpitation as I nearly went bottoms over tea kettle as the boat sat down and took off. One thing is certain: It will be hard to give up the power and control of this rig. Melges also offers three rig sizes to make the boat manageable to all ages and sizes. The full rig, at 98 square feet, sports a square head and slips onto the two-piece tapered mast with a luff sleeve. There is also an 85 square foot mid-range sail for smaller sailors or bigger breezes and a 58.8 square foot sail so the children can enjoy the boat, too.

One of the features I enjoyed most about the Melges 14 was the open cockpit that made sitting, standing and moving around the boat easy and comfortable. The cockpit deck is covered in a cushioned non-skid mat that took a lot of strain off the knees while kneeling downwind. The floor is above the water line, and combined with the open transom, there is no need for bailing or kicking water out of the boat.The boom is high enough to make it easy to clear while tacking and gybing and the downhaul and outhaul controls are lead back to either side of the cockpit for easy reach. The vang is lead back straight from the mast, and I tied the end off to the daggerboard strop Laser-style so it wouldn’t wander to the lee side.

But the smart design, sharp looks, comfort and lightness, are likely not what you will love most about sailing this boat. It will be the speed, power, responsiveness and sheer joy of it.

In all, a dozen Hampton Road sailors have taken a turn on the Shoreline Sailboats demo boat used for this review, (We even used it as the rabbit for one Laser fleet Sunday series.) Everyone gave it a thumbs up, and several walked away thinking about becoming owners. A few had to be encouraged to get off it to give another person a turn.

The Melges 14 with a full sail (Gold Rig) is priced at $8,900, according to Melges web site. A dolly, top and bottom covers, blade bag and spar bag are also available.

For action videos please see the Melges 14 YouTube channel.

Burgee ratings: Products are tested by a minimum of five testers plus the reviewer. In this case, the boat was taken to the Old Dominion University Sailing Center and offered up for testing to both the team members and Laser racers participating in the Sunday Series. Each person rated the product by either giving a Burgee to pass, or no Burgee to fail.

A product must gain at least three Burgees to get a full Welcome Aboard rating as highly recommended. Two Burgees gets a medium rating. One Burgee low rating.

Whistle Blow = A product not up-to-snuff, meaning it got zero burgees out of a possible six (5 testers, plus our editor).

The Melges 14 was a solid thumbs up from every sailor who gave it a try, giving it a full six out of six Burgee rating.

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