2016 WORLDS : TEAM EMBARR WITH RIO OLYMPIANS ABOARD - FUN PEOPLE, PASSIONATE SAILORS, TOUGH COMPETITORS
With three weeks to go to the 2016 Melges 24 World Championship in Miami it's a great time to present some of the teams and people passionate about the Melges 24 boat. The majority of the Melges 24 class is a Corinthian fleet of all amateur crews who race within the open competition but are also scored separately. However, the boat tends to attract many top level sailors including Olympians who want to get into high level racing without compromise.
Looking at the entry and crew list of the Melges 24 Miami Worlds you'll find among them three Rio Olympians and many more former Olympic sailors including several medallists. Seems to be no coincidence that especially for the 470 class sailors the Melges 24 boat has been a logical choice to follow. Christopher Rast (SUI), current Melges 24 World Champion, Tõnu and Toomas Tõniste (EST), current Melges 24 Corinthian World Champions, Hunter Ratliff (CAN), a well-known US Olympic team 470 sailor to name only few 470 class former Olympians.
From the latest 2016 Rio Olympic Games the fourth best 470 team of Stuart McNay and David Hughes (US Sailing Team) are now eager to follow their dreams on board a Melges 24 in Miami. They are part of Team Embarr which has Irish roots with Conor Clarke as owner and a passionate Melges 24 fan.
Piret Salmistu, Administrator of the International Melges 24 Class Association interviewed both the owner Conor Clarke and crew of Stu and Dave to find out what magic lies in the Melges 24 boat and why every now and then Olympic sailors jump to the Melges 24 and stay there.
Piret Salmistu (PS): When was your first experience with Melges 24? How was it? What was inspiring you?
Conor Clarke (Conor): I sailed on a boat with Quentin Strauss and a great team (Gill Racing) back in 2002. My first ever event was in April 2002 at SNIM in Marseilles and later that year we went on to the Worlds in Travemünde in Germany. I bought the original red Embarr in 2008 after making a drunken promise to myself after a Rugby match. That's another story.
PS: When Embarr team was created?
Conor: I bought the red boat in 2008. It was originally built for Joe Woods by Luca Devoti and meant to be the Wicked Red but it was rejected because the shade of red was incorrect and did not match the Vodka brand Joe Woods was promoting. Luca made another one in the correct shade for Joe and I think it is in Hungary now. 607 lay in the Devoti yard a year or two before being bought by a consortium on Lake Garda in 2007. They sailed in Scarlino and Garda only and I think the partners decided this was not the best thing for them. I bought it and picked it up in Ciampino on Lake Garda, Italy early in 2008. Our first ever event as Embarr was in Switzerland at the Swiss National Championships 2008 on Bodensee / Lake Constance. We got a speeding ticket during a race from the Swiss authorities - one of my proudest moments in any boat. The current boat is # 829 from 2012 and the old one is in Australia now called Red Mist.
PS: Irish Gaelic name EMBARR means "imagination." In mythology, this is the name of the heroine Niamh's magical horse that could cross the sea and land without touching the water or the ground. Do you feel the same while sailing on your boat?
Conor: Well researched!! I grew up speaking Irish from an early age and wanted a suitable name "as Gaeilge" or in Gaelic. Embarr was Niamh's horse (I have a sister called Niamh) that came from across the sea and was able to travel across land or water faster than anything anyone had ever seen before. Embarr, the Melges 24, was destined to spend her time away from Ireland and travel across land and sea to events. Eventually she even wound up in the USA. As you mentioned the name also means imagination in the sense of a dream and any boat owner or sailor will certainly get that reference without need for any explanation.
PS: The highlights of Embarr sailing have been: 3rd - 2011 World Championships; 2nd - 2011 US Nationals; 2nd - 2012 North Americans; 2nd - 2016 US Nationals to name only few. What are your expectations to the Miami Worlds?
Conor: We placed 5th in the Worlds in SF as well. Most recently, and notably, with the current team, we won the March Madness event in Miami earlier this year and we came second on countback in Miami last November also. We hope that our good form in the Worlds location will continue. We won Key West 2015 as well so our performance with the current team is 1,2,1,2... It doesn't take a mathematician to finish that pattern for our next regatta. We want to do well at the Worlds and if we can stay in the mix up to the last day then it will be success. On that last day then it will be up to us to do whatever is needed.
PS: What can you say about your current team?
Conor: We are not very gushy with praise and we generally feel kind of uncomfortable with shows of emotion or fists in the air kind of thing. I am loath to say a lot about the team aside from roles within the team. Stu is calm and quiet but authoritative, willing to do anything for the team and appears very happy go lucky which can be deceptive. He will eat all the chocolate in the fridge if left unattended. Dave is everywhere and ties the boat together from front to back. He is the one organising us at the moment ensuring we get what we need ahead of Miami and keeping us focused on our programme, on board he keeps about 6 trains of thought going on all the time and ties into Stu as well as forward to the team. Prof (Maurice O'Connell) is the heart of the team. Off the boat he is the voice of reason (hard to believe for those who know him only slightly) and on board he is the one who keeps us together when stress hits. Aside from that he is an amazing trimmer, brilliant in role of sailmaker and one of the best pro sailors you could have on board any boat. Bearla (Aoife English) is the newest team member and has been with us since November in Miami last year. She has transformed our shoreside regime now that we actually have someone enthusiastic about and brilliant at cooking. We used to talk about eating healthily but wound up eating easy junk after racing. She is very aggressive and proactive on the bow and has fitted in perfectly to the team. I mainly try not to let the team down too much. Team culture and ethos is very important to us and I believe that the Embarr Team is very strong in that regard.
PS: What can you say about the Worlds' venue and sailing on the ocean?
Conor: After the Worlds in San Francisco in 2013 I considered what sort of sailing I wanted to do and stood back a while. I thought about selling the boat and moving on. We took a year off and the next event Embarr sailed after SF Worlds '13 was Key West 2015. I finally decided to keep the boat when it was announced that the Worlds were being held in Miami off the Beach on the Ocean. This meant big waves and warm water, shorts and t-shirts sailing a Melges 24 in Irish Atlantic wind and wave conditions (only the temperature and view is different, I promise) It was the kind of event we talked about all the time, mythical like the Santa Cruz Worlds that everyone talks about still. This is what we have to look forward to now and we absolutely can't wait!
PS: What do you like about the Melges 24 class?
Conor: The Melges 24 is getting on in years now but is still the ultimate sports boat. I have tried almost all of them and I still own my beloved 1720 sportsboat which I keep in Lake Garda. The M24 is the standard against which all the others can only achieve a compromise. Some offer better family sailing, some are easier to sail, some are cheaper but the M24 is the purists' choice still. It is very rewarding to sail in any conditions but when the waves are big and there is breeze on it is awesome. Add a World Championships and 100 other boats fighting around you and you have Miami...
Because it is such a purists' boat, it tends to attract a high level of sailors - Olympians who want to get into high level racing without compromise will opt for the Melges 24, look at the Miami entry list and check the names in Wikipedia. It is humbling to see the achievements of people who choose to sail the Melges 24.
Stuart Mc Nay (Stu) and David Hughes (Dave) have their say here.
PS: When was your first experience with Melges 24? How was it? What was inspiring you?
Stu: I began sailing Melges class boats in 2009. In fact, Dave and I were on the same boat when I first helmed an M24. In 2015, I returned to the class with Team Embarr at Key West 2015. It was great to be back. First of all, Team Embarr is a great team to be a part of: fun people, passionate sailors, and tough competitors. Second, the US M24 class has a great vibe: competitive, but also low key. Everyone wants the best for the class and high quality racing. Third, the boat itself is fantastic. I love the feeling of the helm upwind. But, downwind, the boat really comes to life. The bow comes out, the boat goes faster, and then goes lower. It's a great feeling.
Dave: I can't quite remember the exact date, but I first sailed a Melges 24 around 2004. Vince Brun really took me under his wing and taught me the boat. I could not have had a better introduction to the Melges. Vince and I partnered on a number of different projects, including Key West and the World Championships. Over the years I've been fortunate enough to sail with more of the class' champions, such as Harry Melges and Chris Rast.
PS: There are lot of former or current 470 top sailors competing on Melges 24 - how can you compare these two boats? Or how can you compare events for the Olympian and non-Olympian classes?
Stu: There are lot of former or current 470 top sailors competing on Melges 24 - how can you compare these two boats? Or how can you compare events for the Olympian and non-Olympian (like Melges 24 is) classes? The biggest similarity between the M24 and the 470 is the quality of racing. The 470 happens to be an Olympic class, but both classes have top quality sailors, race management, and great venues. Additionally, like any Olympic class, M24 teams spend a lot of time preparing themselves for the major championships. The teams that win must have a combination of superior skill and a little bit of luck. It's a surprisingly natural transition between the M24 and 470 because they share similarities in their performance on the water. Both boats have tweaky tuning and have multiple modes upwind and downwind. In both classes, the racing is very tactical.
Dave: The Olympic Regatta is the one event that transcends our sport. No other event in sailing does this. Olympic-level racing needs to be viewed through a different lens than all other racing. It's not racing a class "that happens to be in the Olympics." The Olympics is its own beast. The wholistic scope of the Olympic project — even the number of hours dedicated in a given year — creates a distinct flavor to the training and competition.
That said, we bring to the Melges many lessons from the Olympic circuit. I'm sure I speak for all the Olympians in our fleet. Professionalism in training is one aspect I really appreciate about the Melges 24 class. All parties share a willingness to train and race hard, and that is not unlike the Olympics!
In a direct sense, the Melges 24 and the 470 have much in common. There is something about the geometries of both boats that require similar instincts to sail them at their highest levels. I am often surprised and amused by the similarities. So, if you're thinking the Melges is a superb boat, guess what? You'll love the 470. And, vice versa! They are truly kindred classes.
PS: You finished 4th in Rio 2016 and were 5th at the ISAF Worlds 2014 (Stu McNay and Dave Hughes), your crew also on Embarr. You are making a great team on 470 and you just finished second at the Melges 24 U.S. Nationals at Lake Geneva. What are your expectations to the Miami Worlds?
Stu: It's great to sail with Dave on both projects. He is an exceptional teammate. On Team Embarr, we have a team of five and each person brings key skills to the team. Our performance goal is to win the M24 worlds. To do that, we will need to focus on our process goals: one day at a time, one race at a time, one shift at a time. Our goal, then, is put forth our best performance. The result on the score card is not 100% in our control, but we recognize that and we are ready to do battle on the racecourse.
Dave: The 470 is a wonderful boat and fleet. Stu and I are most proud of our European Championship title, as well as multiple World Cups and medals along the way. As with any top-level team, we are constantly working to put ourselves in the best position to win with the Melges 24. The goal for any championships is to head into the final race of the series with the opportunity to win. Our challenge remains the same -- getting the most out of ourselves.
PS: What have been your greatest or enjoyable moments and achievements in Melges 24 class?
Stu: Hopefully, our greatest achievement is yet to come. Sailing with Team Embarr has been an exciting project and I look forward to this World Championship.
Dave: Frankly, all the regattas are enjoyable and create special memories. Our 3rd place at the 2011 Worlds holds a prominent place in our team's history as it was our first event together. I was excited to win the Porto Venere AudiTron and Key West regattas last year. Embarr's greatest achievement, however, might be the overall string of podium results she's enjoyed throughout her career. In the end, it's all about the fun and growth you have as a team. That's all that matters.
PS: What do you like about the Melges 24 class?
Stu: High quality racing and after hours camaraderie in the fleet!
Dave: Right now, what I most like is that the World Championships are coming to my hometown of Miami!! I love sailing here.
International Melges 24 Class Association is happy to have such team in the class and wish them enjoyable World Championship in Miami, fun and competitive sailing and good luck!
Stay engaged and follow Team Embarr's Facebook
Watch the interview with Conor Clarke at the 2016 Line Honors US Nationals at Lake Geneva - edited by Marc Noel, Okanagan Sailing
Team Embarr at the 2015 Miami Yacht Club Melges 24 Invitational - 20-22 November 2015 - photo Petey Crawford
Team Embarr at the 2013 Melges 24 Worlds in San Francisco - photo Pierrick Contin
Team Embarr visiting Melges Boat Works before the 2016 Line Honors Melges 24 US Nationals - photo Maurice O'Connell
RIO Olympics 2016 - Stuart McNay-David Hughes (USA) - 4th overall in 470 class - photo Sailing Energy/World Sailing
Stuart McNay and David Hughes race in the 470 class during the Sailing World Cup Miami 2016 on Jan. 30, 2016 in Key Biscayne - photo Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images