The first Melges 24, 'Zenda Express' sets sail on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in December 1992, destined for introduction at Key West Race Week in January 1993.

The first Melges 24, 'Zenda Express' sets sail on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in December 1992, destined for introduction at Key West Race Week in January 1993.

Born in the U.S.A., the Melges 24


22/03/2023 - 16:51

In 1992 on a cold December day, in the snow on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, a new breed of sailboat was born. It would introduce a new style of racing inspired by the success of Buddy Melges and his legendary America's Cup victory. With pride and prowess, Melges Performance Sailboats took one design racing to the next level with the creation of the Melges 24.

At the time, it was groundbreaking. With the Melges 24, they pioneered the next frontier of competitive yacht racing. They integrated high-tech materials and concepts used at the America's Cup level. They designed it to be easy to sail, rig and tow. It had a powerful asymmetrical kite that made it really fast downwind. That also made it really fun. 

Best of all, the Melges 24 was attainable. Everyday, ordinary sailors could now enjoy the same thrill as those that competed at the pinnacle of the sport of sailing. At the same time, they would gain knowledge and experience required to become more than just an average sailor. In the long term, everyone realized if they sailed a Melges 24, they could improve their skills and become great competitive, tactical sailors.

Early factory images show the Melges 24 being prepared to wow in Key West, Florida. Magic, according to Burdick is when preparation meets opportunity. So true for the Melges 24.

"We took the Melges 24 to Key West Race Week for the first time in January of 1993," says Andy Burdick with Melges. "It was the first Zenda Express sailed by Hans Melges, John Kostecki, Steve Arbaugh, Judd Hirschberg and myself."

"We knew from the time we arrived, the Melges 24 was going to be special. We launched the boat on the ramp in two feet of water. That got everyone's attention. Then, when we raced past 50-footers downwind, everyone was in awe."

Needless to say, the rest is history. Just a few short years later, the Melges 24 held its 2001 World Championship in Key West with 80+ entries.

Fast forward to 2023, the Melges 24 is still going strong. "The Melges 24 is a super fun boat to sail, particularly downwind," says Melges 24 Dark Energy owner Laura Grondin. "To this day, the Melges 24 attracts top talent. This boat constantly challenges me and my team to improve and go faster."

Grondin, who also serves the International Melges 24 Class as President continues, "I started sailing the Melges 24 as a Corinthian and I enjoyed the fleet then as much as I do now, for all the same reasons. It's a fantastic boat to race."

"We are starting to see more women and youth get into the fleet, which is great. The energy and diversity they bring to the fleet is the absolute best!"

Thirty years later 'Zenda Express' is as lovely and lively as ever. Hull 866 as seen above, competed at the 2022 U.S. National Championship in Pensacola, FL last November.

"We've got a great lineup of events all around the world this year — the Worlds in Denmark, the North Americans will take place in Toronto, Canada, and of course, there is going to be an amazing U.S. Nationals at the home of the Melges 24, on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I hear a Melges Rocks party is going to happen — the band has been booked!"

In the U.S., the Class is ramping up for an amazing year of racing in celebration of the Melges 24's 30th anniversary. The National Ranking Series is in full swing, and the Quantum Great Lakes Cup Series starts soon. The first event takes place in Muskegon, Michigan in May — the finale is the National Championship on October 6-8, 2023, hosted by the Lake Geneva Yacht Club.


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