Eivind Melleby Interview

Last year at the Melges 24 World Championship in Annapolis, Eivind Melleby’s Norweigian ‘Full Medal Jacket’ crew put together a storming performance, culminating in a well deserved third place overall. Best known as an Olympic campaigner in the Star Class, (he recently took Gold at the Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta), Melleby started his sailing career as a youngster aboard his father’s boat, racing at his home club in Norway. Following the classic Optimist, Europe dinghy then Laser route, he finished fourth in the Lasers at the ISAF Worlds in 1994 and third at the Laser Worlds in 1995. Last year he took a break from the Star to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race as a member of the Ericcson crew. Justin Chisholm recently caught up with Eivind to find out more about him and his Melges 24 team and their plans for 2010.

IM24CA: Your main focus these days is your Olympic campaign in the Star Class, so what attracted you to the Melges 24 for the 2009 World Championship?

EM: I still believe the Melges 24 shows the stiffest competition outside the Olympic classes. It is a little concerning that the numbers at classic US regattas like Key West are dramatically down, but in Europe the boat is as strong as ever and that is where I believe the main competition in the class is now. We have had a Melges 24 team for quite a while, but have not been able to give it our best shot in the last few years. I think I first raced a Melges 24 in 2001 and we came fifth at the Worlds in Marstrand in 2004. However before Annapolis my last Melges 24 race was Key West back in 2007.

Last year we put together a new team of people who wanted to take things a little further to see how far we could go if we did things a bit more professionally. We decided to kick this new programme off at the Worlds in Annapolis. So we bought a boat and put in about fifteen hours of training time together back in Norway before we travelled to the US.

IM24CA: Tell us about the 2009 Worlds from you point of view?

EM: Well before the regatta we were all hoping for a top ten finish, but we knew we could do better if we could get the boat going. Luckily for us the Melges 24 is almost a turnkey boat and we were able to make it work. We were using the new forestay system that we only heard bad things about, but I think that a fresh and unbiased view made us able to make the best out of it and we can certainly not say that speed was a problem. We were very happy about that and that must be the biggest positive we take from the regatta. We went there to feel out the competition and learn for later events and we came away confident that we can achieve good results in the future. The team also worked well in a competitive situation and we now know that we can build on this to hopefully be on the top of the podium sometime soon. 

IM24CA: Introduce us to your Melges 24 crew?

Espen Kofoed Stokkeland (40), Tactician. Long experience in Olympic sailing in the Soling class. 1996 Olympics and 2000 Olympics. Bronze medal 2000. Navigator for Victory Challenge at America’s Cup in 2001-2003.

Lars Horn Johannessen (36), Strategist. 7th at Soling Worlds 1997, Three times podium finish at the 5.5m Worlds and 5th at Melges 24 Worlds 2004.

Petrus Eide (41), MVP. Background in Melges 24 since 2000 and in 5.5m class with Gold at Europeans 2008 and Gold at The Worlds 2009.

IM24CA: How did your involvement in the last Volvo Ocean Race come about?

EM: The Volvo Ocean Race was a fantastic experience for me, even though I joined the team late. I only had seven days on the boat before the start and was not officially on the team until the final week. I was not thinking about the VOR as an option because I was busy with my Olympic Campaign in the Star, but when the team had an injury they asked me if I wanted to try out a few days. Obviously I was happy to at least be able to try the boats and so went to Ericsson’s training camp in Lanzarote, Canary Islands. As it turned out everybody was happy and they offered me a place for the race.

My best memory from the race must be the win on ‘The Volvo Leg’ into Rio de Janeiro which was just fantastic considering the hardships that the team had gone through on leg four. After starting seven hours behind the fleet, reaching the scoring gate off New Zealand in second place was very satisfying.  We ended up winning the whole leg and of course winning is always good. I must also say that to sail those boats was a real privilege and although it was scary at times, mostly it was a whole lot of fun.

IM24CA: What does your sailing programme look like for 2010?

EM: Star sailing is going well for my crew Petter Mørland Pedersen and I at the moment. We came eighth at the Worlds in Rio and recently won the ISAF World Cup Olympic Classes Regatta in Miami. Our goal is to win the ISAF World Cup Series overall this season so the Star will be the main focus. However I also hope to have time to do a few events in the Melges 24. Perhaps a few Volvo Cup regattas in Italy, some local events in Norway and hopefully the Worlds in Tallinn.

IM24CA: What do you think is the secret to making a Melges 24 go fast?

EM: The Melges 24 is not a complicated boat and responds well to the standard theories regarding boat speed. Of course you need to hike hard in a breeze, have new sails from the right loft and trim well, but perhaps most important is good balance and precision in steering. In our team I focus on boat speed all the time and let the crew worry about tactics and strategy. This works well for us and I believe it is important to be focused to get the boat go the inch faster than the competition. 

IM24CA: Is there anything else you would like to comment on?

EM: Dilution of the best sailors into a lot of different classes is not a positive move for the sport in my view. I see that the Melges 32 is growing in popularity, but it is out of reach financially for many good crews. I hope the Melges 24 class can continue to grow and retain its position as the number one class to sail.