By Mark Werder

In a haze of infinite working from home boredom and a deep longing to be back on a racecourse, many hours were wasted pouring over the internet watching videos, searching for tips and techniques, dreaming of what might be the next boat. It was in this mode that the next addition to our home fleet would be added.

I, like many of you reading this, already have a great little fleet of boats at home. Our fleet may even be excessive, but you really need to cover all the bases when you live in the middle of California. All our boats are meticulously maintained in excellent working order, yet every week I find myself cruising Craigslist for the next chunk of fiberglass. Something faster, some new element of sailing not previously explored, some great bargain. Craigslist because the thought of buying something brand new always seems out of reach. Sure, you see the announcements – some new, shiny boat will save sailing in the USA and, by the way, it only costs $25,000. Nope… Back to craigslist.

So, there I sat back in May, working from home, clicking away for work and to get some taste of sailing with limited access to water and no racing to be seen. Then I see a Facebook post from Melges, “Big announcement. Coming soon.” And, to my surprise, instead of a new 37-foot sled or a hot new version of the 24, there on the webpage was a concept for a two-person, 15-foot dinghy. A dinghy big enough to race with my wife, Stacy. It was all there – fiberglass hull with a dreadnought bow, hard chines leading to a flat planing bottom, fractional rig flying an asymmetrical spinnaker, single line for launching and retrieving the kite, gnav for more space in the cockpit, high boom, deep cockpit for those burning knees, aluminum boards and a springy tapered mast. It was love at first sight.

As thoughts of buying one in ten years after someone with more money used it and tossed it to Craigslist at a bargain rate, I clicked on. I watched the videos, read the material, and finally clicked request a quote. Wait. That price can’t be right. And it comes ready to sail? Sails, lines, boards, throw in a trailer, and this can be ours. I must know more!

I ended up on a call with the very same sailor in all the Melges 15 videos, Eddie Cox. He told me about the prototyping process, the decisions made along the way, the capacities, the materials, and most importantly how they sail. Just keep checking those boxes. Armed now with my own set of marketing materials, it was time for the most important conversation – the one with Stacy.

The conversation was short and right to the point. This is the right boat for us, at the right time, for the right price. Stacy is an excellent keelboat racer, teaches new foredecks on the Santana 20, and has grown in her confidence on the helm and as a skipper. She’s dipped her toes in dinghies, but most were overpowered, difficult to right, and too intimidating. The desire was there, but not the right boat until the Melges 15 came along. A dinghy we could sail together, learn in, and grow a new fleet from the ground up. Something lightweight we can take on the road to all the wonderful lake series races from Fresno to Eugene. This is a boat we can race, a boat to teach others in, a boat for our daughter to grow into. The answer was a confident, “Yes, let’s make this happen.”

So, in the midst of a pandemic with so much uncertainty swirling around, a brand-new boat was ordered. Ordering was simple, pick a spinnaker color, give a credit card number for the deposit and congratulations, you are #17 on our build schedule with possible delivery in late July. Now, we wait.

In the time that passed, I felt like I was becoming a Melges stalker, craving any word on the build process, watching every video… By the way, where is Zenda? After driving by the Melges plant a dozen times on Google street view, the message came: “On track for delivery July 29.” We watched the updates as our boat was loaded on the top of a trailer with 3 other M15s, all heading West. Text messages along the way, updates on timing, introductions to the other M15 buyers. We would all meet Eddie and take delivery in Tahoe Keys Marina.

As the boats were unpacked, it was all a bit surreal. Taking shrink wrap off all brand-new sailboat parts. Building the mast sections, finishing the trailer, sorting out which boat gets which sails. We carefully packed our new gear and worked our way down the hill from Tahoe avoiding every pothole, going the speed limit, even stopping to check the straps.

Safely back in Folsom, our neighbors watched the show as we rigged for the first time. Everything was familiar but different, sail controls like the Vareo, rigging and stepping the mast like the Santana 20. The years of experience paid dividends as we figured out all the little details. Rigging the boat took 4 hours the first time and less than 30 minutes by the third attempt.

Video: How to Rig the Melges 15

Then came the first sail. In fine Folsom drifter fashion, our first race saw a max of 8 knots. The buzz at the ramp was exciting. Who doesn’t want to check out the shiny new toy?

On the water in light conditions, the M15 did exactly what we expected – sailed beautifully upwind and downwind but struggled to run deep angles and was far more fun to reach with. The tradeoff of an asymmetrical on a flat bottom boat is no planing means no apparent wind to shift the angle forward. Later that night, we got just a taste of what was to come as a small gust sent us planing on the sail back to the marina. Like a drug, you get hooked.

Our second sail was on a Beer Can Wednesday with a solid delta breeze forecasted. The forecast and the M15 did not disappoint. Short, steep chop and 13 knots of breeze sent the M15 into FUN mode. Upwind punching thru waves, water shooting up, over and everywhere, crew testing the hiking straps and our out of shape abs. While physical, it never felt like it needed to be. Had we not been racing, we could have simply sat on the rail, depowered the sails, and cruised comfortably. Then we turned downwind, and it was like falling in love all over again.

Stacy executed the spinnaker launch flawlessly, I eased the main, and we shifted our weight back. Our reward for good sail trim was a boat now skipping over waves with double-digit speed and the grace of a dolphin. As we looked back while rounding the leeward pin, the large gap between us and the rest of the fleet was something to see. Nothing but smiles as we punched our way back to the finish line.

The Melges 15 has created a true bright spot amongst all the bad news and challenges we are all facing this year. In my opinion, the builder has truly hit a sweet spot with a fun, planing, approachable, comfortable, and fast two-person boat that people can afford. Stacy and I can’t wait to see what adventures await us. We look forward to growing the fleet, meeting new people, and seeing just how fast this little 15-footer can go.