‘He was a Legend’

Scuttlebutt Sailing News Editor’s Tribute to Buddy

Scuttlebutt Sailing News Editor Craig Leweck has a prominent voice in the sport of sailing. So when it came time for the screening of MELGES: The Wizard of Zenda at the San Diego Yacht Club, he was called upon to introduce the film. With Craig’s permission, here’s his short but very well written presentation at the club where Buddy helmed America Cubed to America’s Cup victory.

Good evening, I am Craig Leweck, editor of Scuttlebutt Sailing News, and to introduce this evening’s event, I thought it best to reflect on one of the entities we now have for Sailing.

For a sport that participated in the first Olympic Games held in 1896, it was a daunting task for the United States to launch the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2011. There was no physical building at the time, just a website, but the mission remained vital. We can’t forget our past.

And there was a lot of past to gather so as to recognize its heroes. The massive task was to identify and celebrate individuals that made significant contributions to our sport, whether it be on the race course, in technical achievement, or in improving the sailing experience for others.

I consider myself lucky, and would welcome you all to recognize the immense privilege we have here at San Diego Yacht Club, and throughout our region, to share the waters with so many of the 114 inductees that shaped our sport. This is a very special place.

It is a common refrain in the Hall speeches for how greatness begets greatness, and that the inductees stands on the shoulders of the giants that came before them. This club has had a lot of giants.

And on a fall weekend in 2011, San Diego Yacht Club had the immense pleasure to host that very first induction ceremony. Fifteen people were recognized, laying the foundation for the institution. They were all the people I looked up to as a youth, whose exploits were among the magazine clippings I had saved.

I wrote at the time how during the weekend festivities, I felt as if the sport had stopped in time, allowing us to embrace what we had. It was repeated in the speeches how sailing, like in so many sports, could now refer to its leaders as ‘future hall of famers’. The institution would now exist to truly honor its high achievers, and provide inspiration to all sailing enthusiasts.

The inductees in that first class were

Betsy Alison, Hobie Alter, Charlie Barr, Paul Cayard, Dennis Conner, Nathanael Herreshoff, Ted Hood, Gary Jobson, Bus Mosbacher, Lowell North, Joshua Slocum, Olin Stephens, Ted Turner, Harold Vanderbilt…

AND Buddy Melges.

The induction ceremony was Sunday on the Sail Wash Lawn, but on Saturday night there was a dinner for the inductees and their guests in this very room. The table for Buddy and his wife Gloria was, coincidentally, where (Buddy’s daughter) Laura Melges is sitting now, and somehow my wife Lisa and I were seated alongside them. They were both as advertised – humble, gracious, and giving.

Over the years, I had been a member of the Selection Committee for the National Sailing Hall of Fame, and there are three categories in which someone could be recognized, either in Sailing, Technical, or as a Contributor. In all my years, I struggle to recall a candidate that checked all the boxes as well as Buddy. He was a legend.

During my years of racing dinghies in the interior of this country, I encountered a lot of lake legends. They had a sixth sense for the wackiness of inland sailing, able to find the wind others couldn’t, though they’d struggle on an ocean course. But Buddy’s skills transcended the water he was on, and his dominance extended from his homeland of scows to the Olympics to the America’s Cup. Anytime, anywhere, he was a legend.

When Buddy passed away in May of this year at 93 years of age, the tributes flowed in. From every corner of the sailing world, across the iceboating lakes, and from the duck hunting blinds came memories.

Said Steve Lopez: “It was at the J/24 East Coast Championships in Annapolis, and Buddy had his new Melges 24 that he wanted me to try. It was cold, and raining and I just got off the water after sailing three brutal races. I told him no thanks but I’d buy him a beer, and after he looked around and quickly realized no one was interested in going back out, he accepted. We walked up to Marmadukes and spent the entire night. He was great, just another sailor in a sailor’s bar having fun.”

Our sport thrives on its history to engage participation, but we are not always great about retaining those connections. Sailing publications contribute, occasionally there are books written, but it is quite rare for a film to record the past. We are lucky to have this documentary -Melges: The Wizard of Zenda – that sought to do that.

Zenda is a Wisconsin town alongside Lake Geneva, population 108. In the town’s Wikipedia page, its only economic driver is Melges Performance Sailboats, a business Buddy’s dad started and now Buddy’s son Harry continues. As Buddy liked to say about Zenda, “it’s not the end of the world, but you could see it from there.”

Production of this film began in 2014, and it was 2021 when the filmmakers reached out to me to help spread the word. The movie had a full theater for its first premiere at the 2023 Annapolis Film Festival on March 25, and since then, there have been nearly 100 screening requests from around the world with more events being added each week.

As Hall of Famer Gary Jobson wrote, “There’s no one quite like Buddy, and while I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: Our sport needs heroes to inspire all of us, and this film is just the inspiration we need. It’s a must-see for every sailor.”

Lucky for us, we get to see it now. Enjoy!