One of greatest bonus benefits of producing a film about Buddy Melges is hearing all the stories from the folks he crossed paths with. The ‘Wizard of Zenda’ shared generously and made friends easily so there’s a lot of you. So many in fact, we’ve given you a nickname: The Buddy Brigade. Many of you have sent us stories since we launched the website two years ago, and we’ve decided to share them here and on our Facebook and Instagram pages.
First up is a beautiful piece of writing penned by Nick Coates detailing his first encounter with Buddy way back in 1948. The stories don’t need to be this long or well crafted – in fact most aren’t and that’s okay. But when you get a pearl, you don’t hide it right? So thanks Nick.
Buddy Melges by Nick Coates, April 4, 2020
The blonde wood hull was magnificent, and the deck was a beautiful shade of pink. I saw Buddy Melges sail the most beautiful “C” boat I had ever seen to victory in the ILYA (Inland Lake Yachting Association) regatta in Wisconsin in the summer of 1949. That summer I persuaded my parents to buy me one just like it. When my father saw the boat, he could only describe the deck color as “Titty Pink.”
While Buddy was building boats and perfecting his spectacular world class sailing skills, I, too, was learning, racing, and becoming even more involved in sailing.
Up until this time everyone at Lake Lotawana where I grew up, sailed Johnson boats built by the Johnson Boat Works of White Bear Lake, Minnesota. All the boats were wooden, and the wood dried out when the boats were out of the water for any extended period of time, the seams opened up, and the boats leaked like sieves until the planks swelled shut again.
For that reason, we kept our boats in the water on buoys near our homes until 1946 when five boats from the local Lotawana fleet traveled north to Lake Okoboji for our first try at sailing against the big boys.
The Okoboji boats were kept on lifts suspended above the water when they were not racing and, as a result, the bottom seams were always tight, so they were much closer to the minimum 450-pound weight limit. Despite our carefully planned strategies, we were dead last. The light Okoboji fleet cleaned our clocks as they were excellent sailors with superior equipment. After that trip we put lifts in front of our homes and started sailing our boats “dry.” By this time, I was a dedicated sailor practicing hard and reading all the books on sailboat racing.
When I started racing my first Melges boat, Creeper, the boat I had obtained after the 1949 ILYA, I was a genuine factor in the Lotawana fleet and a real favorite at the Melges Boat Works as the Lotawana fleet started converting to Melges boats.
In 1953 Buddy Melges was off serving in Korea and I occasionally escorted his girlfriend, Gloria, who we always called Susie, to yachting functions in the Chicago area. They later married and are still married these many years.
After graduating from Northwestern and working a year in the Chicago area, Robbie and I moved back to Kansas City and mostly took over my parents Lotawana summer home on weekends. Our Lotawana fleet had become competitive and we would occasionally run into Buddy and Susie at regattas in the Midwest. I may have even beaten Buddy on rare occasions.
In 1957, the Lotawana fleet started hosting a fall regatta in early October while our weather was still good, and the northern lakes were getting cold. Buddy attended many of these Lotawana regattas and would usually stay at our home. The sailing was excellent and some of the parties were legendary. One year, Buddy introduced a new drink to the group – the Starboard Light – crème de menthe and vodka. It was deadly!
Buddy never brought a boat to these regattas, instead he served as a goodwill ambassador for the Melges Boat Works. One time he offered to crew for me, and I had a taste of what made him great. Not only was he always aware of everything that was going on in the fleet, but he was all over that boat, adjusting things, shifting his weight and making suggestions to me. It was easy to see why he was in a class by himself when it came to sailing. The impressive thing was that on these visits to our regatta he was just as generous with tips and suggestions to the Johnson owners as he was to the ones owning Melges boats.
My contacts with Buddy and Susie were mostly Christmas cards and the occasional phone call after we moved to Colorado and quit competitive sailing, but we followed his illustrious career and were continually amazed that he could step into any kind of sailboat and compete at an international level.
Our last personal contact with Buddy was when we all attended an ILYA regatta at Lake Okoboji and gathered for more than a few drinks at the home of my good friend, Jerry Huse. In addition to Buddy, another good friend was there, Olympic gold medalist in the Star class and my skipper in that class when we sailed out of Wilmette Harbor back in 1955.How I wished I could have recorded the banter going back and forth between us and the belly laughs we all had. It was one of those magical nights of camaraderie you never forget.
Now my contacts with the Melges’s are limited to the occasional phone call or Christmas greeting but when I hang up, I am always amazed that they seem delighted with my call knowing they undoubtably receive calls from famous people all over the world.