A fascinating thread connects renowned figures, iconic boats, and the ice yachts of the glory years. Here’s a look at the interconnected legacies of Lord Admiral Nelson, Ratsey Sailmakers, Sparkman and Stephens, and iceboaters Drake Sparkman and George Ratsey.
INTREPID, DORADE, COLUMBIA, and SHIVER? Soft water sailors will recognize the first three boats designed by America’s most successful yacht designer, Olin Stephens. Dozens of classes and championship yachts emerged from his partnership with Drake Sparkman and their business, Sparkman and Stephens. In 1929, Drake Sparkman was a yacht broker who gave Olin Stephens his first break and hired the novice Stephens to design boats. Drake Sparkman was an iceboater.
Henry Bossett shared a 1950 news clipping about the Alcort (Sunfish) Skeeter on Peach Lake in New York. What caught my attention was a mention that Drake Sparkman had donated his stern-steerer SHIVER to the Larchmont Iceboat Club. Of course, Henry’s extensive archives have a file dedicated to Drake Sparkman, and I couldn’t resist taking a closer look.
The rabbit hole revealed an unexpected link between ice sailing, a famous naval battle, and the America’s Cup. A 1935 article reported that sailmaker George Ratsey “with his FROSTBITE, passed everything in sight” while sailing with Drake Sparkman on Peach Lake in New York. Ratsey’s ancestors were the sail makers of HMS VICTORY, and a piece of sail from the Battle of Trafalgar is on display at the Naval Museum in Portsmouth, England. In 1905, Ratsey & Lapthorn established a loft in New York. Ratsey sails were famous among America’s Cup boats and the majestic stern-steerers of the east coast.
The December 24 edition of Red Bank Register in New Jersey reported about a yacht with “a new Ratsey Rig. The mainsail will be cut on a more advanced plane, reducing the size of the jib in order to hold the combined sail area size within the limit of 350 square feet of canvas.”
Sparkman & Stephens and Ratsey & Lapthorn had a long connection with the America’s Cup. Ratsey & Lapthorn supplied the sails for the 1958 America’s Cup winning boat, COLUMBIA, designed by Olin Stephens.
Drake Sparkman and George Ratsey’s connection went beyond the design table in their shared passion for ice yachting.
Tip of the Helmet: Henry Bossett
Gloria and Buddy Melges at the 2007 Northwest Regatta at Menominee, MI. Photo: Chris John
Buddy Melges Archives
Previous: Melges, the Wizard of Zenda
The long anticipated Buddy Melges documentary is set to premiere in March. The producers have promised “some great iceboat footage from 1999” in the documentary.
‘Wizard of Zenda’ Documentary to Premiere on March 25, 2023
The Wizard of Zenda, a film about the life of sailing legend Buddy Melges, will have its first premiere at the Annapolis Film Festival March 25. Wizard of Zenda takes the viewer on a wild ride through the career of one of the greatest sailors in the history of the sport.
This is the untold story of Buddy Melges, a fiercely competitive but beloved sailor who won Olympic medals and championships, and his quest to capture the pinnacle of sailing, the America’s Cup. Melges was an entertaining character who shared everything he knew and refused to take himself too seriously. His intuitive, some would say mystical, powers to see and feel the wind, along with his home base of Zenda, Wisconsin combined to earn him the well-deserved nickname: The Wizard of Zenda.
Buddy Melges gets the checkers at the 2007 Northwest. Photo: Chris John.
Melges won the respect and admiration of his peers and adversaries. Many of sailings biggest icons were interviewed for the film, including 3-time America’s Cup winner Dennis Conner, Australian champion John Bertrand, former ESPN sailing analyst and America’s Cup winner Gary Jobson, and Bill Koch, the billionaire businessman who teamed up with Melges in the 1992 America’s Cup.
Quicklier Film Partners Executive Producer Anne Peterson chose long-time partner and filmmaker Mark Honer to write and direct Wizard of Zenda. “It’s been a long road, but we’re excited to share this amazing story,” said Peterson who grew up sailing the same waters as Melges at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. “Many people know about Buddy’s championships. But not many know how he used that winning platform to teach not just sailing, but lessons about humility, honesty, persistence and overcoming adversity”.
Through exhaustive research, the filmmakers uncovered film and video ranging from a 1946 regional regatta, when buddy was 16, to a world iceboat championship in 1991 which Buddy won at the age of 71. “We told sailors we were producing a film about Buddy Melges and doors magically opened,” said Honer. “The jackpot was getting unprecedented access to over 100 hours of behind-the-scenes archival footage of the 1992 America3 campaign.”
Quicklier Film Partners is partnering with organizations and sponsors to distribute the documentary through private screenings, events and film festivals. To learn more visit WizardofZenda.com.
Speed enthusiasts will have noticed yesterday’s unveiling of a sailing craft built to top Richard Jenkin’s GREENBIRD record set in 2009 at Ivanpah. The fastest names in soft-water sailing are leading the effort, Team New Zealand, winners of the 36th America’s Cup.
For comparison, HORONUKE is 10m high, 14m long, and 7m wide (32′ high,45′ long, 23′ wide), while the world’s largest ice yacht, DEUCE, is 51′ high, 54′- 6″ long, and 36′ wide.
From Rule69 Blog:
If Darth Vader was into land yachting, this would be his chosen vehicle. It’s a truly remarkable feat of boat building and engineering and gives Glenn Ashby every chance of smashing through the magical 126.1mph record set by Britain’s (indeed Lymington’s) Richard Jenkins over a decade ago.
…And crikey, when that weather window does come, it’s going to be full-on to eclipse the mark set. This is one of those records that has stood the test of time. The monumental effort that Jenkins exerted saw him chase the dream for almost a decade with the burning mark of Bob Schumacher’s [one of our own, a DN ice sailor – Ed.] 116mph run that was set in 1999 etched into his ambition.
MORE: Team NZ Launch Land Yacht
Buddy Melges Archives
An ice sailor who lives just down the road from Four Lakes and has sailed Geneva Lake on every iceboat imaginable is the subject of a documentary still in production. You may have heard of him, Buddy Melges, the Wizard of Zenda, Olympic Gold medalist, America’s Cup Winner, not to mention the iceboating titles he’s won. Watch for this film in 2022.
Documentary website and trailer here.
Legends of American Sailing
Harry “Buddy” Clemens Melges II
By Gary Jobson Former America’s Cup champion & ESPN sailing analyst
There are many great sailors around America, and some of them have extraordinary skills and achieved great performances on the water over many years. When I made the list of legendary sailors for this book there was one name that stood out above the others, Buddy Melges. Ask any top sailor who is America’s best, and Buddy will always be mentioned. His Gold Medal championship in the 1972 Olympics Games and winning the 1992 America’s Cup as a helmsman is just part of the long story of this gifted, gracious, helpful and productive American sailing hero. Buddy started out working for his father building Scows in Zenda, Wisconsin. He always joked, “Zenda is not the end of the world, but you could see it from there.” Zenda is an unincorporated village in the Town of Linn and the home of Melges Boat Works. Buddy and his wife, Gloria live a few miles north in Fontana on a hill overlooking Lake Geneva. One has to wonder, how does someone become as skilled in their sport as Buddy Melges?
Buddy Melges extended his lead to first place at the 2007 Northwest Ice Yachting Association Regatta sailed on Lake Michigan at Menominee, Michigan. Photo: Chris John
Well bugger them, these Aussies are thinking about iceboating as they watch the ongoing America’s Cup. They dialed up Steve Orlebeke for a podcast episode about inland sailing and iceboating. “Bar Karate is a new sailing podcast. You might learn nothing, but you will have fun doing it.” Listen here.