Buddy Melges with FERDINAND THE BULL on Lake Geneva at the 2001 Hearst Regatta.
FERDINAND THE BULL, owned by Buddy Melges, is one of history’s most successful Class A Stern Steerers. The BULL has its roots in a combination of a beloved children’s book turned Disney short film, a couple of brothers with a metal stamping factory now famous for vintage Coca-Cola machines, and leftover distinctive green paint from a cottage.
I am indebted to Grosse Point Yacht Club, Michigan historian and member Dr. Larry Stephenson M.D., for his article, THE GROSSE POINTE YACHT CLUB CONNECTION TO LARGE ICE YACHT RACING, about the history of the BULL. Read his article here.
Brothers Rex and Clare Jacobs founded the F.L. Jacobs Company, an automotive industry supplier and maker of Coca-Cola vending machines during WW2, which remain popular with collectors. Jack Jacobs, Clare’s grandson, invented the popular “J” iceboats, built for comfortable cruising. Rex Jacobs and George Hendrie, who also skippered, were co-owners of the BULL.
“At some point in the late 1930s or early 1940s, Clare Jacobs acquired DEUCE IV, a serious racing competitor to the BULL.” Both of these boats had been built in Harrison Township, Michigan, by the Vanderbush brothers. Their woodworking shop was just a few hundred yards from where iceboaters had been launching on Lake St. Clair in the 1930s, near the intersection of East Jefferson Avenue and Crocker Boulevard.”
Dr. Larry Stephenson M.D.
Even today, both DEUCE (now owned by Rick Hennig of Racine, WI) and BULL carry the same green livery, and there’s a reason for that. In a 2006 article about his grandfather Clare Jacob’s DEUCE, Jack Jacobs recalled, “The boat was the same flat green that the cottage on Harsens Island was painted. My grandfather felt you should never spend any time on parts of a race boat that don’t make it go fast (like paint).”
The boat’s namesake came from a popular children’s book, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, published in 1938. The story, about a mighty bull who would rather sniff the flowers than fight, was made into a successful short film in 1938 by Disney Studios.
The BULL’S long record of championship titles began in 1940 in Menominee, Michigan. Rex Jacobs and George Hendrie traveled there with DEUCE and the BULL to compete against the Oshkosh Ice Yacht Club for the Stuart International Trophy. This race was originally established in 1903 by Michigan’s Gull Lake Ice Yacht Club. Skippered by George Hendrie, the BULL brought the trophy back to Michigan, beating out the cup’s defenders, John Buckstaff in DEBUTANTE III and Tom Anger in BLUEBILL II. The BULL went on to win more championships with Hendrie at the tiller.
“Around 1960, “The Bull” and “The Deuce” were sold to iceboaters in Wisconsin. “Ferdinand the Bull” was sold to Harry “Buddy” Melges, Jr., of Zenda, Wisconsin, close to Lake Geneva in the southern part of the state. Buddy, now 83, is considered one of the most successful competition sailors in history, winning dozens of national and international championships. He was the helmsman in America’s successful defense of the America’s Cup in 1992 and took both gold and bronze medals in Olympic sailing competition.”
Dr. Larry Stephenson M.D.
Someone once told me that the BULL journeyed from Detroit to Zenda on the top of a car. I don’t recall if Buddy effortlessly transported the BULL’s 40-foot hull from Detroit through Chicago’s Skyway to southern Wisconsin. Still, based on another story from Mendota Yacht Club’s Lon Schoor of Madison, Wisconsin, that may have been the case.
“Bill Mattison and I were partners in several A-Scows beginning in 1982. All were salvaged after the insurance company declared them total wrecks. Bill and Buddy were close friends and talked frequently about their shared interest in both hard and soft water sailboat racing. That friendship resulted in some bartering between them. We would build boat parts for Melges sails. Unfortunately, I do not recall the year we built a new hull for Buddy’s Bull, but I believe it was in the 80s… We loaded the hull on the [Buddy’s] Suburban, and I swear the truck was barely out the garage door when the overhanging hull was in the street, stopping traffic. I remember looking at Bill and saying after all that work, it will be a miracle if it makes it to Geneva. …you can imagine the overhang on a Suburban was ridiculous.”
Check out Peter Harken’s tale of survival mode while crewing for Buddy on the BULL as they charged towards the leeward pin during a regatta. You can find the video on YouTube.
Buddy Melges and FERDINAND THE BULL had a strong bond, and Buddy went on to win 22 significant Stern-Steerer championships.
Read More: 2001 Hearst
FERDINAND THE BULL PHOTO GALLERY
REGATTA RECORDS FOR FERDINAND THE BULL Stuart International Cup
1940 -1947 DIYC, R. C. Jacobs, George Hendrie
1965 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Frank Morgan
1968 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Frank Morgan
1975 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., A. R. Wenzel
1980 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Harry C. Melges 111, Hans Melges
2001 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Harry C. Melges III, Hans Melges, Charles Harrett
Hearst International Cup
1961 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Frank Morgan
1962 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., G. Gerber, Frank Morgan
1963 – 1965 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Frank Morgan
1971 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Frank Morgan
1980 SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Harry C. Melges III, Hans Melges
2001 Ferdinand, SIBC, Harry C. Melges Jr., Charles Harrett
Northwestern Ice Yachting Association Championship
1961 Buddy Melges, Skipper; Morgan & Gerber, Crew
1962 Frank Morgan, Skipper Buddy Melges, Crew
1963 Frank Morgan, Skipper; Frank Trost, Crew
1966 Frank Morgan, Skipper; Buddy Melges, Crew
1967 Frank Morgan & Buddy Melges
1971 Buddy Melges, Skipper; Frank Morgan, G. E. Gerber, Jerry Sullivan, Crew
1980 Frank Morgan, Todd Morgan
1991 Buddy Melges
Gloria and Buddy Melges at the 2007 Northwest Regatta at Menominee, MI. Buddy won the Class A Skeeter title that regatta. Photo: Chris John
Buddy Melges 1930 – 2023 He Was One Of Us
The ice sailing community grieves with the Melges family and with our friends from the Skeeter Iceboat Club on their loss.
Iceboating is a sport that is often difficult to comprehend for the uninitiated. It’s hard for people to understand the effort, perseverance, and rewards that come with the exhilaration of sailing on a frozen lake with your closest friends and then spending the evening rehashing every tack and jibe.
Buddy was one of us. He spoke our language and probably invented many of our sayings. Our sport has gained much positive attention thanks to Buddy’s remarkable accomplishments, including those in the Olympics and America’s Cup.
My brother. Ron Rosten and I grew up around the ice sailing legends like Buddy, Mattison, and Ripp. Buddy was just another ice sailor out on the ice, albeit a damned good one. (I hate to admit this, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized that Buddy was an Olympic sailor and why they called him “The Wizard of Zenda.” – DW)
In May 2022, he spoke at Bill Mattison’s funeral, where he fondly remembered his friend’s genius and their successful America’s Cup campaigns. It was probably the last time many of us saw him.
Buddy was a second-generation iceboater who won so many iceboating titles in almost every class that I’ll need time to tally it all up.
What a life.
Statement from Melges Performance Sailboats Facebook Page
It is with heavy hearts that we announce the peaceful passing of Buddy Melges. Today, we honor the remarkable life and enduring legacy of a man whose contributions have left an indelible mark on our hearts and the world of sailing.
As we mourn the loss of a visionary and celebrate a life well-lived, we invite you to share your cherished memories with us as we collectively pay tribute to Buddy’s life. Your heartfelt stories and messages of remembrance are a testament to the profound impact he had on our community.
‘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.
“He would have hated this.” Billy Mattison reminded the packed room at Gunderson’s Funeral Home about the humble nature of his father, Bill. The memories of Bill shared by those who had preceded Billy were unique and moving. It was a privilege to witness a group of highly accomplished individuals speak in awe of their friend. Here are a few highlights from the people invited by emcee Don Sanford to share their best stories.
Bill organized the building of a new hull for the world’s largest iceboat, Rick Hennig’s DEUCE. Rick recounted that experience with great affection and humor. When Bill saw the semi-truck full of Sitka Spruce roll into the shop parking lot, he turned to Rick and said, “That’s the stuff dreams are made of.”
Bill’s neighbor said that when Bill came over to watch him tinker in his garage, it was “like God himself coming to watch a mere mortal.”
“Yeah, I know a little about that.” America’s Cup veteran, Larry Malik, recalled Bill’s typically understated reply when asked if he could fix a photo processing machine during an AC Australian campaign. Larry shared the famous story of the day Bill took the film of the AC boat to the one-hour photo store, where he learned that the store’s processing machine was on the fritz. Bill fixed the machine and came back with the pictures.
Lon Schoor, Bill’s long-time Mendota Yacht Club A Scow partner, marveled at no matter how complicated the project; Bill was so organized in his thoughts that he didn’t have to write anything down and always made the deadline. He left us laughing with a story about how Bill schemed how they would sell the idea of buying an A Scow to their wives, Donna and Mauretta. Bill told Mauretta that Lon had purchased the boat, while Lon was to tell Donna that it was Bill’s boat.
Dr. Kyle Metzloff, a sailor, ice sailor, and UW Professor of Industrial Metal studies, spoke about Bill’s genius and ability to pick up new and complicated ideas. Having never dealt with computers, he learned to operate a mini CNC mill for creating scale model Mattison Circus parts. At an older age, Bill figured out computers.
Peter Harken shared his amazement at Bill and Paul Krueger’s work ethic. They never wasted a minute, not even in the bathroom where Peter assumed “they had a drill press installed.” Peter acknowledged those who traveled from afar, including New Jersey Skeeter sailor Dan Clapp and America’s Cup alumni from San Diego.
Sailing legend Buddy Melges came to the podium, fixing his steely blue eyes on Mauretta and the family for a full minute, not saying a word, holding the audience in his hand while he made us wait. Buddy spoke about their America’s Cup days and how remarkable it was for a guy who came from the Scow world; Bill could make a 12-meter sail faster. “He did not sail on it, but he made it faster when he worked on it.” (Later, I heard stories in the bar about how at least one of Bill’s modifications caused a stir with some AC engineers, but they calmed down when the boat speed increased.)
“He would have hated this.” Billy Mattison reminded the packed room about the humble nature of his father, Bill. The last to speak at Bill’s Celebration of Life, Billy had to follow some esteemed acts, giants of the sailing world, who had shared stories from the podium of the man’s genius. Billy’s poignant closing remarks emphasized the private family side of Bill and his devotion to his wife of 65 years, Mauretta, their children, Lynn and Billy, and their grandchildren.
“I think it is time for a dipper.”
On our way to Gundersons, Don Anderson and I delivered cakes to the Breakwater for the post-memorial reception sponsored by the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club and Mendota Yacht Club. The manager surprised us with the news that Mauretta had called with instructions that she would be picking up the bar tab. On Monday, unsure of the damage, the two yacht clubs offered to pitch in with the bill. Mauretta said no, adamant that Bill would have insisted on it. Thanks, Bill.
Debra Rosten Whitehorse
Ever since Buddy Melges’ induction in the first class of 2011, ice boaters have numbered among the elite sailors honored by the National Sailing Hall of Fame (NSHOF). Other hard water inductees include Peter Barrett, Olaf & Peter Harken, Jan & Meade Gougeon, Bill Bensten, Herbert Lawrence Stone (who authored books and articles), Bill Mattison, and Jane Pegel.
The sailing community’s full recognition of the sport of ice yachting has culminated with the inclusion of an iceboat in the new NSHOF museum in Newport, Rhode Island.
When visitors enter the impressive interactive exhibition hall, they will notice six boats hanging overhead from the exposed wooden rafters of the historic former armory. One of those six is an iceboat representing our community and those who live to “Think Ice.”
The NSHOF asked Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club Nite sailor Don Sanford (the driving force behind Bill Mattison’s induction), myself, and others for an iceboat. The museum had hoped to hang a Class A Skeeter, but the wide plank would have taken up too much space. They chose one that would fit – the most popular iceboat globally, a DN.
Peter Harken asked that the boat not be a “fixer-upper” but a fully fitted racing boat. The NSHOF accepted Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club member Doug Kolner’s offer to donate his complete modern DN.
The DNs natural wood hull and plank, built in a small garage in Monona, Wisconsin, are true to the roots of the DN’s humble beginnings at the Detroit News hobby shop in the 1930s. Doug built the boat using standard DN plans, and it symbolizes all the iceboat builders who enjoy kicking up some dust and mixing epoxy in their garage shops.
Current members of the NSHOF’s influence is evident in the fact that the boat was built using Gougeon brothers epoxy and Harken brothers fittings technology. Doug recognized NSHOF member Bill Mattison and Green Lake Ice Yacht Club’s Joe Norton as the builders who had influenced his iceboat building know-how.