Melges 32 World Champion Skipper Alessandro Rombelli on What it Takes to Win the Worlds

The 2015 Melges 32 World Championships featured one of the toughest fleets of competeitors the class has ever seen. Quantum chatted with champion skipper Alessandro Rombelli to learn about his journey to winning the ultimate title. He also talks about a few tips and tricks to help just about any racer.

Alessandro Rombelli and his Quantum-powered Stig took home the crown at the Melges 32 World Championships held in Trapani, Italy, last month. This is the first World Championship win in the Melges 32 fleet for Rombelli, although he came close in Miami and Porto Rotondo. Rombelli sat down with us via Skype to talk about his journey to the top, the importance of a clean start, and the pros (and cons) of the Latin sensibility.

Quantum Sails: The pre-race media touted this field of competitors as one of the deepest ever seen in Melges 32 competition. What were your thoughts or expectations as you ramped up for the race?

Alessandro Rombelli: We were pretty positive about the way were sailing. We won two regattas out of four during the season. Our tactician is a local from Sicily and has sailed many, many times in Trapani. We’ve also done a lot of work in the development of sails. We were counting ourselves among the top five boats that had a real shot at winning this Worlds. Of course there are always unexpected events. 100% preparation cannot give you 100% certainty of winning a race. There were at least five boats that I reckoned as having equal chances to win — Argo, Delta, Volpe, Robertissima.

QS: What kind of pre-race preparation did you do? On- or off-the-water training?

AR: We have a coach that has been with us for the last two years. We mostly focus on the water on speed and maneuvers and some starting drills. We analyze everything during debriefing on shore.

QS: How did you work to improve your speed?

AR: A: you need to find a good partner to do some tests, someone who is available and fast, and B: you need to have people on board with very good knowledge of the boat. We had Giorgio Tortarolo, the mainsail trimmer who has been sailing since the beginning of Melges 32. At the mast we had Luca Faravelli, who has won three Worlds on Melges 32, just to tell you the level of expertise that we had. I think we are pretty advanced in terms of tweaking the boat to increase speed.

Although it’s still an art and not a science. It’s not that by having tables you can replicate a set-up easily. That’s why you need to have people that know the boat inside out. And in some cases our being Latin gives a little bit more flexibility in adjusting.

QS: It seems the fleet had an itchy trigger finger with the number of general recalls and Z-flag starts posted. How did you stay cool when the pressure was on?

AR: I have to say that during the whole season we’ve been very good at starts. We practiced a way to keep the boat moving at a certain speed, which doesn’t put us immediately on the line but still gives us control of the boat. So if you’re cool enough, you find a spot where you can fight quite easily to keep it and to ensure a good start.

QS: You were fifth at the Miami Worlds last year. What changes did you make to be able to climb to the top?

AR: For the tactician I wouldn’t really say there is much difference between Terry [Hutchinson] and [Francesco Bruni] in terms of absolute quality—there is in terms of style, but not in terms of the quality. We made some significant changes to the crew—the bowman, the mast—and those have a certain weight. We have done some development work with Quantum on new sails. And then there is luck.

QS: Seven different boats took bullets in the 10-race series. It would seem that you won this race not on line honors, but on consistency—how were you able to maintain a top-three position in nearly every race?

AR: The starts were critical. If you have a fast boat and you start well, it’s feasible to be in the top five. If you’re starting in an erratic way, it gets messy. We scored one 18, our discard, but that didn’t come out because of a mistake or problem. It was just that Bruni thought that the weather at the time was like a little storm and he was convinced that there was more pressure on the left. We fought for the pin and we went to the left and we got a 20 degree shift to the right. We won the start, we were very fast, but we were going fast to the wrong direction.

Once again, this is what makes a difference between us Latin and the Anglo-Saxon. Sometimes we should look more at statistics. In Trapani, 95% of the time it’s right, so you should go right regardless of what you see around. Even if there is a strong indication that left can pay off, if you are in the position that we were in the Worlds, you should not take a risk or gamble. You should play by the big numbers.

QS: How long have you been with Quantum?

AR: It dates back to 2011 when we switched to Quantum sails on our Melges 20. The first race after we switched we won the Worlds in Miami. After one year, I was building a large mini-maxi, a 72-foot boat, and we were doing development with North so we decided to switch to North for the Melges 20 and the Melges 32 campaigns. Then, when I started to sail with Terry, we switched back to Quantum for both the 32 and the 20. This is the second World Championship we’ve won with Quantum sails, so this is a good testament to the quality of the product.

QS: In this North-dominated fleet, what made you want to make the switch?

AR: The results that boats with Quantum sails were getting were more positive. North is such a big company that doesn’t put enough effort into the development and refinement of the products in these small classes—I thought that at the time and I think it’s still true. Their focus is more on mini-maxis and big boats.

QS: What was your experience when it came to developing the new sails with us and with our designer, Jordi Calafat?

AR: Jordi was the designer who implemented the vision we had on how to change the sails and make a small adjustment to the standard product. We were very, very happy with that relationship. He came on board a few times, he was on our rib during events. He had good communication with our headsail and mainsail trimmers on how to improve the existing products. I think we achieved some very good results together.

QS: In a one design fleet, how much leeway do you have to work with sail development?

AR: Obviously most of the measurements are mandatory with small tolerances. The class is so competitive at the moment that even small details in finishing or the battens or the batten pockets can make a significant change. As Terry always says, it’s a game of inches, so you should try to find those inches anywhere.

QS: There were a mere 22 boats in Trapani, but the Melges 32 continues to be one of the strongest fleets around the world. What could a local or regional team do tomorrow to improve their results in the hopes of someday making it to the Worlds?

AR: There was a very in-depth measurement process in Trapani, and all the boats were within the tolerances required by the rules—no more than 1% one from the other—which is very, very good for a one design fleet. Besides the number of the class, it’s the quality of the class that is important. This is the first step to giving a newcomer some trust and comfort that he can achieve what the others can achieve because he’s playing with the same toys and tools. I think it’s a matter of spending time on the water and finding a group of guys who know the boat very well.

QS: If you could say one thing about your experience in the Worlds what would you say?

AR: It was a very exciting week, a mixed bag of feelings, because it was exciting but also increasing our self-confidence at the same time. And it’s one of the few times when we’ve been very, very happy that on the last day we raced, even if it looked for a while that the race might be abandoned. We wanted to race because we thought we were fast and we were enjoying the competition. So, excitement, plus a sense of being solid. Those are the two things that stand out the most.

Next up, Rombelli and Terry Hutchinson take on the San Francisco Bay in the Melges 20 Worlds at the end of September. We expect this to be another great week of competitive racing, and we wish the crew of Stig good luck!

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Quantum Sails Announces New Leadership Team in Australia

Well-known Australian sailor and sailmaker Matthew Pearce has joined the Quantum Sails team in Australia as Sales Manager. Based at the Quantum loft in Dee Why, Pearce will oversee the sales team in the New South Sales area in addition to his role as sail consultant. 
Pearce has over 25 years of sailmaking experience and has competed in numerous America’s Cup challenges, won 18' skiff championships against some of the best sailors in the world and has competed in 19 Sydney to Hobart races, his first in 1991. Matthew has been affiliated with Quantum Sails for the past five years mainly in Europe. 
Working closely with Pearce is Ben Kelly, who has been promoted to Director of Sales & Design and regional manager for the entire Quantum network in Australia. With Quantum since 2012, Kelly oversees day-to-day operations of the group and services customers from his loft in Brisbane, Queensland. “Matt is a great addition to our team and we’re very pleased to have him onboard. He brings a special blend of sailmaking, sailing and administrative experience to this position that will not only serve us well organizationally, but also our customers.”
Kelly says the formation of a new leadership team is related to a change of ownership for the Dee Why and Brisbane lofts. Formerly owned and managed by Carl Crafoord, these lofts are now company-owned by Quantum Sails. Kelly says the new business relationship is bringing additional resources to the Australian market, supporting the delivery of excellent service to sailors across the country. “We’re working closely with Quantum to streamline our operations and provide an even higher level of customer care and support. Since we have largely the same teams in place with local knowledge and expertise, the transition for our customers has been quite seamless.” 
Independently-owned lofts located in Hobart, Melbourne, and Perth continue their affiliation with Quantum Sails to provide sails, customer service, and sail care services around the country.
Quantum Sails got its start in Australia in 2009 under the leadership of Carl Crafoord in Dee Why. Says Crafoord, "In the past six years we put together a great team, building a national footprint for Quantum to serve customers in every capital city. We reached many goals and enjoyed success along the way. At this time, I have a desire to pursue new aspirations in our industry. I have tremendous confidence in the team we have built; I am sure Quantum customers will be well cared for.”

 About Quantum Sails

Since 1996, Quantum Sails has focused on providing the best-performing sails and excellent sail care services in the industry. Today, the company is equally relentless about delivering a higher standard of service, customer care, education, support and mentorship. Quantum’s commitment starts with the people at more than 60 sail lofts around the world and includes hundreds more working behind the scenes. Quantum team members embrace each customer’s challenge as their own and are fiercely dedicated to the success of their customers. The company’s world headquarters is located in Traverse City, Michigan, USA.
Quantum Sails Team in Australia
Ben Kelly 
Unit 4 / 10 Ingleston Rd
Tingalpa QLD 4173
T:  +61 7 3393 9111
Matthew Pearce
Unit 6/ 224 Headland Rd
Dee Why, 2099 NSW
+ 61 (0) 2 9905 7715
David Eickmeyer
Factory 5
Quantum Way (off Progress Street)
Mornington, Victoria 3931
+61 3 5975 1119
Mike Hutchinson
Derwent Sailing Squadron
23 Marieville Esplanade 
SandyBay, Tasmania 7005
T: 0435309123
Brent Fowler
4/18 Thurso Road
Myaree, Western Australia 6153
(+61) 0400 735 983
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How to Maintain Control in Breeze

Argghh matey… there’s nothing like the leeward rail buried in the water, the tiller or wheel gripped firmly fighting the pressure, or is there? The exact right amount of heel in breeze is a hotly debated topic amongst many sailors, here is my take on it.

Any top sailor who specializes in making a boat get from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible will tell you that the real secret to speed is balance and control. In fact, even sailors who may not particularly care about making their boat go a tenth of a knot faster upwind can relate to the need for understanding sail trim and sailing technique as an aid to control. Ultimately, it is trim and technique that allow you to be the master of your boat when it gets windy (instead of the other way around).

Let me offer a few simple suggestions to control helm and heel, but first, let’s look at the question of how much heel is appropriate.

In quantitative terms, the answer is probably somewhere between 20 and 25 degrees maximum for a displacement monohull, depending on boat specific characteristics. Multihulls and high performance monohulls need to be sailed at minimal heel angles. But practically, there is a simpler way to know when the boat is tipping over too far. If you have to fight the helm (a rudder angle of more than 5-7 degrees), you are heeling too far and need to adjust trim or technique. Heel equals helm. When the boat leans over, it attempts to turn itself back up into the wind, which is referred to as “weather helm.” To keep the boat going straight, we compensate with the rudder. That's fine up to a point, but the rudder is really a brake. Used too much, and it’s just like dragging a barn door through the water, which is not a particularly fast or efficient way to sail.

All sailboats need an optimum of “X” amount of power. A certain amount of heel allows the boat to sail on its lines, gives the rudder bite, and helps create lift. (That’s why you will see racing crews huddled on the leeward rail in light air to induce heel.) More than “X” and the extra heel creates drag. Weather helm is the indicator. Sailing with more helm and heel than is optimal is like driving your car down the street on the doors instead of on the wheels.

As in all things, we need to strike a balance and find the middle way. So, how do you stay in control?


The quickest way to get a sailboat back up on its feet is to ease the sheets. This is especially true when sailing on a reach, when you are attempting to sail more or less in a straight line. Easing mainsail and headsail sheets turns sideways-force into forward-force. Ease far enough and the sail will luff, spilling excess power. When sailing on a reach, the sails can be eased in every puff (in part because of the extra horsepower, but also because the apparent wind moves aft). To keep constant rudder pressure and consistent heel, ease in the puffs and trim in the lulls when reaching. Remember, it is the sails that steer the boat. The rudder is just a fine tune device.


Upwind the problem is a little more complicated. If you ease the sheets every time you get a puff, you won't be able to sail as close to the wind as you would with the sails trimmed in. You'll go fast, but won't point well. There's a powerful upwind steering technique called “feathering” that makes all the difference.

Feathering means sailing by angle of heel instead of maintaining a constant angle to the wind as indicated to the headsail telltales. If steering upwind when a puff hits, let the boat head up slowly to balance the helm and maintain a constant angle of heel. Headsail telltales will lift, or “feather,” indicating a slight luff. That’s okay. You don’t need the extra power. As the puff lets off and the boat begins to get too upright, bear off slightly to maintain heel angle. The telltales will begin to stream aft in their normal upwind position. Use the telltales in the lulls, but maintain angle of heel in the puffs by letting the boat head up.



If you have to ease the sheets when reaching, or do a lot of feathering to keep the boat on its feet, it is time for flatter sails. For the headsail, add halyard tension to remove horizontal wrinkles (perpendicular to the headstay). If you have a backstay adjuster, add tension to minimize headstay sag. Move the sheet lead aft to flatten the bottom sections of the sail and allow the top to twist off. For the mainsail, add halyard tension to remove horizontal wrinkles (sound familiar?). Tighten outhaul to flatten lower third of the mainsail. Add backstay to bend the mast if that is an option.


Remember, you only need “X” amount of power, so it’s okay to let the sail luff a little. Upwind, drop the traveler and allow the mainsail to backwind along the forward 20-30%. Move the jib lead aft and let the top of the jib luff slightly. If you need to drop the traveler to balance the boat, the jib lead should move aft to match the shape to the mainsail. When reaching, ease the sheets and allow the sails to luff slightly rather than allowing too much heel. If you have to luff both sails constantly (more than 50% of mainsail), it’s time to reduce sail area.

In general some heel is good, too much heel is bad. To paraphrase (rather badly) from an ancient Zen saying, as in all things, the correct answer certainly lies in the middle way."

By Dave Flynn
Quantum Atlantic
Director of Special Projects

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