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

September 11, 2015

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.

2015 Melges 32 Worlds - World champion, Stig, sailing in Trapani, Italy. Photo by Mauro Melandri/Zerograndinord.

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% your 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: Well, 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 setup 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, and the first race after we switched we won the Worlds in Miami in 2011. 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 at the time and I think it’s still true. Their focus is more on mini-maxis and big boats.

Stig uses their Quantum sail inventory for fast downwind sailing. Photo by Mauro Melandri/Zerograndinord.

AR: Jordi was our designer that 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, which 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 in 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 where an example 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, because 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.

The Discussion