EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jaime Torres, Melges 32 Smile and Wave

27 April 2013

Melges USA's Andy Burdick interviewed Jaime Torres, Melges 32 owner of Smile and Wave, based in Puerto Rico and a big fleet leader campaigning for more racing in the Caribbean.

AB: What brought you into the Melges 32?
JT: I was looking to trade up to a racier boat from my 40' cruiser racer. I originally considered the Melges 32 a tad small and thought a 36' to 42' modern race boat like the MC38 or the Ker 40 was the right choice because most of the handicap racing in the Caribbean is centered on that size boat. But the price on those raceboats was simply beyond my budget, and the announcement of the OtterBox® Virgin Islands Sailing Series offered the opportunity to race it against some of the best sailors in the world. The availability of some great used boats at affordable prices clinched the deal for me, and I have to tell you, Andy: It was the best sailing decision I have ever made!

AB: You live and sail in a beautiful part of the world. Let us know what the sport of sailing is like in Puerto Rico and why the Melges 32 seems to be such a perfect fit for your sailing venue.
JT: In general, sailing in the Caribbean and in particular, Puerto Rico is great. Steady tradewinds blowing over gin clear water with hundreds of islands as natural marks just can't be beat. That’s why there is always so much sailing down here, and there really is no end to growth in sight for Caribbean racing. Strong winds and occasionally boisterous seas can be punishing on smaller boats like the Melges 32, but Melges builds a very tough boat that stands up well to the elements. Sailing a planing boat in non-planing conditions isn't that fun, and in Puerto Rico (and most of the Caribbean) we are almost always in 15 knots or more. When it does go light, the powerful sailplan still delivers – but pegging the speedo into the high teens, surfing down big waves always puts smiles on the crews' faces – and on mine!

Sailing, in all of its forms, could use a big boost in Puerto Rico. The days of 50 or 60 boat regattas that we used to enjoy in the 70's and 80's need to be revived, and the only way to do that is to make sailboat racing fun again. And, there are precious few things in sailing that are more fun that racing boats this fast. I doubt we'll ever have massive fleets of Melges 32s in Puerto Rico, but with two boats already here, we only need one or two more to really stand out and build buzz amongst other Puerto Rican boat owners.

AB: Your Melges 32 team on Smile and Wave are right in the middle of the OtterBox® Virgin Islands Racing Series. How has the racing been for you and your team?
JT: The Melges 32 class delivers championship racing like few others. For us it has been like stepping off the high school field straight into the major leagues or the NBA. Few sports offer the opportunity for intermediate teams to compete at such high levels against the very best athletes in the sport and doing so has made our own level skyrocket. We find that most of the pro sailors are welcoming us and happy to see us there. The other owners have embraced our team and we are having a blast both on and off the water at the Melges 32 events. The fact that we have managed to take quite a few races from even the best teams speaks volumes for the amount of effort and training we have done.

AB: What would you say has been the key to your rapid improvement?
JT: The key to our success is twofold. Bringing in Marty Kullman as our coach and main trimmer soaked the team with positive energy and boosted our skillset. He has been instrumental in getting the boat tuned and up to speed and teaching the crew the skills to compete effectively. The second aspect of our success has been our core crew selection. We chose to sail with a crew that we love and respect. Smile and Wave has never been about assembling the best sailors and going out to win; it's about building a team together, growing and achieving as a unit and getting better every time we go out. The team gets along great - on- and off-the-water - and we truly feel we are in this together. The dynamic is awesome, and with young sailors like our bowgirl Gretchen Ortiz aboard, we think we're building something that will endure.

AB: While at the St. Thomas Melges 32 event you mentioned to me that the Melges 32 has changed your perspective on sailing and that your enthusiasm is at an all time high! Why?
JT: Racing the Melges 32 is great at many different levels. The experience of helming such a fast and responsive boat is great. But when you have that experience in your back yard, in perfect Caribbean conditions, against some of the best sailors in the World then …wow… can it get better?

Coming from a the traditional club background sailing relative slow, heavy expensive boats racing against other slow heavy boats and having to wait for handicap scoring program to see results was a less-than-satisfying experience. Stepping into the world of affordable, high-level, one-design sport boats that do 20 knots downwind changed what sailing is for me. Every day off the boat, looking at the idyllic images of races just past makes me itch to go race more! And, getting more people exposed to that experience may be part of key to getting more and more people excited about sailboat racing.

AB: How can we get more Melges Racing going in your area and in the islands?
JT: I have a personal interest in seeing this grow so it will be easy for me to devote resources to helping the Melges 32 Class gain a foothold in local waters.

We're putting together a demo weekend program where local sailors can come sail our boat, and get the ‘sportboat rush’ at zero cost. We’ve got a lot of Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders desperate to try out the boat, and we want to make it happen soon. Once they feel how amazing it is to drive and crew, we just have to show sailors how fun and simple it is to get in the groove. People need to understand that these boats take some skill, but they are nowhere near as intimidating as I originally thought they were; something my almost all-amateur crew is showing very well.

A second but very important step will be to work with the Class to help encourage a Caribbean one-design racing program that showcases the boats all around the islands. There are already so many amazing regattas here, and with a half-dozen Melges 32s in the region and a few US and European crews that are looking to come back down here, we can have a heck of a one-design fleet for St. Thomas, the Heineken St. Martin, Les Voiles, and all the other awesome events. The VISS has been a blast, but we’ll need to create an affordable, sustainable schedule that allows owners and crews to commit to some or all of the winter season. Considering what it is like down here, it shouldn’t be that hard!