Wisconsin native Buddy Merges, who became the first sailor to win both an Olympic gold medal and the America’s Cup, the sport’s top prize, died Thursday at his home in Fontana, Wisconsin, on the west shore of Lake Geneva. . he was 93 years old.
His daughter Laura Merguez said his health had deteriorated over the past year. He had five bypass surgeries in the 1990s and probably contracted Lyme disease while hunting, she said.
The shores of Lake Geneva in the 1940s and 1950s were not thought to be the place where the world’s top sailors would grow up, when Merguez (pronounced with a stiff ‘g’) learned to sail under his father’s tutelage. But the skills and techniques he cultivated on Midwestern lakes have brought him to dozens of national and world titles.
His 1983 book Sailing Smart, full of decades of racing anecdotes, written in plain language, has become a favorite textbook among American racers. And his company Melges Boatworks manufactured his revolutionary Melges 24. This is the first in the sport his yacht genre, capable of doubling the speed of his previous generation, making it a favorite of top sailors.
A book, a boat, red cheeks, Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses, and a faded flat-panel navy blue signature hat with a simple gold crest make Merguez one of the country’s most famous sailors, his humility and Generosity established him as a leader among sailors. He became one of the most beloved figures among young sailors.
Growing up in the small lakeside town of Zenda in southern Wisconsin, Mergueth became known as “The Wizard of Zenda,” a title that once appeared on the town’s border sign.
With a commanding victory in the 1972 Olympics in the 3-seater sailing keelboat, Mergues defeated four Olympic gold medalist Paul Elvström, the sport’s greatest sailor.
“In my opinion, he was the Leonardo da Vinci of American sailing,” said Australian John Bertrand, who won the America’s Cup in 1983. Before winning the gold medal in 1972, he revolutionized the sailing class by developing his system of unique sails and new masts. He destroyed competition at the Olympics. ”
It was a win in the 1992 America’s Cup, despite a gold medal in 1972 and an Olympic bronze medal earlier. Bill CookBillionaire investor, world champion sailor, and aboard the America Cubed that inducted Melges into the Hall of Fame of the World’s Greatest Sailors.
A surprising choice to helm the Cup at the age of 62, Mergès splits driving duties with Koch and young race champion David Derenborg, sending him to one of four races at Italy’s Il Moro di Venezia. and defended the America’s Cup silver trophy to the United States.
“Buddy was a giant in our sport,” said 1977 America’s Cup winner Gary Jobson, an adviser to Melges’ 1992 team. “What set him apart was his ability to overcome adversity. ”
Harry Clemons Merguez, Jr. was born on January 26, 1930 in Elkhorn, in the Lakes Region of Southern Wisconsin, and grew up on Delavan Lake, where his father ran a poultry farm during the Great Depression. His mother, Louise (Richter) Mergues, was a homemaker. After his family moved to Zenda near Lake Geneva, not far from the Illinois border, Merges senior started a business building wooden canoes and rowboats there.
At Zenda, where Merguez used to say “it’s not the end of the world, but you can see the end of the world from there”, he was indoctrinated in the world of duck hunting, sailing and ice boating, and these disciplines transformed into sport and business. shaped his approach to
He worked with his father, sailed and was a talented basketball and football player. badger high school at Lake Geneva. However, his studies at the University of Wisconsin were interrupted when he was drafted into the Korean War.
After returning from the war with a Bronze Star for Merit, he began applying what he had learned in the woods of Wisconsin and Canada to yacht racing.
“He was fascinated by the flight of birds,” said Bertrand, who spent a year with Merguez in Wisconsin in the late 1970s. “He was using this. He always talked about ‘using our boat naturally.’ It helped him change the wind. He was as one with nature as humanly possible. ”
Merges believes training in Wisconsin gave him an edge. “Preparing for all our adventures on Lake Geneva has helped me more than anything else,” he said in a 2011 interview with Bill Goggins, chief executive of marine supply company Harken. “We set our hearts far ahead of the boat.”
Merguez made his debut in the 1987 America’s Cup in Perth, Australia, as a member of the Heart of America Syndicate. Although his team lost, he became a fan favorite for his theatrical appearances and jokes at press conferences.
A phone call from Koch qualified him for the 1992 Cup. At the time, the average age of cupskippers was 38, while Melgès was 62.
“It was a bit of a struggle to convince them both,” Jobson said. “Buddy’s talent combined with Koch’s scientific research. Both were from the farmlands of this country and competed on the world’s oceans. We got along really well.”
His victory over renowned America’s Cup winner Dennis Connor in the 1992 Defenders Trials catapulted Merguez to the pinnacle of the sport, making him and Connor the top two sailors in the United States.
“Buddy was one of the best sailors the world has ever seen,” Conner said Friday from his San Diego home by phone. “He won’t match.”
Melges is a three-time Rolex Yachtsman of the Year and was inducted into the first class of the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2011. documentary about his lifeMergeth: The Wizard of Zenda was released in March.
Mergueth was often instrumental in mentoring American sailors. After winning the Cup, Koch recruited him to coach his first Women’s America’s Cup team, the Mighty Marys, in 1995.
“In 1992, Buddy fought for me to be on the American Cubed team,” said Dawn, the only female member of that year’s winning cup team and captain of the 1995 women’s team. Riley said. “He took the time to show me how the cup boat worked. He said, ‘Darling, I’ll show you how to navigate this.’
Melges is survived by his wife, Gloria Melges. Three children, Laura, Hans and Harry Merguez III. and seven grandchildren.
Today, the family name is synonymous with competitive sailing. Harry III runs Buddy his Merges’ Wisconsin Shipbuilding Company successor Merges His Performance his sailboats, and his grandson Harry IV is on his team at US Olympic Sailing. increase.
At the age of 80, Mergues won his last championship, the Inland Lakes Yacht Association A Scow Championship.
His humble personality made him endearing to the sailing community.
“He was respectful and interested in other people,” said ’92 Cup racing team member Derenbaugh. “He wasn’t like other top sailors at the time who felt like they had to have all the answers. .”