By Michael Aushenker
It was one of the most dramatic upsets in sports history. It was also a game-changer in sailing technology.
Veteran sailor Pete Melvin — one of the men behind those innovations, even as his team was on the wrong end of one of the most dramatic comebacks ever — lived to tell the tale as the featured speaker at Friday’s California Yacht Club gala dinner in Marina del Rey.
Melvin and Gino Morelli helmed the Emirates Team New Zealand in last year’s America’s Cup 33, developing and building the first wing-powered foiling AC72 Catamaran — a vessel with a top speed near 50 knots.
Early on, Emirates Team New Zealand had the race nearly sown up with the point scale tipped drastically in their favor, but billionaire Larry Ellison’s Oracle team came from behind to win the race with Melvin’s team was less than a minute away from the finish line.
“Some people are calling it the greatest comeback in sports history. … All we had to do was one more race. However, the Oracle team, they got quite a bit faster over a short period,” said Melvin, a resident of Huntington Beach. “Initially, even when we were 8 to 1, we had a speed advantage on them. As the series went on, they got faster and faster. I guess none of us believed they would win that many in a row initially. Doubt started to creep in our mind. Ultimately, it came down to the last day. … It was as dramatic an ending as you can script.”
Despite defeat, there was on upside: Melvin and Morelli changed the sport.
Working with 30 designers specializing in different areas, they introduced hydrofoiling to the race and pushed their specialized multi-hulled crafts into the global competitive sphere.
The new class of catamarans they pioneered is “three to four times faster—not just a little bit,” Melvin said. “Now these boats are going 40 knots, almost 50 miles per hour. It’s a huge difference [from the 3 or 4 knot increments of years past].”
The next Cup occurs four years from now in 2017, giving Melvin and Morelli time to prepare. Melvin feels confident their innovations will pay off.
“The America’s Cup has always been that way ever since it started in the 1850s: You bring your best weapon to the match,” he said.
The dinner, themed “America’s Cup Past and Present,” is at 6:15 p.m. on Friday at the California Yacht Club, 4469 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey. Tickets are $25. Call 310) 823-4567 or visit