Brothers Brian and John Porter and their Full Throttle program have been at the top of the Melges 24 domestic and international regatta scene since the inception of the class. 2009 sees no let up in their passion for the Melges 24 and shortly after this article was put together the siblings edged a three way tie with Vince Brun and Dave Ullman to win the U.S. National Championship title for a record setting fourth time. So far, the World title has eluded them but no one doubts that they will be a major contender in Annapolis later this year.
Justin Chisholm caught up with older brother John to find out about their sailing background and to try to find out just what makes them so darned good...
IM24CA: Tell us how you both got into racing sailboats? What are your earliest sailing and racing experiences? How did you decide who was going to be the helm and who crewed? What successes did you have in other classes prior to the Melges 24?
JP: As young boys Brian and I spent our summers on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Our dad loved the water and boats although he was not very good at the sport of racing sailboats. He owned a cat rigged boat called a C-Scow which is a class still popular on the US inland waters today. I was crewing on dad's boat from the age of five and we mostly came dead last in the Lake Geneva fleet. At the age of eight I started crewing competitively on an X-Boat and at the age of eleven my father gave me one to start sailing myself. Brian is four years younger than I am and started crewing for me at the age of seven. We have been together on boats ever since. I will be fifty five years old this June so that is forty four years of racing competitively together. It has been great fun.
I was fortunate to be at a yacht club that happened to have Buddy Melges as a member and even more fortunate that when I was fifteen he invited me to go to an E-Scow regatta. The E-Scow is a twenty eight foot scow with a spinnaker. I must have done OK because I sailed with Buddy during the 1979-80 seasons on his Soling with the intent of qualifying for the Olympics. The summer of 1979 we spent six weeks in Europe sailing in Kiel and Gotland which was another learning experience. I happened to get married in May so my new wife Annie spent much of that trip with us. For us it was sort of our honeymoon, although sailing with Buddy in those days was definitely no honeymoon. This was all around the time he won his two Star world championships.
Sailing with Buddy was an amazing experience and introduced me to the feasibility of winning sailboat races. Brian and I started racing different kinds of scows and going to youth regattas in the US. I was older so was always steering the boat during those years.
When Brian got out of college in 1980 we were both working at the Chicago Board of Trade. We had very little money between us but Brian found a way (I believe he borrowed $10,000 from our grandmother) to buy an E-Scow. The decision over who helmed and crewed was easy as Brian was good at it and I did not mind crewing. In all honesty I just wanted to win. We were racing against two other brothers - Harry and Hans Melges - and as you might imagine it was pretty competitive between us. Twenty five years later and after going to every possible E-Scow regatta I called day but Brian is still active in the fleet (he has won seven National Championships and seven ILYA Championships).
During those years I was also steering our 38 foot A-Scow (we have won eleven A-ILYA Championships) with Brian crewing so he will always tell you that he had the worse part of the helm/crew deal. But I have crewed much more than he has so I figure if we get a M32 it is my turn. He might not agree though so we will have to wait and see how that works out .
IM24CA: Siblings on a boat can result in fireworks - have there ever been brotherly meltdown situations when you have been racing together? Do you believe that being two brothers sailing together gives you an advantage over other teams?
JP: Now, how do we get along? That is a good one! We have grown up racing together with the shared goal of winning and this has always kept us a team. There have been moments for both of us where you get frustrated, can't understand what the other person is thinking, why he would do this or that. Anyone who races a sail boat at any level knows how difficult it is to win. You have to be patient beyond patient and learn to give positive feedback and information that will help your team win. Sometimes keeping your mouth shut is just as important.
If we had a meltdown or two I can guarantee you it was forgotten the second it was over. Part of that is because we know we have the same goals, we're brothers and best friends. For me this relationship has always been the greatest advantage we have in sailboat racing.
IM24CA: How and when did you get into the Melges 24 fleet? When and where was your first major victory in the Melges 24 class?
JP: We started racing a M24 in 1994. Our dad had passed away the year before and a good friend of his made the comment dad had lived his life at ‘full throttle'. Brian and I both agreed and Full Throttle immediately became the name of our boat.
I am not sure when we won our first major M24 regatta but it might have been the 1998 North American Championship when we finally beat Dave Ullman after several years of him trouncing us. That particular regatta we had Andy Burdick with us who has been a mainstay on the boat throughout our Melges 24 campaigns. Dave Navin has also helped us win a couple of Key West weeks. Both Andy and Dave are great to sail with and this reinforces the point that having good sailors on the boat who you get along with as friends is a real advantage. I cannot emphasize enough the friendship of the crews on our boats. Harry and Hans Melges (I taught both of them racing at the Geneva Lake Sailing School when they were ten years old) are also long time friends.
IM24CA: What is it about the Melges 24 class that keeps you both coming back for more each year?
JP: Just like our Scows the combination of high performance and great competition is what keeps everyone coming back for more in the Melges 24 class.
IM24CA: Which teams do you most admire in the class internationally right now? If not you then who do think will win the 2009 Worlds?
JP: The European teams have taken Melges 24 racing to a higher level. The boats that win have solid crew members and today there are several boats with very good teams. They put time in on the water and as a result they are up to speed with boat handling and tuning their boats. They get a certain sailing condition and they know exactly what makes them go fast.
The 2009 World Championship will be as competitive as ever with the Italian teams especially being tough to beat. From the US, Dave Ullman, Terry Hutchinson, Morgan Reeser could all win but of course there are several others teams all capable of victory.
IM24CA: How much did losing the Santa Cruz Worlds due to gear failure on the final leg of the last race hurt? How long did it take to get over that disappointment?
JP: It is a funny thing about sailing, you can sail a thousand races but you always remember those handful of races where something crazy and unexpected happened. We have been second or third in a few of the World Championships but Santa Cruz was one we will not forget.
The wind was near 35 mph and we had completed our last jibe in big waves, as I looked at the finish line about half a mile away I thought to myself ‘at last we will win one of these'. The next thing I know we are tipped over in the middle of the ocean.
Harry Melges has sailed with us in all our world championship attempts and he told me right after that fateful Santa Cruz race ‘Don't look at the past, figure out how we can get better and look forward". He was never more correct and that's what we did.
Dave Ullman won that regatta and deserved it. Although we did almost win it, he had won four races and sailed a great event. I don't like losing but Dave Ullman has always been a good sportsman on the water.