Prior to 1975, the M20s that rolled out of Melges Boatworks sported a spar manufactured by an English firm known as Proctor. These masts and booms, anodized gold, were carefully tapered and heat treated. They are as much artisanal works of art as instruments of speed.
Each mast and boom carried a matching serial number, similar to the engine and chassis numbers you might find on a period Corvette.
Longtime M20 racer Erich Schloemer is almost wistful about these sticks. Shloemer or his dad campaigned M20 hulls from the earliest days of the class: 1967 until 2002 for Schloemer senior; 1983 to 2012 for Erich.
Their infamous 1968 hull, named “Junkyard Dog,” was a rough looking mongrel of spare parts. Yet it was routinely in the hardware hunt for much of the 1970s, and well into the 1980s.
The Schloemer’s boat was a “Millennial Falcon” haunting the golden age of the M20 class.
One big secret to the boat’s success, according to Schloemer: The Proctor mast. These masts bent in a predictable, supple manner that outperforms the Melges masts that followed. But that was not the whole story.
“The original (M20 class) rules said the mast should float,” Schloemer told Scowsailing.com. “We took a mast, walked it to the end of the dock after one regatta and threw it into the water.” Onlookers thought the Schloemers had lost their minds. “But it floated!”
Turns out, Proctor carefully welded every seam of the spar except the sail groove, creating a nearly airtight chamber for 26 feet. Even the sheave boxes are carefully sealed. The halyards ran in the sail groove.
Schloemer says he ultimately drilled a weep hole at the base to relieve air pressure and condensation.
Why Melges stopped using Proctor spars is open for debate. But finances may have had something to do with it. Johnson Boat Works of White Bear, Minnesota was under-pricing Melges in the mid-1970s , according to Schloemer. And Melges may have felt pressure to shed some expenses.
For the M20 class, the answer was a black anodized spar Melges made with internal halyards. The class floatation rule seemed to be the victim of cost cutting. As Schloemer explains it, these masts filled with water quickly after capsize and the class soon became known for turtled boats.
He recommends owners of Melges spars inject expanding foam into the spars. That, or carve long foam sticks with halyard grooves and ram them up into the spar.
One M20 sailor used to install mountain bike inner tubes and inflate them Schloemer recalls.
As beautiful as the Proctor spar is, Schloemer has some thoughts on how to improve them. Proctor installed aluminum sheaves with phenolic bearings that eventually crumbled, making the hoist tough. As a high school sailor, he installed brass sheaves without bearings in his spar because he had access to a school metal shop. Be careful disassembling the sheave boxes, Schoemer says. The small axle pins for the sheaves are easily lost in the grass.