The Wizard of Zenda Inspires the Sailors of Arizona

By Mike Ferring

Something different. A crowd gathering, chattering, at the Pollack Cinema in Tempe. Not your regular AYC club meeting, but a movie night and a film celebrating the outstanding career of Harry “Buddy” Melges (pronounced with a hard “g,” not a “j” sound), not that he seemed to care as long as his name was on the top line of the race results.

The film is Melges: The Wizard of Zenda, produced and written by Mark Honer, incorporating interviews with Buddy’s victims, friends, and colleagues, notably Gary Jobson and Bill Koch and Buddy himself. Koch’s 1992 America’s Cup campaign was a thread woven through the film, a kind of soap opera drama led by the wealthy Koch with utter determination to win at all costs (at least $70 million, he says). As the film describes, Koch wanted to drive the boat even though he’d hired some of the best sailors in the U.S., including Buddy. Eventually, a 62-year-old Buddy wins out and does most of the driving as the team takes the defender series over Dennis Conner and then sweeps up the Cup from a Paul Cayard-led Italian team.

Some 72 AYC members, Lake Pleasant members, and visitors sat back in the leather viewing seats on Thursday, August 10, to take in the 90-minute documentary, applauding at the finish.

The producer of the film took an interesting approach to distributing it. Instead of trying to get into theaters or streaming services, he’s renting it out to yacht clubs. The results have been impressive, with showings from sailing meccas such as Newport to desert outposts in Tucson and Phoenix.

Buddy Melges died in May of this year at 93, but his inspirational story will continue to celebrate his life. We’re proud to be part of it.