Melges Performance Sailboats introduced their Melges 14 singlehander at this years Annapolis Sailboat Show. The 14 is one of the new generation hiking singlehanders; a racier, speedier alternative to the Laser and, at the Annapolis show, the Melges 14 was on display only six meters apart from one of the first entrants in this market segment, the RS Aero.
Visually the Melges 14 looks bigger than the RS Aero and the tale of the tape shows that it is bigger than the RS Aero. The Melges 14 is longer at 4 meters and wider at 1.57 meters. Given the American penchant for going bigger in everything, this may not be a bad marketing move for U.S. sales. The long, flat cockpit floor looks quite spacious compared to the narrow RS Aero cockpit and the tiny cockpit of the Laser. (If, in buying a faster singlehander with carbon rig and mylar sails, one of your odd requirements is also a design where you can daysail with your kids stuffed here and there - the Melges 14 is the one for you.)
A wider beam allows more hiking power so it is not surprising that in comparing sail areas between the Melges 14 and the RS Aero, the Melges 14 again comes out bigger. The Melges 14 big rig is 9.1 meters vs the RS Aero 8.9 meters and, in the mid-range rig, the Melges 14 is 7.8 vs the RS Aero 7.4. Usually more horsepower may give better light wind performance but I haven't yet seen any side by side performance comparisons published.
The ultra-lightweight RS Aero hull comes in at whopping 25 kg less than the Melges 14 which, at 54 kg. is lighter than the Laser by about 5 kg. One of the benefits of the smaller hull of the RS Aero is less surface area which translates into a lighter hull. The Melges salesman countered as he made the pitch for the heavier Melges 14 hull. "How light can you go before sacrificing durabiltiy?"
The RS Aero came out early in this market (not quite two years ago), is being marketed agressively and the factory in England is pumping a goodly number out every month. In contrast, the Melges 14 appears a little late. I asked the Melges salesman about this and being a good salesman, he remained nonplussed. Admitting there is "quite a bit of competition" in the new singlehanders, he pointed out that Melges has already built 40 of the 14's and they expected that the existing customer base of Melges products (from the 20, 24, 32, the myriad Melges scows) would initially provide a steady stream of buyers for the 14.
There you have it. The Melges 14 is a bigger, heavier (though lighter than the Laser), more powerful (with a very roomy cockpit!) entry in the hiking singlehander marketplace. I have no idea how it compares on the water with the RS Aero or the D Zero (which has yet to put in an appearance in North America - Correction, there are three in North America - see bottom of post.). Price for a Melges 14? It seems to be moving target but somewhere around 9K U.S.
Also check out the Tillerman blog post on the Melges 14.
The Melges 14 has a mylar sail on a carbon mast and boom. (This is different from the RS Aero which has remained with the tried and true dacron sailcloth.). The Melges 14 also is round-bilged but one thing you can't do very easily at a boat show is turn the dinghy over and inspect the hull - so I can't comment on the hull shape.
This photo taken from a more bow-on angle definitely shows the very distinctive straight gunwhale line (seen also on the RS Aero - this provides flare at the gunhwale and more hiking power) starting just forward of the daggerboard case.
The wide flat cockpit and more beam means there are two hiking straps instead of the usual center one. The Melges 14 uses the typical Laser split mainsheet rig with a transom bridle. I forgot to ask the salesman how you controlled athwartship boom placement as there doesn't seem to be any control lines for the aft bridle, just a stopper ball on each side. Boom vang control is at the mast, the other cleats are for the cunningham and outhaul.
The mainsheet turning block uses a a nifty hose to hold it upright (versus those metal springs). The Melges 14 has a small raised shelf just forward of the daggerboard trunk, ending some 100-200 mm aft of the mast - probably a tricky engineering tweak to provide structural support to both the front of the daggerboard trunk and the mast. (I can see an aftermarket storage turtle being designed to fit this shelf - perfect for water bottles, spray jackets, sandwiches.) The cockpit also has the comfy non-skid foam that the SUP crowd invented.
My other Melges 14 posts:
Over at the Sailing Anarchy thread on the Melges 14, user Woodman is of the opinion the Melges 14 is similar to the English Supernova singlehander, which is considered a big-guy singlehander.
Also on the Sailing Anarchy thread, user Jeffers corrects me when I say there are no D-Zero's in North America. There are three D-Zero's now in North America.