Feature Story: Interview with Jonathan McDonagh – M-64

Champosa 2

NCASA Commodore Lee Alnes recently had an opportunity to get together with Jonathan McDonagh from Lake Minnetonka, MN while working on the NCASA website and took the opportunity to get an update on the M-64 A Scow program.

Lee Alnes: Jonathan, what is your sailing background? How old were you when you learned to sail?
Jonathan McDonagh:  I started sailing in 1980 when I bought my first boat, a 12-foot Aqua Cat.  That’s the boat I learned to sail on.  I went on to buy a 16’ Hobie Cat and a 19’ Aqua Cat. Then, it was a big step up to a 1976 Palmer Johnson 53’ Frers (3000 sq ft spinnaker), a 1988 all-carbon IOR 50, a Farr 30 (at the time a Mumm 30) and then an A Scow.
LA: When did you get into sailing A Scows at the Minnetonka Yacht Club (MYC)? Were you a crew first and then decided to buy a boat?

JM: I crewed first. My brother Jim and I started sailing with Dave Willette in 2002.  After Heather and I had our daughter Erin in 2005, the Mumm 30 travel schedule was a little too much, so we bought Todd Haines’ 1995 Melges A Scow.
LA: Success in racing A Scows is a lot about the crew chemistry and teamwork.  Give us a little background on your crew. Who are they and what is their background?  In order to have 6 or 7 people on board every Tuesday night at Minnetonka, how many people do you keep in your phone list?
JM: I am fortunate to have a great team.

  • Matt Resch on Jib – Matt has been racing E Scows at MYC, Sonars at Wayzata Yacht Club (WYC) and the J-109 on Lake Superior.  Matt also helps manage the crew and logistics.  I could not run the program without him.
  • Howard Noreen on Boards – Howard is a newcomer to the scow world, but has been sailing keel boats for many years; he owns a Sonar that he races at WYC. Howard is always there to help us out when we need him.
  • Erik Walstrom #3 – Erik comes from the Melges 24; he also races a Capri 25 at WYC. He raced a Farr 395 on Lake Superior, and a Melges 32 in the Caribbean.
  • Pete Kulenkamp on Kite – Pete owns the UK sail loft in Bayfield, WI.  He is new to scows, loves it and brings a lot of energy and sailing experience to the program.
  • Maclean Potts on Main – Maclean is our most experienced scow sailor! He joined the program in 2015 and is going to help us change our future.
  • Erin McDonagh 7th – Erin sails Optis on Minnetonka and helps trim spinnaker on a Frers 48 in Bayfield when she has a chance to go up with her Mom and Dad. She will be 10 this December.

We also have Heather, Erin and Lori Goodsell on the power boat. If you want to come out and watch the Tuesday night races, be at Wayzata Yacht Club any Tuesday at 4:45 and we will take you spectating. And there are 5 -10 additional people we can call on…. Such as yourself, Lee.
LA: Indeed, I have had a few exciting races with you over at Minnetonka! It’s great that you are getting the younger generation out there. I was onboard with Erin one race and she was truly fearless and had a great time. I also note that you have tapped into a great source of keel boaters for A Scow crew at WYC where you keep your boat (along with a few other A’s). We have done the same at White Bear and it has brought our keel boaters and scow sailors together nicely.
LA: You had a rough 2015 season with some boat damage and you missed a lot of races on Minnetonka. What happened?
JM:  There was a big storm on Lake Minnetonka in late May.  The wind was coming from the west, and this allowed big waves to build up.  The waves picked the A up, and the wind put her on her starboard side.  The chain plate got bent on the lift and the rudders were bent by the waves.  
LA: How did you go about finding a newer boat to upgrade to?  What boat did you end up getting?
JM: I was pretty familiar with which boats were available.  I really wanted a boat from the new Melges mold with the new deck layout.  I had been exploring my options for a couple of years; this just turned out to be the right time. I talked with Sean Sherry (Wendell’s son, and an E Scow racer.) We were able to put together a deal, so I bought Wendell Sherry’s 2006 A Scow “White Lighting”. My daughter Erin and I drove down to Chicago and picked it up just before the 2015 Inland Championship. 

White Lightning

LA: So your 1995 Melges A Scow is for sale now. I have looked it over and this would be a great boat for someone just getting started in the class. It has the newer swept-spreader rig which is a big plus for a used boat. And I understand you have some new rudders for it to replace the damaged ones.
JM: Yes I do, and the boat is available for purchase. It does need some work, but it’s a great boat for someone who’s handy with tools and can do some of the labor. I guarantee you, the price will be right. Leave me a message if you’re interested.
LA: What are the main differences in the newer boat? What do you like most about it?
JM: Just having all the newer rigging is nice in and of itself. But the cockpit design and the hull structure is quite different because it was built with the swept-back spreaders and bowsprit in mind. The newer deck layout is a joy to sail. With the new boat and new UK sails we don’t have any excuses; it’s all about the team. We had good results at the 2015 Inland Championship at Geneva.  In the first race we were 4th to the first windward mark and we finished 3rd in the 2nd race.  Our boat speed seemed good, but we did not have much time in the boat before the 2015 Inland Championship.  The lack of experience together really hurt when the wind started to blow.
LA: What are your plans for 2016? Do you have a practice plan to get out on the water early and get your team more comfortable with the new boat?
JM:  We will be trying to get as much time sailing as possible. We are working on a practice schedule for this spring.  When I talked with Buddy at the Inland, he said the best thing we can do is just go out and sail more. I think he is right and that is what we are going to do.
LA: Will we see you at Torch Lake in June for the National Championship and at Lake Geneva in August for the Inland?
JM:  Absolutely; we are planning on sailing both Torch and Geneva. See you there!
LA: That’s great! You have a wonderful group on board and they are all a lot of fun to sail with. We are looking forward to seeing you guys on the race course (and at the parties!) next summer.