The Harbor Report: A life sailing along

One of our harbor's largest success stories is Gino Morrelli of Morrelli & Melvin Design and Engineering Inc.

If you know the catamaran scene in Newport Beach, you already know all about Morrelli. Most recently he and his partner, Pete Melvin, were selected to write the class rules for the 34th America's Cup, and later they designed the Team New Zealand America's Cup boat.

He's spent his life in boating. Morrelli moved to Irvine just about the time he was entering high school. While attending University High he learned to sail at the Sea Scout Base in Newport Beach.

"We sailed anything we could get our hands on, from Hobie 16s, 420s, Kites and Shields," Morrelli said.

In his last year of high school, he built his first boat with his father and brother — a 33-foot Crowther trimaran — in their backyard and kept it on their mooring off the Lido Peninsula.

After graduation, he attended Orange Coast College for a short time and then decided to become a boat builder, starting Climax Catamarans.

"My brother Tony and I started building 18-foot A Class cats in my parents' garage in Newport Shores. Soon after the neighbors started to complain about the smell, and we received a couple of orders, we opened a shop in Huntington Beach," Morrelli said.

As the 1980s approached, the boating industry slowed and Morrelli had to close his shop, deciding to sail a friend's 40-foot catamaran to Hawaii. He found a job running a catamaran for the Hyatt Regency.

It was not long after that he received a call from a friend in California to come back and build a 45-foot catamaran, the White Knuckler.

After campaigning the boat for a couple of years in our local offshore events, Morrelli gathered up all his boat photos and moved to France. There he found work designing and managing the construction of a 60-foot catamaran and spent five years racing Formula 40s in the French pro circuit.

Next he received another phone call to return to California and start building a 40-foot cat in Capistrano Beach. As 1988 approached, he was contacted by the legendary yachtsman Dennis Conner to build a catamaran and race in the America's Cup.

"That's when I stopped being a mercenary boat builder and started working out of my house in Newport Beach," he said.

After stints in Tustin, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, Morrelli & Melvin Design and Engineering Inc. is now located at the Newport Harbor Shipyard.

What type of boats can we expect to see in the 35th America's Cup?

"We have been retained by Oracle to help write the next rule and are supposed to get our version over to Oracle by the end of the month," Morrelli said.

He explained that the boats should be between 50 and 65 feet. Probably the hand brakes will be able to be taken off the foils and the foils controlled a bit more without rule restrictions. He's also hoping to optimize the boats a little better and make them a bit more forgiving.

Morrelli expressed, with great passion, that the boats will still be exciting to watch. One of the biggest questions regarding the next America's Cup is how the defender and challenger will keep the expenses down.

If I understood Morrelli correctly, by making the boat a third smaller and taking off the crew, the cost of these pricey vessels should go down by about a third.

My next question revolved around what type of boat might best fit the Newport Beach yachtsman who just wants to go to Catalina with the family for weekends, cruise the harbor and maybe cruise Mexico.

Morrelli described the features of a power cat. With twin diesels powering the boat at 20 knots "you can get the boats to 40 or 50 knots with little effort, but that's not very relaxing going at that speed," Morrelli said.

If you would like to follow the rest of our discussion, head over to my blog at

Sea ya.

LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.

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