Steve Erickson Stars in Supporting Roles
Steve Erickson Stars in Supporting Roles
He's a pioneer of the professional sailor movement.
But Steve Erickson says he had no idea where he was headed after he won
the 1984 Star class gold medal at the tender age of 23. "I had the
opportunity to make a little bit of money and do what I love doing,"
says the five-time America's Cup veteran and two-time Star world
champion. "I didn't think it was what I'd be doing in my early 40s."
Since he concluded his second tour of duty with the Prada syndicate
last winter, he's been enjoying free agency. He sailed the Rolex Sydney
Hobart Race on Skip Sheldon's Zaraffa and has been coaching U.S.
Olympic hopeful Meg Gaillard and Mark Ewing's Farr 40 Riot.
He's also returned to the Star after a decade-long hiatus and joined
forces with three-time Olympic medalist Mark Reynolds in pursuit of the
2004 U.S. Olympic Star berth. The U.S. Star Trials start March 20 on
Biscayne Bay, Fla. What brought you back to the Star?
The initial part of the answer is the opportunity that presented itself.
Without that I wouldn't have been that interested. It's a project that
can win, and it's a return to my roots, which is a bit of a cliché
these days. But I like playing on different boats. What puts a smile on
my face is sailing small boats. Before you signed on with Mark, when was your last Star regatta? I think the last regatta I sailed was in 1994. I sailed with Jim Brady at the Olympic Classes Regatta, which we won. What's been difficult about getting back into the Star?
The one thing I miss is my flexibility. The crew gets taken out of the
tactical picture somewhat and I feel like when I was younger I was more
aware of other boats. If there's a struggle right now, it's, "What's
going on behind me and why wasn't that a problem 15 years ago?"
Essentially I'm stiffer; it's harder to rotate my body around. What separates a great Star crew from the guys just hanging over the side?
You try not to be a detriment. I acknowledge there are times where
you're kind of taken out of the play tactically. But I look for the
times when you can stand out. Whether it's giving input 3 minutes
before the start or it's on the run. Mark and I just throw ideas back
and forth a little bit and see what sticks. We won the Pacific Coast
Championships in 1983 and we haven't sailed together since. We know
each other well, but we're still trying to figure out our sailing
style. Do you remember you're first paying gig?
It would be something like driving a Star boat from the West Coast to
the East Coast and making $1,000 or $2,000 and sailing the regatta.
That was a way to make ends meet. The true professionalism of it
started with my '87 Cup with Tom Blackaller, which started in '86. I
think we were offered $500 every two weeks and room and board. We
thought that was a pretty good deal. Any memories of that campaign?
I learned more about sailing, the physics and dynamics of why a boat
sails, why a boat needs to be balanced, how to sail in a lot of wind,
and what seamanship is all about. We knew we were on a shoestring
budget and it was all going to come together in the end, which it
almost did. What was it about Blackaller that created such lasting impressions on so many sailors of your generation? Passion. He was passionate about his sailing and he was really loyal to the group around him. Did your generation have an advantage in being the first true group of professional sailors?
I've got a theory. Essentially, there's a group of us 40-year-olds?say
from Paul Cayard, who's 45, on down to John Kostecki, who's 39?that
came out of the '80s and was able to make a living and occupied the
space. The universe of pro sailors that solely race boats is 200 to 300
people, maybe more. But it's not 3,000. It's a small group. We've
occupied that space all through our 30s and I have a strong feeling
that's why there isn't a lot of 30- to 38-year-old pro sailors. But
you're seeing a lot of 22- to 30-year-olds making a push at it now. Will you pursue another America's Cup job when this Star campaign ends?
I've done five America's Cups; it's what I do. Starting in 1996, I did
the Whitbread for two years and the last two Prada campaigns for five
years. So for seven years I've been flat out. I came out of this last
Cup thinking it would be nice to get back to what I used to love,
sailing with different people, sailing on different boats. My travel
schedule's a little hectic, and I'm not in lovely Hood River (Ore.) as
much as I'd like. But it's nice to be heading off to a new project with
different people and different smiles to put on your face. Did you enjoy your time with Prada?
I really did. The two campaigns were very different. The first one we
were the new guy on the block, the big spender, the guy with all the
cool stuff. Two years later, we had the smallest tender, one of the
smaller compounds. The second campaign had more of an international
flavor. At the end of the day, the result wasn't as good as the first
time, but that's sport. It isn't all about smiles. Would you prefer to take a more primary role in a future campaign?
In the last campaign I was the operations manager, so I definitely had a
leadership role. But I've always felt content to be in a supporting
role. If you ask people who know me, I'm not the guy standing next to
the trophy in the picture. You coached a Farr 40 team at Key West. How does that circuit compare to the 50-foot circuit of the late '80s and early '90s?
I went to the most recent St. Francis YC's Big Boat Series. I probably
hadn't done it in seven years. What really jumped out at me there was
the number of boats, the number of owners satisfied in steering their
boats, and all the boats having a combination of pro and amateur guys.
For me that's just growth. It's a good thing. Reflecting back to the
50-footers, you always wondered how long that circuit was going to
sustain itself. Winning an America's Cup is obviously still a goal of yours. Anything else you'd like to accomplish in the sport?
I want to go catamaran or trimaran sailing around the world. The
Whitbread gave me a taste of that. I don't know if I have a lot of
those laps in me, and I don't know if I have a lot of years left, but
that's something I'd really like to do. Have you had trouble landing a ride?
I wouldn't say I've had trouble, because I haven't looked that hard.
These races that are coming up in a couple of years?there may be
opportunities there?and I'm putting my nose in that direction and
seeing where it leads. I really like the Southern Ocean and the fact
that you can send it for 60 days and be done with it.