Dave Ullman, Melges 24 Worlds

The heavy breeze at the 2007 Melges 24 Worlds didn't stop Dave Ullman and his hard-hiking crew. From our July/August 2007 issue.

Thierry Martinez

Dave Ullman, the 61-year-old sailmaker from Newport Beach, Calif., has always considered himself lucky, but the truth is he makes his luck. Ullman's attention to detail and his drive to excel has paid off many times, most recently with a win at the windy 2007 Fullpower Melges 24 Worlds in Santa Cruz, Calif. For this regatta Ullman, with crew Bill Hardesty (tactician), Brent Ruhne (bow), Andy Estcourt (trimmer) and Shana Phelan (middle), trained in Santa Cruz with the Team Pegasus program for nearly a month straight, putting in long days, even in conditions that would've kept most teams onshore. When winds at the Worlds peaked to 30-plus knots on the final day they were more than ready.When other top teams were wiping out and dropping rigs you guys appeared pretty comfortable; let's first talk about your heavy-air technique.We should divide heavy air into two categories. In a Melges 24, 17 to 25 knots is one, and then over 25 is a whole different set up. Most of the time you're sailing in that first range, and in that condition you're trying to keep the main alive. By that I mean lots of backstay, and rig tension quite hard. You want as many turns on your lowers as you have on your uppers. We sailed the last couple of days with 24 turns on the lowers and 24 turns on the uppers [above base settings]. The leeward shroud is tight, so it's restricting bending.Then, it's vang sheeting, putting the traveler slightly above centerline, and using the mainsheet to trim rather than using the traveler, which gets really hard to move. Vang sheeting takes the pressure off the mainsheet and allows you to move the boom in and out. The sail shape stays the same, but to do it, you need to get your lowers tight so you're not over-inducing mast bend by vang sheeting. What you're doing is vang sheeting against the tight lowers.How much of the main is alive?In 15 to 20 knots you should be able to keep the whole thing alive. In 20 to 25 you should be able to keep the bottom half alive, and anything above 25 you stop worrying about it. Make it as flat as you can, let it flog, and just sail on the jib.How aggressive are you with rig adjustments during the race?We're doing it all the time, going up and down the range as the wind goes up and down. Depending on how you're doing in the race and how hard you have to hike you either change it on the upwind leg or you wait to get to the weather mark and wind up the rig there. The trouble is, when you're planning downwind you can't have the guy forward to wind the rig on, so it's better to do it upwind if you can.How do you judge your adjustments as a race is happening; is it just intuitive?We go straight off our tuning guide. The tuning guide is developed by years of sailing the boat, but we try not to out think ourselves by getting too buried in the tuning. Our tuning guide is in increments of six turns-no baby turns-so there are really only four adjustments to make.What's the key to keeping the boat moving upwind in that heavy stuff?Bill makes the crew hike extraordinarily hard. He's right there in the middle of it pushing himself. They wear the Hutchinson Hiking pads and straps that are nice and thick. They ignore the pain and hike hard. They know that's what it takes to win.I'm a huge believer in sailing by the speedo and following my target numbers. Without the speedo you're going to sail around three- or four-tenths too slow all the time. Our target range is 5.8 to 6.0, so let's say I'm sailing along and my target at the moment is 5.8. If I'm sailing at 5.4, all I do is let the sheet out 2 inches and within 10 seconds I'll be sailing at 5.8 again. You couldn't possibly do that without a speedo.The key is you want to go as high as you can while keeping to that target range. The goal is to steer the least amount possible. Just make the boat go absolutely straight until you see a wave you can't get through. If you have to go around a wave, look for the flattest place in the area and sail through that. And downwind in 30 knots, how does one keep the boat upright?It's the spinnaker sheeting. The trimmer needs to be on top of it and easing a lot. The driver can't put the bow up, even if he plows into a wave, because the boat will load up. It's important to have a system with your trimmer about when to cut the chute. We let it go four or five times on one leg. The boat would plow into a wave, load up, I'd tell him to cut it, he'd blow the chute, the bow would pop up, we'd trim in, and off we go. If you left it sheeted on you'd probably turn over or loose the rig.And what about jibing?You wait for a wave, get planning down the wave, and arc through the turn. As long as you're planning through the jibe you're fine. If you go off the plane, all sorts of bad things will happen. So it's being patient, waiting, and arcing through quickly.How does the driver, coordinate with the trimmers?What you don't want them to do is jibe the kite so slow that you have to wait on the turn and fall off the plane. You have to be able to complete the turn. As a driver you have to watch what's happening and adjust your rate of turn to how fast the spinnaker is going through. You have to call the jibe when you know you're on the wave and be aware of what's going on in front of you.What systems have you developed to improve boathandling?One thing we developed is the two-cleat tack line. When it's really windy the tack never pulls out. That takes all the worry out of it. And we don't have a tack line to help pull the pole in; we have a line directly to the pole so, if we get in trouble, we can blow the tack line completely.Sets and douses; forward or behind the shrouds?When you get good at setting, the difference is so little either way, and doing a weather strip through the triangle is much better-you're not pulling it behind the shrouds and then wrapping it around. When you're doing a Mexican it's not quite as good-behind the shrouds is better.What entails getting a good set?The hang up is usually not getting the pole out fast enough. Before the spinnaker gets to the top of the mast the tack needs to be all the way out. In a breeze it's making sure you don't sheet the spinnaker until it's at the top, and then it's getting the jib rolled up really, really fast.Was it tough to get away clean from the starts?We had nine solid starts and always wanted to go where we wanted to go, pretty much. In a big fleet in breeze I like to start in the middle, and we always have enough speed to get out of there. It was three-boat line, which made the mid-line committee boat area much easier to start at. We were usually five or six lengths above or below it. Only once did we use it as a pick, and that particular start was really good. We got a huge header right at the start and we started right below the mid-line boat. Anyone that started above it couldn't lay the boat so we were able to start, tack, and clear the fleet with a five-boatlength lead 2 minutes into the race.What are the most important developments that have come out of Philippe Kahn's Team Pegasus program?Philippe makes available the time, energy, and resources to test a ton of stuff. In preparing for this regatta we probably had 50 to 60 things to test-a lot of little things. There's no single breakthrough, but out of the 50 things we test, if 10 are successful; those are 10 more things we didn't know before.How about letting us in on five?It's hard because they're Team Pegasus things. I do clinics for the class all the time, so the basic sailing things are getting shared. For example, one thing we developed were the different spreader bars, which are now standard in the class. What we call the 49er jibing technique [heavy-air technique of jibing the spinnaker first]-we didn't originate it, but we worked hard on it."