Preparation. An easy word to toss around, but so much harder to execute. Steven Ernest takes the issue to heart, and his vigilant effort to properly prepare for the 2011 Sperry Top-Sider San Diego NOOD paid big dividends. Having steered his Beneteau 36.7 Aimant de Fille to overall victory off San Diego this weekend, he’ll be leading his team to the British Virgin Islands come November, where they’ll be racing—and relaxing—with seven other NOOD-winning teams aboard a fleet of Sunsail 44i sloops.
“It starts with the right equipment,” says Ernest, who sails out of Dana West YC in Dana Point, Calif. “Jon Gardner’s my rep at North Sails, and each fall he gives me an honest appraisal of my sail inventory and where I need to go for the next year. We got a new main this year, and we were able to set it up right and keep the rig tuned as conditions changed.”
Racers saw a little bit of everything this weekend—medium winds on Friday, impossibly light on Saturday, and gnarly breeze with cresting swells on Sunday. Helping_ Aimant de Fille_ change gears was jib trimmer David Servais, who works as a rigger for San Diego’s Rigworks and has picked up a sixth sense for rig tune by learning from masters like Dennis Connor. “I tune rigs professionally, and I race with Dennis all the time,” says Servais. “He teaches me stuff, and I’ve learned a lot racing Etchells with Craig [Fletcher, Aimant de Fille‘s tactician].
“On the Etchells, we can tune while we’re racing,” continues Servais. “I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid, and I tune rigs every chance I get. You start with the tuning guide. With the new main, first we had to go out on Thursday and establish a base, then we could sort of feel it out from there. You look at a lot of things—what the helm feels like, what the sail shape looks like, what the headstay sag looks like—it all comes into play. And the tuning is very different for each condition. We were 20-plus turns different on our headstay from yesterday to today. That’s 2.5 inches in length. But you’ve got to make those changes to keep the boat going properly.”
Tactician Craig Fletcher has served as a mentor for Servais in the Etchells class, and he’s come to rely on the rig-tuning chops of his understudy. “Dave’s the key to our boatspeed,” says Fletcher. “He’s like a Wile E. Coyote super genius. He has his numbers down, so there’s no question about where we are with the rig.”
Basking in the glow of the team’s victory, Fletcher had nothing but praise for his teammates and the NOOD racing formula. “If every boat was like Steve’s boat—he’s a great owner, he gets great people to sail with him, and he does what it takes to get the boat ready for racing—there would be thousands more people sailing. It’s an enjoyable way to spend the weekend. There’s good vibes on board, and we have fun.
“I’ve sailed a long time,” continues Fletcher. “I’ve gone back and forth with pros and amateurs at all different levels of sailing. If we all sailed like this—it’s how the sport should be. It takes the pressure off, knowing that the boat’s prepared and that you can depend on everyone on the team to do their job.
“I think it’s important to recognize Sperry and all the sponsors for putting together an event like this,” he says. “It’s so good for sailing to have this level of sailing, [with multiple classes coming together] as a group. Nothing against pro sailors, but this is what sailing needs to grow. Racing needs to be a family-and-friends, fun sort of thing. It can’t be so psychotic. I’ve sailed at that level, and this is just so much more fun.”
For results, photos, and more coverage of the 2011 Sperry Top-Sider San Diego NOOD, click here.