At the 2011 Sperry Top-Sider Seattle NOOD, skipper Herb Cole and the crew of Midsummer Hai-Yah! _won a hotly contested Melges 24 division in which six of 13 boats won at least one race. _Midsummer‘s victory earned the team the regatta’s overall crown, which includes an invitation to compete in the 2011 Sperry Top-Sider NOOD Championship this November in the British Virgin Islands.
On Sunday, with unpredictable shifts winding across Puget Sound, the battle for Melges supremacy came down to a three-way showdown between Midsummer, Michael Bond’s Recidivist, and Keith Hammer’s Junk Shot. In the end, it wasn’t perfection, but patience, that pushed Cole and company over the top, as they edged out Recidivist by two points. Shortly after the awards ceremony, I caught up with the veteran Seattle racer and his spinnaker trimmer, Eric Bentzen. The team also includes trimmer Rich Demmler and bowman Tyler Beck.
**Earlier this weekend, I spoke with the crew of the Melges 24 Gravy. They said the local class has been making more of an effort to welcome new sailors and help bring boats up to speed. Have you seen the same thing?
**Cole: There’s lots of sharing of information, tuning wise, sail trim wise, boathandling wise, things like that. But we certainly are guilty of, when push comes to shove… shoving. There’s a little bit of shoving [Laughs].
It’s just, we’re all pretty competitive sailors—Eric [Bentzen, a naval architect and pro sailor who’s currently racing in the TP52 IRC class aboard Mayhem] certainly does lots of big events, and we have in the past in various boats. We like to win, but we also like to have a good time and take a little break from work or mowing the lawn or [pointing to Bentzen] pro sailing, things like that. It’s nice to go out and sail with your buddies, but, certainly, we’re trying hard to put our best foot forward, which we did some of this regatta.
There were plenty of mistakes, too. It was a great weekend of sailing. The boats were all tight, really close together. The last three races, we were all within a couple of points of each other. First place could’ve gone to any one of the top three boats.
You made some mistakes, but you came out on top. How did you minimize the damage?
Bentzen: It was shifty today, so it was hard to pick a side. Plus, the starting line was really short, so [having a less-than-perfect start] ended up being an issue more than once. Even if you got off the line and went to the side you wanted to go to, it still didn’t necessarily work out perfectly.
Cole: Our starting was a little bit inconsistent this weekend, due to lack of practice, but we had pretty solid tactics and good crew work, which certainly pulled us through a lot of the tight spots.
Can you give me an example of a tactical call that went well?
Bentzen: You’d have to dig deep for that [laughs]!
Cole: I served up some really bad starts for our team to work with. On Saturday, we had one of the worst starts of the regatta, but we pulled through and scraped out a fourth-place finish. In the end, all of those points mattered.
Bentzen: Today was about patience—patiently trying to close on the boats ahead. In the last race, it was about staying close and trying to capitalize on any small mistake the other guy made.
**What did you learn this weekend?
**Cole: You don’t have to have great starts, but you need to have good starts all the time. If you can just eliminate the bad starts. Mediocre starts would’ve made it just fine. But swinging for the fences, trying to get a great start every time, you’ll end up having some regrettable starts.
Two boats from your fleet (Daniel Kaseler’s Team Velocitek and David Brede’s Happy Thoughts) went down to the Melges 24 World Championship. Was that something you considered?
Cole: It takes a lot of money to do a thing like that, and a lot of time off, and a lot of practice. And if you’re short on any of those, you’re going to have a hard time being successful. In general, in the local fleet, money’s tight, and people up here have done enough sailing to know that going to Corpus Christi and finishing two thirds of the way down in the fleet is really not worth the expense.
On the other hand, If you can get your team to a level where you’re going to finish in the top third of the fleet, which takes a commitment, then by all means, it’s worth it. But the nature of the group that sails here is, everybody has day jobs, families, other stuff that takes time away from sailing. So we really cherish our local sailing, and we do a lot of it.
For complete coverage of the 2011 Sperry Top-Sider Seattle NOOD, click here.