Morning Light Finalist Prepares for the Silver Screen

Exclusive interviews with Jesse Fielding, one of 15 young sailors chosen for Disney's Morning Light film project.

Jesse Fielding
Franz Ritt

Morning Light Crewmember Profile: Jesse FieldingAge: 19Hometown: North Kingstown, R.I.Schools: North Kingstown High, University of Rhode IslandJobs: Coaches sailing at Conanicut YC in Jamestown, RI. Performs fiberglass and rigging work at Atlantic Yacht Services.Having recently been named to the 15-member crew that will sail the TP52 Morning Light in the 2007 Transpac Race, Jesse Fielding is on cloud nine. Of course, prior to selection trials in Long Beach, Calif. last week, Fielding was consumed with expectancy. To chart the course of this young sailor's hopes, Sailing World's Franz Ritt and Michael Lovett caught up with Fielding just before, during, and after the trials. The interviews follow in reverse chronological order.Post-Trials Interview (Michael Lovett)Now that you're going to be a movie star, have you been given the royal treatment back home?Everyone's definitely happy that I made it, and proud. And it's great to be back with the people that supported you beforehand. Right now I'm going down to Long Island to watch my little brother race in the 420 NAs. He supported me when I went to the trials, now it's my time to support him. How did you prepare yourself for the possibility that you wouldn't make the cut? Scott Ikle gave us sort of a somber soliloquy about what happens if we don't make it, and if we do. On the day of the selections, we were all sort of hanging out nervously in the hallway or watching movies in our rooms, trying our best not to think about it. For me, I was just like, "I know I have a 50/50 chance, let's watch 'Mission Impossible 3' again." But I had fully prepared myself not to make it. I'd say my expectations were 75-25. 75 percent chance I don't make it, 25 percent I do. Still, as I made my final approach up to the room, I had this unbelievable sinking feeling, something I'd never felt before.Having had a chance to see who made it and who didn't, do you have a better idea of what the judges were looking for?It was interesting: we'd each go up to meet with the committee [for the final selection] one at a time, and whenever someone came down, we'd find out if they'd been selected or turned down. Each time someone came down, we were building our opinion of what the judges wanted. Still, it was tough to come up with a consensus. The judges took a lot of different people. I personally think they were just looking at attitude. You had to have a positive attitude. They wanted to see some sailing ability, but more coachability-how willing one was to pick up on a new boat that they'd never sailed, to pick up a whole new skill set, how willing you were to jump into a new situation and just give yourself up to the greater power, so to speak.What happens between now and January? I'll be going back to URI to do my fall semester, and I'm looking forward to getting that in the bag so I'll have a full year of college under my belt. And we've got an important semester of college sailing going on this fall, so I'll be focusing on small boats for the time being. Also, getting ready to go to Hawaii, I'm going to try to do some physical training. Will you be able to get college credit for the Morning Light project?Hopefully. I'm applying for my spring semester to be treated as a semester abroad, and if I'm lucky I'll be able to snag a few course credits out of the deal. Have you had to sign your life away to Disney?Oh man, there have been so many permission slips. They've got a lawyer dedicated entirely to the project. Basically, from January to July, Disney owns us. And that's fine with me. Roy was saying, "Hey, do you guys want to sail a race from L.A. to San Francisco prior to the Transpac?" And we were like, "Sure." Then he asked if we wanted to sail the boat upwind from Hawaii back to the mainland to get ready for the race, and we were like, "Absolutely." Has it hit home yet that your face will be plastered across thousands of movie screens?It's definitely a sobering thought. I mean, like anybody else, I watch a lot of movies and I've fantasized about being up on the silver screen, but you always figure, "It's not going to happen to me, it's for people like Tom Cruise."And now I'm going to be up there! It's an unbelievable feeling, it's a high I've never felt before. I'm going to be in a movie! That's something that a lot of people dream about, and to have that happen to me is truly amazing.

Mid-Trials Interview (Franz Ritt)Has the project lived up to what you expected of it?I didn't really know what to expect, but it has been everything I really hoped for. It's a well-run, well-planned training platform, and it's competitive, too. It combines the best of the two worlds. It's an arena to test skills and test each other, but with an even start for everyone. We all started off on the same playing field; most of us are dinghy sailors, and none of us had been on a Catalina 37 before. Everything is new to everyone, despite the talent. My one expectation was that there would be a lot of talent in the group, and it was right on What's it been like with all the other sailors? Is it competitive? Are people shaking out into different positions or styles?We were broken into teams, but within the teams we have switched up with each new scenario. The plan has been for a full crew rotation, and after today everyone has done every position. There are really no assigned roles yet; teamwork and communication are most important, and working through mistakes.What are the judges like?They have a great focus. Out on the water, they're there to guide and make sure nothing goes wrong. They let us run the boat ourselves. It allows the full gamut of teambuilding. We're here to build a team. It's a tough job they have, but they're doing a good job.What was the toughest part of the trials so far?It's hard to say. There's been nothing that has been grating or anything like that. You want to do everything set before you, so you don't even think about things like that. You just get it done.What was the most fun so far?I got to have the helm blindfolded on a beam reach. It was incredible to experience and feel the boat that way. What kind of surprises have their been for you and the rest of the sailors?The biggest for me was Scott Ikle, who was the judge on my boat. I was trimming the jib, and we had just finished racing for the day, but we kind of knew we weren't done. All of a sudden I see this red shirt (the judges wear red) come across the boat in front of me. All of a sudden he did a big jump and tuck and dove over the boat. We went into MOB procedures, and pulled him out in 2 min. It felt like forever, but I think we did a good job. It was really exhilarating. No warning, no prep. We had trained on MOB the day before, but to have it happen live was a surprise, but also a great way to practice.What do you see happening for the rest of the program?One more day of serious team building on the water, and I think Friday is more of a toned-down day. We'll probably get an update on progress tomorrow, and have some more interviews with the judges. I try to take it one hour at a time, one day at a time, and I try to keep pushing 100 percent.Are you expecting to get a berth?Way too hard to say. Any one of these 30 could be there. It's going to be really difficult for the selection committee. We all try to put our best foot forward. I couldn't say anyone who is going to make it for sure. It feels like playing poker, but everyone has the same hand and you know some are going to win, and some aren't. I wish we all could make it. It's really up in the air, and we only have one more day to really show what we've got.

Pre-Trials Interview (Franz Ritt)What is your sailing experience? I started sailing when I was around 13 in small boats. I got excited about it and worked my way through junior sailing, racing NBYA (Narragansett Bay Yachting Association). I got a chance to sail my first national regatta at the Orange Bowl in Florida. I try to get as much experience as possible; whenever someone asks me I jump on the opportunity. I've sailed J/24s, smaller keelboats, and larger 60-footers. The program that has helped me the most so far has been the Lightwave program for Melges 24s, but I've sailed on Farr 60s and that has really helped too. How did you first hear about the project?It was posted on Scuttlebutt that there would be this opportunity to drop in [on the project] and that immediately caught my eye. I debated it for a while, and finally decided, "I can't lose, why not?" Turns out I had what it took to get past the first part.As a small-boat sailor, what made you want to try racing bigger boats?I always looked at small boats as a path to bigger boat and professional sailing. Pros to me means America's Cup, Volvo, and Olympic sailors. Those are my aspirations. The Transpac is right there with them. The allure of the Transpac and the fact that it's a large ocean race is what made me want to try for it. Few sailors get the chance to do large ocean races on the best equipment and with the best training. The opportunity just floored me. It's a huge step up and a transition they are making possible for me.What stage of the project are you in right now?Selection started with 539 apps into the Disney program. Robbie Haines went through and selected the 30 who are now headed out to Long Beach all expenses paid for an eight day tryout on 35-footers, and basically are sailing all the time for the whole week. As soon as the airplane lands, cameras start and are involved the whole time, too. Only 15 are selected at the end of the week to do the race.What do you expect from the project, and from the other sailors?I don't know what to expect from my fellow sailors other than an intense passion, people like me, who are very excited for the experience. Even if they took none of us it would still be an outstanding experience and education. I expect the best, but it's a high-caliber tryout. They all know what they are doing and that it will be competitive. What are you trying to achieve, and how are you approaching the trials?My first goal is to the 8-day tryout. My approach is to go at it 100 percent and dump everything I've got into it, soak up every single bit, and meet as many new faces as possible. Trying to be friendly with all the other sailors is important, but I'm going to try to stay focused on myself, and to stay positive and upbeat about it. I'll be trying hard, just like everyone else, and hopefully I'll do well enough to end up with a spot in the end.