Get this: until recently, the Great Dave Ullman hadn’t driven a boat in a regatta “in years.”
He’s been too busy coaching Olympians and handling the crème de la crème of one-design keelboat racing teams. Yes, he’s done plenty of racing, but not with his own hands on the tiller of a J/70.
“I used to have one,” says Ullman who is partnering with Jack Franco on the yacht simply named, USA 3, alongside Payson Infelise (trimmer) and Rob Lindley (bow), “so, for me it will be fun to drive again. It’s just one of those things where I better drive every once in a while, so I don’t lose the ability to do it.”
Ullman, a National Sailing Hall of Famer, will be just fine, and besides, he’s intent on keeping it tranquilo. “Jack is an old friend that I’ve sailed with for 30 or so years, and this year he wasn’t planning on sailing the boat, so I said, well, why don’t we combine and do some local stuff in SoCal. I wanted to drive, get a group together, go sailing and have fun…just trying to keep it relaxed.
The Helly Hansen Sailing World San Diego’s J/70 fleet is entirely West Coast boats, including two from Mexico, so Ullman knows his competition, and to say he knows the waters of South Bay would be a gigantic understatement. “I’ve spent quite a few hours on the bay,” he says with a classic Ullmann chuckle. “I’ve been racing in the area for 50 to 60 years, so yeah, we have enough time on it.”
His advice for other competitors on South Bay: “Any time the wind is at all left off the beach, you go all the way to the beach. Whenever it’s hard right you go right. It’s not complicated. Have a game plan and follow through with it.”
And secondarily to that, some thoughts on fleet tactics on the confined South Bay racecourse: “Don’t lead the group you think you have to beat, and any time you’re ahead of the group, you don’t want to lead them. The racecourse is short enough that if you get behind it’s pretty hard to catch up. There’s not enough length, so you better get a good start and beat your side.”
A good start in the J/70, he says, requires never losing flow over the keel and being at full speed across the line at zero. This is easier said than done, of course, but Ullman emphasizes the role of the GPS-assisted electronics allowed in the J/70 class.
“We do rely 100 percent on the starting box,” he says. “I’m not in favor of having them, I think for small-boat racing it takes a bit of skill out of starting, but if you have them, you better rely on them because everyone is using them—and using them well.”