Monday, July 2, 2012

TT Interviews Macy Nelson

Tank Talk had the opportunity to sit down with class stalwart and long time Treasurer Macy Nelson to hear a bit about his history in the class, his thoughts on making a team work and on the growth of the class.

TT: You've been an active member of the class for several decades.  When did you first start sailing 505's? Where? Who or what got you into the class?

MN: My first look at a 5o5 was at New Bedford in about 1974. I walked up from behind was impressed by the shape of the wings. That was a radical design for a kid who had been sailing Blue Jays, Lightnings and 470s.

In 1976, I had a summer job in the Boston area and met Bill Salvo who sailed with the Marblehead fleet. YCYC was running an event and someone needed a crew so I went. At that time, the Patterson brothers were sailing separate boats. One had sailed in Europe and was discoursing on something I had never heard of – gate starts.  According to him, it was easy. Sometime you start early; sometime you start late. None of it made any sense to me. Then, Bill’s sailing partner, Moose McClintock, suddenly got seriously ill and Bill needed a crew for the Marblehead NA’s. I signed on. It was great. 67 boats. Rock and Roll music when the sun went down.  Boats from California. I think Jon Andron had a drum on his boom to adjust his outhaul. Ethan and Larry won in a Butler hull with Larry’s deck and tanks. It looked like Larry used a staple gun to affix the wood laminate for the tanks. I was hooked and haven’t looked back.

TT: Is there any regatta that sticks out in your mind as one of the best?

MN: There have been a lot of really good events over the years. If I must pick one, I’ll pick the Santa Cruz Worlds in 1992. We had Santa Cruz’s best conditions for the entire Pre-Worlds and Worlds. After the first day of racing, we sailed in past the sea lions and when we reached the dock, the PA system was playing the Rolling Stones’ “Flight 5o5.” It got better from there. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but the fleet had the old and the new. Jon Loveday was sailing. Peter Colclough was sailing with the tallest forward hand I had seen anywhere. John and I had a good first beat of the first worlds race. At the top of the run, two young Aussies sailed by on what seemed like a tight reach. John asked, “What do you think?”  I said, “They’re crazy. Don’t worry about them.”  I didn’t see them for the rest of the regatta. Those guys won the worlds with a race to spare. That was my introduction to wire running. Later, a Dane who won the worlds in Kingston claimed that he was the first to figure out wire running. Maybe he was. He finished second or third in Santa Cruz.

TTYou've sailed with many great crews over the years, most recently with Parry Barclay.  Can you comment on how you approach the relationship with your crew? What makes you and Parry such a competitive team?

MN: I have a lot of fun sailing with some really good sailors. Duncan Skinner was the tallest and the best sail maker. Mike Martin laughed at me the most. Peter Alarie was the most definite in his opinions. Mike Mills used the most abstract language to describe the boat. Jesse Falsone and Parry Barclay have a really good feel for the boat. I have sailed a little with Luke Lawrence, and I predict he will be the next great crew. There are others, too. Each is better sailor than I, and that is why I invited them to sail with me.

History teaches me that my performance is inversely related to how much I try to do while racing. The less I do, the better we do. For that reason I try to do as little as possible. The problem is that I respect all the people I sail with so my instinct is that I should do what they say all the time. But there are a few occasions when I cannot. A start is the best example. When the boats are that close, I take the lead in positioning the boat.

505s are rewarding but they have the potential to be expensive and a hassle.  I try not to discuss money with my teammate. Each contributes on terms that he finds acceptable. I try to have the boat ready so we can avoid a lot of boat work at the event. I try to be quiet in the boat. If racing the boat is no fun, no one should do it.

TT: Your son Nick Nelson has been an active member of the class (not as much recently!).  In your opinion, is there more we can be doing in the US to recruit and retain talented young sailors like Nick? 

MN: This is a really hard question to answer. Part of me says that we that we need to help people like Nick as much as we can. Another part of me says that if a young person cannot figure out that sailing 5o5s is a good way to spend one’s time and energy, nothing we do will change it. It’s all a mystery to me.  

We could probably learn from people like Whit Duncan, Mike Renda and Luke Lawrence. After Whit sailed USA 9005 in 2011, I was told that he was thinking of getting out of the class. Hearing that frustrated me because Whit is the type of person we need and want. Then something changed. He bought USA 8012 and seems committed. We should speak to him to learn what we can do to encourage his peers to sail 5o5s. Mike, too, is a guy we want and need. He bought a boat and is keen to sail even though he has a demanding job and is getting married. We should ask him what motivates him. Luke Lawrence is another young guy we cannot afford to lose. Our problem is that he wants to sail professionally so that will limit his time. Our only hope with Luke is to keep the sailing fun and rewarding so he makes time to do it.  

Here’s my answer: we need to find the right sailors one at a time. A large pool of strong candidates will yield somebody like Craig Thompson every few years. If you know of such a person, I have some gear to lend.

TT: Thank you Macy.

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