For those of you who do not know the guys sailing a Viper 640 called Widespread Panic, Tom Peterson (owner/skipper), Mike Blackwood and Mike Sabinash all sailed together in the junior sailing programs at South Shore Yacht Club in Milwaukee, International 210’s and on bigger PHRF type racing boats because of family influence. Tommy and Mike started hanging out as early as 7-8 years old and have sailed together on and off doing regattas in a variety of boats their entire lives. Mike Blackwood is a couple years older and actually was Tommy and Mike’s sailing instructor for a couple years as well. The sailing record of all three individuals is impressive. Mike B. owned a 210 (won a National Championship) and most recently a Snipe and Tartan 10. Mike B. won the Snipe North Americans in 2005 and several District Championships. Tom skippered an International 210 to a National Championship in Milwaukee and most recently owned a Snipe. Mike S. continues to race the family owned J/35 Sabotage on the great lakes and still owns a Snipe hoping to sail it more with his son Jack.
NOYC.org: Our friend Nicholas Hayes, author of Saving Sailing tells us one of you guys grew up with your family on a J/35. Tell us the story about how you learned to sail. Did growing up with your family on a sailboat influence you to stick with the sport?
Viper 640: M.S. Well – 100% yes, it was pretty much what our family (dad, mom, brother Bob, sister Ellen, grandpa and a few close friends) did and I was along for the ride starting at age 3. I mainly sailed on the family boat and also owned a laser along with the SSYC club junior FJ boats. I have been driving the family boat since 16-17 years old (because I never gave up the tiller once I had it in my hands) and when we jumped into a J/35 this was one of the hottest boats and one design fleets in the country at the time and we would see 15-20+ boats in many one design regattas. It was a good 10 year ride doing one design and PHRF on the family J/35 – Chicago Mac’s, 100 Milers, Harbor Springs, Chicago NOODs, North Americans, etc… We won our share of regattas and in very similar fashion to the Viper victory for Tommy this last weekend; we jumped onto the scene with an unlikely Chicago NOOD victory in our first ever one design regatta with the boat. There were probably 5 professionally sailed J/35 programs that were scratching their heads at our rag tag crew from Milwaukee. It’s a great feeling to win a regatta when you’re just hoping to be competitive. This last weekend all three of us talked about just being competitive and that was our focus not knowing how well we would sail together.
NOYC.org: You mentioned you’ve been sailing with the same group of guys and family since you were 7-8 years old. Are you seeing this being repeated in today’s junior groups? What can we do to facilitate this type of development?
Viper 640: M.S. – it’s tough. More choices than ever for kids and getting them to choose sailing over sports with their local neighborhood friends is harder now than ever. I don’t have great solutions for this cause I struggle with getting my kids to participate in sailing. For me, I made friends sailing right away so that may be the key – the social aspect is just huge!
NOYC.org: It seems that you are pretty familiar with both ragtag teams and well run programs both at home and on the road. Do you have any tips for keeping the juniors involved outside of primarily youth programs? We noticed only one junior sailing in the VX fleet.
Viper 640: M.S. – two comments on this, first it is a lot easier to have a couple junior sailors on a PHRF boat for a weekend. It is less stressful, I think, and also you can accommodate them with a job that fits their strength and experience. This last weekend sailing on a Viper, again only speaking for me, was more physically demanding than either of my kids could have handled. Somehow we have to compensate these new fleets with incentives to bring kids along. I don’t have the answer on this.
NOYC.org: How many times have you guys beat up on Nick and family when racing against the B32? Don’t hold back! Nick was bragging out your J/35 and family at the US Sailing Regional Summit in Nashville a few days back.
Viper 640: M.S. – We go back and forth with Nick and his family. To be honest, I think it is a real even battle when we are out there. Although, I do think the Hayes family cheers a little louder when they beat us! The Hayes family is just an excellent role model family and great for promoting sailing. I can’t say enough about them.
NOYC.org: This summer a bunch of us will be visiting SSYC and take a tour of the Community Sailing Center. Tell us about the Sailing Center. I hear it is pretty impressive. Tell us more. What is SSYC like?
Viper 640: M.S. – I can speak for SSYC. We call it the people’s yacht club in Wisconsin – NOYC felt a lot like SSYC. Full of volunteers cleaning the grounds, fixing docks, tending the grill, fixing food, helping launch boats, upgrading the club, etc… SSYC is really a blue collar type working club and usually a really fun atmosphere! When you come you will see and feel the sailing party vibe!
NOYC.org: How many Chicago to Mackinac races? What other races do you enjoy? How many boats in the larger regattas? I want to do the Queens and Louis Last. Sounds like you have lots of choices up there.
Viper 640: M.S. – I have a done a bunch of Mac’s on various boats and also our own J/35 Sabotage. We are pretty focused on course racing only at this point and local racing due to time commitments of the family and crew. Louie’s regatta is a must do on the schedule and is the last regatta of the year. It is a charity event for Children’s Hospital is really well run and the party is off the hook!
NOYC.org: I have been invited to sail on a J/30 called Rafiki this summer to do the Hook regatta. Do you have any inside knowledge to share? Know Whitney, Gator, Kate, Big EEEE and Meghan? I’ll pay hard $$$$ cash for some good scoop.
Viper 640: M.S. – I know the Hook race well. I have sailed it on our J/35 three or four times battling Nick each time. Nick still reminds us of the time he surfed to a 5 mile lead all night only to have us grind him back and win overall that year. Look, all those kids are awesome sailors and really enjoy racing – and they win almost all the time.
NOYC.org: When did you purchase the Viper 640? What were the deciding factors?
Viper 640: Tommy - I purchased the Viper last July. When looking at choices in boats, I really want to get back to a 3 person keelboat. I have so many good memories of sailing the International 210, but I really wanted a sport boat that was headed in the right direction. The viper seemed to be the best choice and I really loved the enthusiasm of the fleet and the owners. I bought the boat having never sailed one or seen them in action. The Viper organization and fleet really does a good job with sharing information and getting everyone up to speed as quick as possible and that doesn’t happen in all fleets. In hindsight, I made a good choice!
NOYC.org: We were pretty bummed about the weather on Friday? How does Lake Pontchartrain compare to sailing on Lake Michigan?
Viper 640: M.S. – Well, it seemed like the same type of chop we would get when racing in our brisk Southeasters in Milwaukee. So from that perspective we are very used to changing gears when you have that type of wave action. Also, Tom Peterson is an outstanding driver in that stuff – it takes a lot of focus to keep the boat moving in that condition. Absolutely, we talked the entire regatta about tuning, trimming, driving and weight placement to keep the boat moving in the waves. Of course, depending on the wind direction, Lake Michigan can get more sizeable waves and is typically very cold much of the spring and start of summer.
NOYC.org: From what I can see on the water, you guys were dialed in with consistency except for race 2. What was your magic?
Viper 640: M.S. – This was Tom’s second regatta with the boat, Mike Blackwood sailed on it once before and I never sailed on a Viper before setting out on Saturday first race. Another issue is, all three of us are skippers – so, it is hard for any of us not to be in the main decision making driver role. It was an interesting dynamic and by Sunday we really gelled and sailed well together. Tommy had solid good starts and we were able to just sail shifts and work the boat – fun stuff when you are in the front pack and can be confident of boat speed, tactics, boat handling, etc…
NOYC.org: What happened in Race 2?
Viper 640: M.S. – Bad start, ping ponged first beat a little, we then got back in phase last beat and felt confident boat speed was real solid and all we needed to do was sail some clean races. Boat handling at this point was still pretty rough. We had a nice lead in race 1 only to have two bad jibes push us to 3rd. So, we were feeling competitive but also felt like we let a couple slip away.
NOYC.org: F.N.G. and Last Call were super fast all weekend. Did this motivate you and team?
Viper 640: M.S. – Both were as fast or faster than us all weekend it seemed. The start and a tactic here or there was the difference in getting control. FNG was out of control fast specifically on Sunday in race 5 and 6. Two horizon jobs on the fleet only to lose spin halyard in race 6 and run over their kite. Tells you how big their lead was they finished 3rd in that race using their jib halyard. Unfortunate for them, I know all three of us have been in that position before and it is not a fun feeling to finish a well sailed regatta on that note! Hats off to both boats – great competitors and fun guys!
NOYC.org: OK we all know what happens in the French Quarter, stays in the French Quarter. Can you share details? LOL
Viper 640: M.S. – I have been down to NOLA several times so I gave MB and TP a little tour of the FQ Friday night. Needless to say we ran out of liquid trying to keep hydrated on Saturday :>) We had a blast at all the club events and went down to the FQ on Friday and Saturday night.
NOYC.org: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. See you this summer at SSYC.