In a sport with its share of pricks, Rick Merriman is an anti-prick. A genuine nice guy and a superb sailor who you may not have really heard of until Rick and his crew Phil Trinter won the Bacardi Cup a few weeks a go in Miami. Here’s how he won, a look at how he goes about sailing a Star, and how to overcome being 55th at the weather mark.! Enjoy.
SA: First, congrats on the Bacardi Cup win! With finishes of (4-2--2-1,9) you were amazingly consistent. How in the hell did you do that?
RM: We had four great starts out of five races; we had solid speed in both the light and heavy air. We also worked well with our coach Bill Bennett, giving us confidence in our strategy for the start and the first beat. We also did not take any big risk.
SA: You’ve been plugging away at the Star for what 10 years now? What do you think are the areas that you’ve gotten better in?
RM: I have been sailing Stars for 8 years now, Phil for over 20 years. I think I have improved over the years in the small refinements with boat handling and rig tune. If you look at Star sailors records, usually the best worlds they have is their first year or so. My first year I finished 5th in the worlds, my best so far! After that you tend to out smart your self and chase improvements. Then after another 6+ years you start to settle in again. Look how many years it took Mark Reynolds and George Szabo to win Worlds.
SA: With this major win (your first?), are there any revelations that you discovered?
RM: Phil and I won the Western Hemisphere Championships in ’08 and MOCR in ’09. This is probably bigger than both of those. No big revelations but we think it shows we can win a major regatta in a big fleet.
SA: Were there any "uh-oh" moments at the Bacardi? What happened with that 23rd place finish in race three?
RM: We had a 2nd row start in the third race and could not get a lane. We wanted to go left and kept getting pushed right. We finally got a lane to go left about half way up the beat. We ducked many boats while on starboard to protect our lane. As it turned out the right came in and we rounded the top mark in about 55th. Some of the boats we let cross, rounded in the top 5 at the weather mark! We did grind our way back to 23rd which we hoped would be our throw out race.
SA: How much differently do you have to think in a Star boat than in other classes?
RM: The Star forces you to be at the top of your game in all aspects. You need to be physically in shape, tactically sharp and knowledgeable with rig tune and sail shape. Around the corners you are very busy also. For instance coming into a leeward mark you have to think of the upwind tactics, put yourself in a good position coming out of the mark, trim in 90′ of mainsheet, pull on the outhaul, jib cars, main Cunningham pull the slack out of the jib sheet when the pole comes down plus not hit any boats around you. The crew is just as busy trying to keep the rig up while taking the pole down and dropping the jib halyard, pulling down the jib tack, pulling back the shroud cars, pulling the running backstays on and easing off the mast bender!
SA: How do you and Phil communicate on the water in terms of tactics, boat speed, other boats….
RM: We talk about everything, constantly. If he is in a full hike I feed him information on heading and traffic and what I see around the course. The crew also can look under the boom easier to leeward and directly behind the skipper while in the hiking position. Downwind he looks back and calls the lanes, shifts and the tactics. I will look back every once and awhile downwind to confirm what he is saying. We both look at other boats for speed adjustments.
SA: You used Quantum sails in the past, but now North. Why the switch? And what do you see as real differences?
RM: I used North main and jib for the first four years. Then, for a couple years, I switched to the Quantum main because I felt the North main design at that time was difficult to tune. I have always used the North R2 jib. Last year Ian Percy’s main sail design from the Olympics (now the North M16) became available so we tried it at RMOCR 09 and won so we have used it since. It is a very forgiving sail. We finished 2nd in the light air race and won the race in 20+ with the same sail at Bacardi. The Quantum main has a tighter leach and is not quite as powerful in the midsection.
SA: What kind of Star do you sail? Any changes planned there? What other Stars are quick?
RM: I have an ‘08 Folli with a milled keel. I am taking delivery of a new milled keel Folli at the Olympic Expert Garda Italy in May. There are new designs from the ‘08 Olympics. Both the P Star and the Percy/Juan K Mader. Both of those boats have good results but then again the sailors sailing them would probably win in any hull! There was a good mix of designs at the top in both the Olympics and the Worlds.
SA: Let’s talk about your Star program. Are you teamed up with Phil for the foreseeable future? What are your plans – Olympics? How do you fund your sailing? Sponsors?
RM: Phil and I have a busy schedule this spring and summer in the Star. We are sailing with the goal of a Gold Medal in Weymouth in 2012. We first sailed together in the Trials for ‘08. We finished 5th with only one week of practice together. So we are pushing hard this time around.
We are sailing in the Western Hemisphere Championship in Nassau in April, Olympic Expert Garda Italy in May, Star Spring European Championships in Viareggio, Italy and the Weymouth England Sail for Gold in August. We will train for a week prior to each regatta so each event will be 14 days of sailing. We had our 2010 Worlds in January in Rio so that makes the summer schedule a little lighter!
I am self-funded right now. If we can get some results this summer we would hopefully make the USSTAG and get some extra funding from them. We were #1 on the Team last year but I had to resign from the Team because of work and the economy. I am a FedEx pilot so I have a full time job that pays the bills as well as a wife that works and is very understanding. I have a 501C setup so I am open to donations or sponsorships!
SA: Talk to us about the strength of the Star class – who are the toughest guys out there? How strong is the US in the Star class now?
RM: The tough guys are Ian Percy, Robert Scheidt, Freddy Loof, Torben Grail, Lars Grail, George Szabo, Andy Horton, Flavio Marrazzi, Mark Mendleblatt, Andrew Campbell…. I could go on! I think the US is strong but we need to put in a lot of time and effort to get to the level of the full time Europeans. The Star class is strong. There are cycles with participation due to the Olympic status. 2009 was an off year but things are picking up now, in 2010. I was happy to see 84 boats on the line at Bacardi Cup. There are many new sailors to the class in the US within the last year, which is nice to see. It is a fleet oriented class so pockets of the US and around the world are strong. It takes a few members in a fleet to pull everyone together which results in a larger turn out. The class has tough competition from the sport boats and larger keelboats.
SA: How old are you and how do you keep sharp? How much training/practicing/sail testing do you do?
RM: I am 48; The Star is a very physical boat to race. I try and lift weights each day for at least an hour and a minimum of 45 minutes of cardio. The main sail can be very hard to trim in upwind and to pump off the wind. Plus you are hiking pretty hard once the wind is over 10kts. I am stronger now than I have ever been. Maybe not as aerobically fit as I once was though! We do most of our testing before regattas. It cuts down on cost for travel and the good sailors are already there to tune with.
SA: Are you doing any other sailing? And what will you do beyond Stars? Flying Tiger? 😉
RM: I am sailing with Phil Lotz on his new Melges 32, including the Worlds in San Francisco. If I can I might squeeze some more into the schedule.
SA: Thanks Rick and keep kicking ass!
RM: Scot, Thanks for giving me the opportunity to contribute! You and I go way back from my San Diego days so it is good to stay in touch with you and SA! I am an avid reader of SA while on the road!