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elvis is in the building

Jeff  Thorpe (Elvis) is a big boat salesman  at the Quantum Pacific loft (frisco),  In 2016, Jeff was recognized as Quantum Sails’ top salesman. He mostly races offshore, with 23 races since 2006 and 17 race wins as navigator.  He just crushed it, again, racing to Hawaii, so we thought we should give the boy some ink…
SA: Let’s see if we have this right; you’ve done nine Transpacs & Pacific Cups combined as navigator and of those nine races, you’ve won seven times? I’m calling bullshit. Name the year, the boat, and your role:
JT: I know it sounds like bullshit but it just kinda happened.. I was very fortunate to have very good teams and Skippers on all the wins they kept the boat moving fast and the sail changes smooth. The Amazing thing with all the trash out there now with all these races we never had one back down that I can remember in these wins which is amazing. Here they are:
2006 Pac Cup Santa Cruz 52 Lightning: Navigator
2007 Transpac Santa Cruz 52 Turbo Kokopelli 2: Navigator
2008 Pac Cup R/P 45 Criminal Mischief: Navigator
2009 Transpac R/P 45 Criminal Mischief: Navigator
2010 Pac Cup R/P 45 Criminal Mischief: Navigator
2013 Transpac R/P 52 Meanie: Navigator
2017 Transpac Santa Cruz 50 Horizon: Navigator
Here are they two that i didn’t win:
2011 R/P 45 Criminal Mischief 2nd: Navigator
2015 Santa Cruz 70 Turbo OEX 3rd: Navigator
SA: Is there anything about racing to Hawaii that brings out your best?
JT: I think growing up racing on the west coast with all our offshore racing as a kid with all the big fleets we used to have back in those days,  Santa Barbara to King Harbor, Ensenada, Marina del rey to San Diego, Cabo, PV, Coastal cup, etc.. all the focus on distance racing in those days made an impression on me. With that said I just really feel at ease out there and with all the stress that comes with the job I think I do a good job of not letting it get to me. Some of my teams might disagree with me on that one though!
SA: You haven’t always been a navigator, and I am interested to find out what made you become one,  how did you do it, and how did you become good at it? We asked Bruce Nelson the same thing, but in typical Nelson fashion, he couldn’t be bothered. Don’t’ be Nelson.
JT: I became a navigator as it was the only way to get off watch when I was cold and wet! In all seriousness, I would guess I really started to take an interest in it in my late twenties to early thirties when I did a PV race with Mike Campbell on the Barnett 52 Climax back in the day. We had Rob Wallace as navigator and he was really good at sharing his knowledge. He was very good at plotting all the boast on a hand drawn chart of the Baja coast and explaining the course bias with risk vs. reward to our decisions and how and why & when to hit all the points down the coast which I found very interesting. I ended up I think doing 2 to 3 races on the Santa Cruz 70 Mongoose with Rob also. I don’t think he knows, but I really learned a lot from him.
I spent a fair bit of time not racing offshore for awhile, then in 2002 I did the Pac Cup on the New TP 52 Alta Vita with Jay Crum and I learned a bunch from him to on that race. But for some reason, rides were allot harder to get in 2003, 2004, 2005, and everybody was like “We don’t need drivers or trimmers, we need bowmen or a navigator.  So in 2006 when Tom Akin wanted me to help put a team together for the 2006 Pac Cup on the Santa Cruz 52 Lightning, I said “I can navigate!”,  and I have been doing it ever since. In each race since, I have learned big valuable lessons that fortunately have not cost me too many races ..Except for 2011 where I learned a really big lessons that i will never forget as that one cost us the race.
SA: And what was that?
JT: Do not let anyone on board change the navigational plan that you have worked very hard to develop. You have to stick to your guns, and I didn’t.
SA: Every alchemist has his ingredients, what are yours, electronically?
JT: I would have to say electronically it is really basic , Expedition and a FB 250 Inmarsat for internet for weather downloads, etc. Pretty basic. But what I have to say one, if not the most important things, is having very well dialed instrument calibration which is an area that I am trying to get better at. I am sure Artie Means & Peter King are tired of explaining the same things over and over to me!
Next after that would be a very well dialed-in sail chart & polar file as if these aren’t sorted you will be spending valuable time during tight TWA sailing with the wrong sail up and your crew mad at you as you keep making sail changes @ 30 degrees looking for the correct cross over. We fell victim to that on this year’s Transpac on Horizon as we did not spend the time to sort this out. No matter what your sailmaker gives you it will not replace the time it takes to get it right and updated on the water with lots of reaching time. Last but I think more valuable then everything, is having a team with good chemistry just makes life so much easier to make better decisions with no drama on board.
SA: So people like me know how good you are, do you think owners and others in the sport know how good you are?
JT: I am just lucky to have had such good teams on the races that we have won with. With that said, I am the Money Ball player of sailing!
SA: What are the specific skills that make a good navigator? How much research do you do going into a big race?
JT: Well if you would take the skills that define a great navigator, good with networking electronics, instrument calibration, math prodigy, I am none of those! What I place value on is being good with expedition, but not so good with it that you trust its routing 100%. Being able to question what the instruments or the gribs files are telling you. Being good at reading the 500 mb & surface charts to confirm the Grib files which I think I am getting better at. This year there were allot of grib files that I did not trust as the High was a lot further west than the gribs were showing and more wind to the south than the gribs were showing and I made some of our decisions based on the 500 MB & Surface charts.
Another area I place a lot of value on knowing when to make sail changes and pushing for those as sometimes you get “We should wait to the watch change or lets wait till morning”. Complacency creeps in all teams I have seen with pros to amateurs alike. The big one is holding onto your game plan when everybody is going of in different directions and being flexible to change quickly when your plan is not working out.
I usually am so busy with work getting other teams ready for the race, delivering sails etc., to prepping to be away for an extended time that I don’t really start to study the weather till 2 weeks out. The past few years I have been using Chris Bedford and Commanders for weather. I always get two forecasts for the races I do. This year I spend a fair bit of time speaking with Chris Bedford about how I read the weather and my default theories on what I see as risk factors which was really helpful. I really enjoy speaking weather with him.
SA: We know you Big Time Rockstars command a hefty daily rate. If Wally Big Bucks asked you to navigate for next year’s Transpac, approximately how much do you charge?
JT: What someone is willing to pay me…..They can call me!
SA: Your day job is with Quantum, (who, it is worth noting, no longer advertise on SA), how much conflict does that create?
JT: I don’t think there is any conflict… But if you would have interviewed me sooner you might still have Quantum advertising..!
SA: I have a feeling that you love Quantum (okay, like) Quantum the way I used to. If North came along with a rocking offer, would you be tempted? (of course, we think North is too stupid to do so)…
JT: I am really content with Quantum and I know you still love us….I think its been 15 years with Quantum and I am really happy with the products that we deliver to our customers. It would have to be really big to get me to leave but with how the industry is going, I don’t see that happening. And now we have Chris Williams who was with North sails as a designer that I have been working with this year and he has just been so great to work with. I have to say this if you are buying sails from any manufacturer and it’s not from a salesmen who has a tight relationship with a designer, you are just not getting the best value out of your purchase. You can call Chris and myself anytime.
SA: No longer the young buck, but without a doubt better than ever, where do you want to go or end up in this sport?
JT: Tell me about it … You know how the saying goes if I knew what i know now when I was younger….I would like to get involved in the Pac 52 fleet out here on the west coast. Along with that I would like to do some of the ocean races that I have never done before outside of California & Mexico like Bermuda, Sydney to Hobart , Rolex Middle Sea race ,Chicago Mac etc. I would like to be able to get involved with some of the super yacht sailing or Big cat sailing in the Caribbean. Jennafer is tired of going to Hawaii or Mexico to meet me, she has instilled a mandate to visit places we have never been before.
SA: What is next for you?
JT: I am working on a possible new ocean racing project that is still in discussions. But right now we are getting close to re-launching the 1939 S&S 67 Yawl Chubasco that we built a whole new inventory and did a full ORR optimization package on for this years Transpac. Unfortunately with an old wood classic, the 4 month job turned into a year project, so we will be working her up when she splashes this October. We have been in talks about doing Transpac in 2019 for the 50 year anniversary of the race , and perhaps bring her out the to the Caribbean and Med for some classic yacht racing.  But I do want to get back to racing on a fast boats with no poles soon.
SA: Will you come navigate my Santa Cruz 33, the mighty Anarchy III, in the 2018 Santa Barbara to King Harbor Race?
JT: Would love to Scot, the problem is you have the wrong sails on her… But I am sure that we can find a sail that you forgot to buy. I do remember when i was a kid drooling over the the SC 33’s Freight Train & Firelock. Since I have been regressing back to boats with poles there is a chance for you!
SA: Thanks for your time, brother!
JT: No Problem good luck with the new boat.
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