Starting Gun – The Etchells Worlds and a Conversation with Jud Smith
We caught up with Jud Smith of Marblehead, Mass. at Doyle Sailmakers this past week, as he gets ready for the upcoming Etchells Worlds in Newport, R.I. starting on June 21-28. Smith is a Rolex Yachtsmen of the Year and former Etchells Worlds champion who just so happens to be building many of the sails for the event. He will be racing with his long time team of Peter Duncan and Tom Blackwell. As both sailmaker to other competitors and a competitor himself, we asked Jud to take a moment to give us an overview of the upcoming event – and the state of Etchells’ sailing overall.
Q. What is different about this upcoming event in Newport, R.I.?
A. The World’s in Newport is going to be a big draw. Canada is close, and it is off-season for the Australians. The World’s has become the premier event for Australians and we have John Bertrand here along with many other teams. In 1998, the Etchells Worlds was held in Marblehead, and it was the last time we had 100 -boat strong Etchells Worlds. We are figuring we will have 95 boats on the line for this one. Newport is unique and to have an Etchells Worlds on the east coast is rare. We don’t get the Worlds in the US that often and it will be awhile before we have one nearby again (next year’s event is in Hong Kong).
Q. With such an international fleet descending on Newport, R.I.; will this be the first time some of these competitors will race against each other?
A. Many of these teams have competed in the Jaguar Series in Miami and that is what we last did as a team before we began pre-worlds races for this event. Most of the major American boats were at the Jaguar series, as well as European and Canadian teams. Many of us have met each other on the race course before this.
[“The Jag”, as it has come to be known, is a four regatta series, spread out over four weekends between December and March, and brings together many of the best Etchells sailors in the world.]
Q. How important are these winter series like the Jaguar Series to the Etchells fleet?
A. The Jaguar Series has really helped the Etchells fleet and it has been a very popular format. It is more common now that you have to go where the sailing is – and a lot of competitors find it in Miami. The sport has evolved and whereas the summers are short and it is not always easy to get people involved in weekend racing – the competition stretches out over the year. It is so much more migratory.
Q. Will this Etchells Worlds feature a heavier contingent of professional -level sailors or will it include fleet racers from the region as well.
A. What is different about the Etchells is that many of the owners are not pro-sailors but they do have pro teams. The talent pool is incredible so what has changed is that the boats are loaded with talent. It is not like the old days where you could fill in with individuals from the host club. That being said, it is hard for the club sailor to be competitive amidst this caliber of competition. However, for the club racer, they can come and get to sail against the very best in the world and talk and mingle after the racing.
Q. What else is unique about this talented Etchells fleet?
A. Today, the Etchells is not so much a summer racing class but a traveling class. Etchells fleets are not gone, they are just not exactly where they used to be and more competitors take time over the course of a year, and not just weekends in a short summer season, to compete. The Etchells is one of the few keelboat classes that is still vibrant and does enable older sailors to compete. And, as it has evolved into a fleet that is deep with sailing talent, the more mature sailors tend to be the ones that have the resources and the time to race.
Q. As the sailmaker to the sailors, do you think you have any advantage over the other professionals in the fleet?
A. When you are the sailmaker for the event, the process for the customers started a long time ago. The Doyle team boats have been training on weekends in Newport. As a sailmaker, we live and breath this every day. Any advantage I could have had is probably negated by the amount of time I have put into working with our many customers and helping make sure they are up to speed. As much as sailmaking has evolved into being more automated and as such precise, there is still a lot of craftsmanship that our team has put into our sails – its been an exciting but exhausting few weeks leading up to the regatta.