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Interview: 2009 Audi Melges 20 U.S. National Champion Eric Wynsma

Still reeling from an exciting weekend at the very first Audi Melges 20 U.S. Nationals, Champion Eric Wynsma speaks with the IM20CA about the event, the boat and the fun he anticipates in the upcoming years sailing his Audi Melges 20.

IM20CA: Congratulations Eric for a job well done at the Nationals! How does it feel to win the very first Audi Melges 20 U.S. National Championship?

EW:We have had varying levels of success in the past. This one is something we worked hard at. We started with a boat in Charleston, SC when the whole thing began. It's not like we've had any run away wins but it has always been right down to the wire. There have been tiebreakers at almost every event that I've participated at, so its always been really tight racing.

The weather in Macatawa kind of reshuffled the event a little bit. There is no question that it worked in our favor this time, but there have been dozens of other regattas in my life that didn't go that way. It was a really tough battle. The Bliksem guys were really quick. I have a lot of respect for their ability as sailors. The guys on Black Jack, I almost feel like they should have won because it was a family effort. It was Marc Hollerbach and his two sons Ian and Adam.

It's awesome to see a family like that sailing together. I look at that and it inspires me. I look forward to the day when my kids are old enough and can sail to that ability. If I can, in my lifetime achieve what the Hollerbach's have done together as a family, that would be a lifelong sailing goal for sure. The respect there is just really cool and they are just phenomenal sailors.

IM20CA: Tell us a little bit about your crew and how you all came to sail together?

EW:We put together a great team of three people that really enjoy sailing together. JP was new to our team for this event but we got to know him well from competing against him on other boats. Timing and schedules worked out so that he was able to join Wally and I.

Wally and I have sailed together in the past. Historically, by reputation, Wally is a rig magician. He is also an excellent sailor, tactician, and super individual. JP now has the same reputation because he spends more time than anyone in the world on the Audi Melges 20 doing set-ups and fine tuning the rig settings. Having the two of them together, our team never missed a beat.

There was no down time in between races. On the way out to the race course we would always be spinning turnbuckles, playing with the rig and reevaluating it all. There was constant gear shifting. I am convinced that was a major key to our success besides the fact that we played by basic sailing tactics and fundamentals. We covered people we needed to cover and were always mindful of who was wearing the race track. We focused on shifting gears a lot and were very aggressive with moving our weight around, especially in the waves. We kept using our weight to help control the trim and the attitude of the boat.

IM20CA: What exactly was fast for you guys for this weekend?

EW:We agreed that the top five boats all had equivalent speeds upwind. Once we got around the top mark we enjoyed a speed advantage. We had theories regarding what the reasons were, but we were just really fast downwind, especially when the breeze was blowing and there were big waves. I have a lot of experience driving big waves but importantly the three of us together as a team got in sync and enjoyed the speed advantage downwind. That helped us recover from some ugly situations.

On Saturday, the second race we won but the first race we had a bad start. The tiller extension broke right after the gun. JP quickly repaired the problem while we sailed upwind. That was a major set back. It set the fire to really turn on the aggressive boat handling on the downwind run, to really put our boat speed to work and gain back some of what we lost. We did that and we came back to finish fourth.

The second race was pure inspiration. We were fired up to sail more assertively. We survived. We didn't wipe out all weekend. We kept the boat on its wheels the whole time and we had no gear failures, wipeouts, round ups and no broaches.

When it's windy, making no mistakes is a big part of winning. It is a big deal if you can keep your boat upright and not spend any time hitting the wind with your spinnaker dragging.

IM20CA: Not only have you been one of the fleets strongest supporters, you are also one of several pioneers that has sailed every Audi Melges 20 event in the USA - Charleston, Detroit and now Nationals. Give us some more details regarding the kind of racing one can expect in this very new, very cool boat.

EW:We are starting to figure it out. One of the big variables is rig setup. Between Wally and JP those two guys spend more time than anyone in terms of trying to understand the geometry of the rig and what a good set-up. It's taken us a while but after this regatta we have now reduced it to a set of numbers on a chart so we have a repeatable setting. It took us awhile to establish that. That is a big part of it.

All of our chart information from Nationals will be made public through the first Quantum Sails Tuning Guide for the Audi Melges 20. They come directly from our experiences and settings. The chart has been updated to an electronic format and we plan to share it.

The good news about the Audi Melges 20, unlike other class of boats, is that it never gets stuck in the wrong gear. You don't lose a race or regatta because of the gears.

IM20CA: If you had to name one thing that you love the most about the Audi Melges 20, what would that be?

EW:Hands down, it's the people in the class. Everyone is friendly. There are always great social events that are usually held external of the regattas, so we get to bond. That gives way to more great opportunities for the fleet. It allows everyone to get to know one another and in the long run everybody becomes great friends.

IM20CA: As the fleet grows not only here in the states, but also worldwide, what would you say to someone looking to purchase and race an Audi Melges 20?

EW:If they were to choose to get into this fleet, immediately they would benefit from the last six months of learning how to rig and tune the boat, all that work is already done for them. They can get up to speed very quickly and race competitively. The build tolerance from boat-to-boat is very close, so everybody is able to get around the marks pretty quick.

A good example of how much the fleet has already progressed could be seen at the Nationals. Anyone in the top half of the fleet had a chance to win. It all came down to boat handling and tactics.

IM20CA: A pretty aggressive 2010 Sailing Series was announced at Nationals. Have you already made plans to attend and which events do you think will be a hit?

EW:To be perfectly honest, I haven't given it a whole lot of thought yet. I'm still coming off winning the Nationals. The schedule that was announced logistically looks very sensible, easy and inexpensive. The Miami events during winter months look great. It is going to be so easy. Haul it to Miami, leave it there over the winter. Everyone knows they can get nonstop flights from up North to Miami cheap. It will be very easy and a lot of fun. Miami in March will be amazing.

On the behalf of the International Audi Melges 20 Class Association congratulations again Eric and to your crew. We look forward to seeing your Superfly Audi Melges 20 on the water more in 2009, 2010 and beyond!

View Full Audi Melges 20 U.S. Nationals Results

Stay tuned to the Official Audi Melges 20 Web Site, the Official Audi Melges 20 Blog, Melges.com and Melgeseurope.com for all the details. You can also follow the Audi Melges 20 on Twitter. Join, bookmark and subscribe today to stay on top of all things Audi Melges 20.


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