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North Sails NEWS

August 30, 2019

ROLEX BIG BOAT SERIES: NICO POPP’S BUCKET LIST

San Francisco Sailor Explains His Goals To Win The Biggest Series On The Bay

big boat sails

Nicolas Popp has a day job in tech and is not a professional sailor, but he says he started preparing his boat Invictus, a SunFast 3600, for the 2019 Rolex Big Boat Series as soon as the 2018 regatta ended. “We never stop in San Francisco, that’s the beauty,” he says.

“We” is Nico and boat partner Jacques Benkoski. “I call him my girlfriend,” Nico jokes, “because right after I call my wife I call him next to ask, ‘When are we going to go sailing?’”

Bucket List

Like many San Francisco Bay sailors, winning the Big Boat Series is an important goal for Nico. “Even if it takes fifteen years, we’re going to keep at it. It’s the grail for us.” His team has been sailing together for a long time, but last year they brought North Sails expert Seadon Wijsen onboard as a coach to help them improve. “We needed a coach to take us to the next level—make us work better together, and maybe be more silent on the boat!” Nico laughs. “Everybody on the boat loves Seadon, and his coaching has made a tremendous difference, even now when we sail without him.”

Once they recognized their improvement, the team recruited North Sails Brian Janney to sail on Invictus for this season. As Nico puts it, “We thought, ‘My goodness, it’s truly important.’ And then we noticed the other guys also had somebody to help! So we figure, ‘Let’s do that, because we’ll get better.’ It’s still a long roadway to go towards perfection, but the pace of improvement just accelerated.”

big boat racing sails

Sail Changes

“My dad used to say, ‘A third the sail, a third the boat, a third the crew,’” Nico remembers. They’ve improved the crew with coaching, and the boat will have a new bottom in time for the 2019 Rolex Big Boat Series. For sails, Invictus’ upwind inventory is 3Di RAW, purchased in 2018. “It’s such a difference,” Nico says. “The way they keep their shape, they’re easy to trim. In fact, even if you mis-drive they keep their shape, so they look good!”

After the 2018 RBBS, they took Seadon’s advice to change out their asymmetric spinnaker. “He looked at the boat, he looked at us, and advised us to go with the symmetric. That made us way more competitive.”

Their competition has noticed the team’s improvements. “We know these boats, we compete with them all the time. The last race Seadon wasn’t there, we got positive feedback from [another team]: ‘Wow, we’ve never seen you go that fast! What have you changed?’ That was great. And we felt it, we can see the progression, which is always good. We’re getting better.”

The team has three goals, Nico says. “Number one, be safe; number two, have fun; number three, win—in that order. There’s a lot of enjoyment in performing better. It’s great to win, but if we sail better all the time, that’s a real motivation.”

With all the pieces in place, there will be no excuses onboard Invictus this year. “We’re taking care of the sails, we’re taking care of the crew, we’re taking care of the boat.” And while having fun is a very important part of the mix, “it’s also important to win because it’s reinforcement that, okay, we’re getting better. Even when you win the Friday night races much more frequently, you can see that on average you are performing better, and that’s important. Everybody wants to get better.”

“Number one, be safe; number two, have fun; number three, win—in that order.”

Enjoying the Process

Though Nico and team are working hard toward winning the Rolex Big Boat Series, he says he also really enjoys the learning. “I stopped windsurfing because I was not improving, and I think that’s the magic of sailing. There’s always the next thing to learn, and the little thing that makes the difference. It’s a process. We’re much better on upwind sail trim and crew coordination, and now we’re going to try to improve downwind. Whether it’s at positioning at the start, the laylines, the rig tuning, sail trimming… it’s like, ‘Okay, I think there are just a lot of things we can improve.’” They plan to continue working with a coach even after the RBBS.

big boat spinnaker

More Goals

Nico says he’s also asked himself, “What happens if we win the Rolex? I don’t want to win it too early… because what’s going to be the next step?” He already has the answer. “We’re going to try the Caribbean next year. And probably when we win the Rolex, we’ll go do Les Voiles.” He lists the Giraglia as another bucket list item; “I absolutely have to go and do that race with the team.”

So if and when they do win the Rolex, who’ll get the watch—Nico, or Jacques, his boat girlfriend? Nico has a plan for that too. “We’ll go buy another watch, exactly the same model, and then we’ll randomly put it in a box. We won’t know which one came first!”

“It’s really the journey,” he concludes. “The Rolex is just one big milestone to being better, and we’re having fun doing that.”