North Sails NEWS
Story Contributors: Mike Toppa
HE SAILS SHIELDS BY THE SEASHORE
Longtime North Sails Expert Mike Toppa Doing What He Loves
What’s better than racing an immaculately prepared yacht in Sardinia? According to Mike Toppa, it might just be racing his 50 year old Shields on Wednesday night in his home town of Newport—especially this year, when the Nationals are on his home waters.
“It’s the best racing!” he says. “We’ve got Narragansett Bay to ourselves; great sunsets, fantastic conditions… and really good competition, because the best sailors in Newport are out there. And the bonus for me is that I get to go out with my family and friends, which is a lot of fun.”
The Nationals are a much different challenge than a few hours of midweek racing inside Narragansett Bay, he admits. “We’re racing outside in Rhode Island Sound, in more wind. The waves are bigger, and it’s three consecutive days. So both the gear and the people get tested.” Toppa signed on his regular Wednesday night crew for the regatta: daughters Holly and Alie, son-in-law Jeremy Wilmot, and Suzy Leech.
Though he’s only had his current boat, Bomba Charger, for four years, he first sailed a Shields as a young teenager. He was a sophomore in college the only other time he sailed the Nationals however and that second place finish still hurts. “Jerry Kirby and I had a boat together. It was really windy, and we were sailing outside.”
On the final day, they were winning the regatta on the last run down to the finish. “The boat was full of water, so we started bailing with two buckets. But luck was not on our side, first we lost one bucket over the side, and then quickly lost the second as well. At which point the boat behind us surfed right by and won the race. That win gave them the point then needed to beat us and win the whole event! Not gonna make that mistake again” Mike says laughing
Leading up to the 2022 Nationals, Toppa has spent several days going over all of the boat’s equipment. “I wanted to make sure everything was rock solid, ready for 20 knots and big waves. We checked everything; running rigging, equipment, attachments—and I also made sure we’d be able to keep the water out. That last Nationals is an old memory—but still stings”
North Sails is well-represented throughout the fleet, including Will Welles, Mike Marshall, Tim Dawson, Will Bomar, and Jeff Hayden. “Jeff won the Nationals last year, with Robin Monk,” Toppa says. “Seems like every boat he gets on goes faster.” And Mike Marshall has done a lot of work on the sail designs for the class, he adds. “We actually have a new test spinnaker that we built over the summer and will be looking at next week, which we’ll make available to the class for 2023. ”
One reason the class is still around and thriving, Toppa insists, is that the national association does a really good job keeping down costs with the class rules. “You can only buy one sail a year, and every sail has to have at least 10 races on it prior to the Nationals. Most replace either a main or jib every year so spinnakers get tired. Hopefully this new design is a good one.”
Asked to name a favorite to win this year’s Nationals, Toppa would only express hope that the winner will be from Fleet 9. “We honestly haven’t been sailing super consistently this summer. And there are lots of other previous National champions in our fleet.”
As for that immaculately prepared yacht in Sardinia…Mike’s travels to the Rolex Swan Cup 2022 conflict with the final day of the Shields Nationals, so daughter Alie will take over as skipper. “She has a second and a fourth driving Wednesday nights so far this summer,” he says proudly. “So at some point, I’m sure I’m going to be holding a clipboard for her. I just love to race sailboats! Even though I am lucky enough to have done so many regattas in so many different types of boats— there is something super special about doing it in your own backyard with your family. It is hard to beat”