North Sails NEWS

Story Contributors: Mike Toppa, Matt Smeaton


Mike Toppa Shares his Excitement on the Upcoming Season

📸 Carlo Borlenghi

While those of us up north wait for spring and pine for sunshine and warm trade winds, Superyacht owners from around the world are gathering in the Caribbean with family, friends, and crew. With three regattas (Antigua Superyacht Challenge, St. Barths Bucket, and Les Voiles des St. Barths) fit into two months, “they have a really healthy entry list,” North Sails Superyacht expert Mike Toppa explains, when we caught up with him just before he jumped on a plane. “They moved the dates for Antigua this year, so boats will race there, transit directly to St Barths, and pick right up where they left off days earlier.”Mike will be sailing onboard Rebecca for the Antigua Challenge, and he’s excited about the brand-new sails they’ll be using for the first time. “New 3Di ENDURANCE main and mizzen, Nylon A2, and 3Di RAW Helix genoa staysail. They’re the latest generation in terms of structure, engineering and design, so I expect to see a pretty nice performance gain.”

But he’s equally excited about stepping on board the 56m Perini Navi Zenji for the St. Barths Bucket, where Spectra paneled sails are still going strong. “I think they’re six or seven years old now. They’re regulars at the Bucket, and they like to race and compete. They have a great crowd on board, and it’s always really fun sailing with them.”

📸 Carlo Borlenghi

Well managed races and boats

When asked how many people will be aboard each boat, Mike chuckles. “It’s probably close to 25 on Rebecca. On Zenji, 40-50. There’s a lot of sailors. And then there’s a lot of crew. And there’s the owners and family and friends and guests, so the numbers add up pretty quickly. The boat is 198 feet long, with three decks. Racing it is really a management exercise; everything’s so big, and nothing is manual. So you get it to the line on time, point it in the right direction, trim the sails, make use of the shifts, stay out of the current, and hope for the best!” Both islands do a great job running the regattas, he adds. “Who doesn’t like to sail in Antigua or St Barths? The races are always well managed.”

📸 Carlo Borlenghi

Race all day, repair all night

North Sails Service will also be well managed, thanks to many months of planning. Overnight repairs will be provided to the entire fleet in both Antigua and St. Barths. “We have the full staff from the loft, and we also fly in a lot of our sailmakers,” Mike says. “We’ve been doing this for several years, and we’ve gotten very efficient at knowing the materials and machinery and manpower we need to handle a fleet of that size and sails of that size.”

A tear in a 3Di mainsail can be repaired on board, but the most common repairs are on spinnakers, and they have to be stitched back together at the loft. “It’s not an easy task, because the sails are huge and heavy and wet and just getting them off the boat and to the loft takes a lot of muscle and planning. We work hard at making it as easy as possible for the owners and the captains and the crews.”

Once sails get to the loft, the repair team works through the night to have them ready to go the next morning. “Even a 12 inch tear in a spinnaker that’s 1200 square meters in area is a big deal, because you have to move the sail through the machine and it might weigh 200 kilos. It is a big job.” Asked for an estimate of how many sails could be repaired in one night, Mike can’t give an exact number. “Oh, it’s hard to say. It really is approached by just getting it all done. That’s part of the planning process.”

There’s no permanent sail loft on St. Barths, so the North Sails team creates a “pop-up” loft. “We send in all the machinery and materials, erect a tent, and do all the sail repairs right alongside the water,” Mike says. “This year, Matt Smeaton [Superyacht service manager from New Zealand] is coming up. He has a particular interest to be part of the service team in St. Barths because for a lot of the boats, this will be their last stop before they head to New Zealand for the America’s Cup. We’re trying to make sure there’s a seamless transition for our customers.”

📸 Carlo Borlenghi

Heading west

After the Caribbean regattas end, several boats will transit the Panama Canal and then spend the summer working their way down to New Zealand, arriving in time for the 2021 Millennium Cup. “No one tries to get there quickly,” Mike explains. “It’s more of an opportunity to island-hop and see some new places.” The transition will be a little bit easier for the Superyachts like Rebecca that use their 3Di Endurance main and mizzen for both racing and cruising. “3Di Endurance sails can be raced with confidence,” Mike says, “because it’s molded just like 3Di RAW sails are, so the shape is locked in.”

Meanwhile, the North Sails Superyacht team will already be working to apply the lessons learned at this year’s Caribbean regattas to their service at upcoming regattas around the world. “Everybody in North America, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia will compare notes: what we could do better, and our successes. And then looking forward, what’s coming up and how to best plan for it, to make sure that we have the assets needed at each event to cover any conceivable need.”

And then it’s time to get off the phone, because Mike is flying off to Antigua to help bend on Rebecca’s new sails. That, too, takes “a little bit of experience in planning,” he says. “There’s a lot of people involved. First thing is to make sure you have the weather window, before it gets too windy to hoist. Next thing is to get them bent on, battens installed, and furled.” The reward? Trimming in state-of-the-art sails, and enjoying that performance jump.

Mike Toppa

2020 Caribbean Season Preview headshot
Mike Toppa

Loft Manager —

Mike Toppa's first job after college was with North Sails in Annapolis, where he learned spinnaker design while pursuing his goal of winning the America’s Cup. Three years later, Mike’s designs were on over 50% of the fleet and he won...

2020 Caribbean Season Preview headshot
Matt Smeaton

Oceania Super Yacht Co-Ordinator — Auckland, New Zealand – Sail Loft Auckland, New Zealand – Sales Office

Matt Smeaton is based in Auckland and is the Superyacht Project Manager for the Pacific. He's an extremely knowledgeable sailmaker, with over two decades of experience working across a wide range of racing, cruising yachts, and record-breaking sailing teams.   A...

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