Dave Nickerson is the Viper 640 class’s Technical Committee chairman. Dave, along with his Tech Committee colleagues Ben “Carbon Mongoose” Steinberg, Tim “Timbo” Carter and Professor Bob Matthews, are the keepers of the sword, inspecting Vipers with rulebooks in hand and ruthlessly burning tow lines that are a millimeter too thin and declaring that the brilliant and complicated spinnaker halyard retrieval takeup system that you spent all summer designing isn’t class legal. Still, there are benefits to knowing the Class Cop, and in Dave’s case, the knowledge acquired during his hundreds of hours of boatwork spent upgrading and perfecting one of the oldest Vipers on the racecourse can be transmitted over a beer post-race. The Tech Committee are also the guys who think about improvements to the class rules to keep the boat modern and fun to sail. Dave’s also not one of those “soft drivers” who doesn’t know what to do once he steps forward of the mainsheet bridle, as he spends 50% of his time crewing his boat when co-owner Moise “Mo” Solomon is on the helm. Dave is a veteran of at least a dozen one design classes, so we wanted to pick his brain about why he likes the Viper the best out of all of them…
Name: Dave Nickerson
Location: Noank, CT (a small village in southeastern CT on Fisher’s Island Sound)
Viper currently (or past) owned: 3 Grins #18 [editor’s note: as far as we know, the first Viper was hull 10, and the only Viper older than the 16-year old 3 Grins on the racecourse is “Smilin’ Bob”, Viper 15, also racing out of Eastern CT]
Tell us a bit more about the origin of the name of your Viper: Second regatta for us: 2009 LIS Champs that Jonathan Nye hosted at Indian Harbor. Our friend Spike in the front of the boat looked back at Moise and me (very much newbies) as we were flying downwind in a big puff and said “you should see the grins on your faces”. He had pretty big grin too. So…
How long have you been racing Vipers: We bought the boat in December 2008. First regatta was Charleston 2009 — very fun, we got into the right class.
You have one of the oldest Vipers still out there on the racecourse, and have done a ton of work on it. What do you think were the most important projects to do, and do we dare ask how many hours you’ve spent working on Viper 18 over the years? Haven’t counted the hours – don’t want to, but I actually enjoy working on boats when I can. My co-owner, Moise Solomon is very handy. You wouldn’t want to hire us ‘cause we’re not that good, but we have passable combined skills. Most important projects: replacing the rudder tower with the Mk III design (mold courtesy of Ben Steinberg and Bill Griffin’s then new #110), adding forward footblocks in the cockpit, removing the old inboard shroud chainplates (ouch to sit on), 16:1 gnav on the Harken track (we prototyped the current setup thanks to Scott Norman there). On the “old-boat-and-we-had-to” list: paint topsides, redo cockpit non-skid, replace keel bolts that were pulling out, clear-coat the mast, fix gelcoat bubbles, new spin sock, new tail bags, new hiking straps, replace all lines, many new blocks, and so on…
Who introduced you to Viper sailing, and what drew you to the boat: Interesting story. A local club in Stonington, CT, SHYC, organized a “Sportboat Demo Day” in the fall of 2008. I had a J/22 at the time and got involved to make sure the 22 was part of this and was expecting to help grow the local fleet after new folks tried the boat. Great mix of 7 boats that sunny, breezy October day: Viper 640, K6, Open 5.70, the brand new Melges 20, Laser Performance SB3 (remember that one?), J/22 and J/80. All were supported by reps or class members and about 75 people showed up to go demo and sail some really fun boats. Moise was there that day and we happened to get a chance to go Viper sailing together with the-one-and-only, now-Governor Kay VanValkenburgh. It was all over for us and a partnership was born. The local group had their eyes opened and debated a lot about the two clear favorites – the K6 and Viper. Then the economy started to tank, 8 buyers became 6, then 4. In the end, Bill Griffin bought a new boat and Moise and I bought a used boat to hopefully jumpstart a local fleet (that is now at 4). And Bill and I sold our J/22s. Rumor is that Stonington local Rod Johnstone is still pissed at us. Sorry Rod… Still love your work – the J/35 I had for 14 years was really great in that era.
What other boats have you raced and when did you first start: I come from a sailing family, so guess I had no choice. Typical junior path for my area at the time – Blue Jays, Lasers, then college sailing. After school: Lightnings, some windsurfing, Interclubs, J/35, J/22, Viper and have always owned a Laser (38 years of Lasers – yeah, I had one of the early ones…).
Who are your regular crew / favorite people to sail Vipers with: Easy, Moise. We usually trade off driving every race. For our third, we sail with a lot of other folks. One thing I like about the Viper is that the forward person doesn’t need to be rockstar (though it’s nice when they are – the big events have become really competitive) and you can sail with your friends.
Tell us a funny story about Moise — it seems like you’re the half of the ownership team who most Viper sailors interact with: Moise has a very busy professional life and 6 year old daughter. He’d be a lot more involved in the Class if he could. So, no sh** there we were, driving across that huge bridge in Charleston after touring town the day sailing got blown-out at CRW in 2011. A big gust (40?, 50?) hits us from the side and the ski box on the top of Mo’s Excursion blows open, rips off, and our Viper top cover, bottom cover, mast cover, tie down lines, padding, a sleeping bag, etc get blown across the other cars, the other lanes and onto the other side of the bridge. Shoulda seen Mo’s eyes! No place to pull over, so George and I jump out at the bridge base and run back up the bridge. We got the covers back (bottom cover still has tread marks on it), but a lot of smaller stuff and the box cover flew away.
Tell us about the sailing conditions at your home port — what is it like? Like a lot of the east coast, good breeze in the spring and fall, lighter in the summer. Some current and a few rocks. The weeds (mostly eel grass) seem to show up for August, but we now have a really effective weed stick design. No longer get psyched out by the local Melges 24s “Dave – watch this!” using their kelp cutters on a Weds night race.
When are we going to have a Viper regatta in Eastern CT? Hopefully, fall 2013 – we’re overdue in paying back folks at all the great places we travel to. Got a hoist in place this summer at New England Sailing & Science in Stonington (shameless plug: a great non-profit community educational program that my wife Cindy runs nessf.org). We need to raise the remaining funds for the 1 ton electric chain hoist and installation.
What do you do professionally: My career has been in the wholesale electric power industry and I’ve had a consulting practice in the business for about the last 8 years. Interesting stuff if you are a power geek, but most folks’ eyes glaze over in about a nanosecond. Next question.
What do you like most about Vipers: Fast, fun, easy – just like the brochure.
Least: Not having local dry sailing hoist facilities. We trailer launch every time. Fishers Island Sound is a really great place to sail, but we’re way behind the rest of the country when it comes to dry sailing facilities.
What is your favorite sailing event and why: Hard to pick one. Big fan of Charleston Race Week.
What would you tell a newcomer to the Viper class who wants to get up to speed quickly: Duh. Bring a cooler to the boat park after sailing and start asking questions. My experience is that this is a really helpful crowd. The egos and attitudes you sometimes see in some other classes are in check here. And let’s keep it that way – it’s a great attribute of the class.
Do you have a basic race philosophy: Try to sail as well as Brad :^).
What is your favorite piece of sailing gear: Musto spray top. Though I’m really liking the new Sperry dinghy boots.
Any other sports or hobbies: None that matter.
What’s most frequently played on your iPod these days? Retro phase. Seem to be playing Steven Stills a lot on Pandora.
Read any good books recently? Not really – little time. Guess I’ll need to dig into the 2013 racing rules sometime.
What’s one thing that you’d want people from the Viper class to know about you that they probably don’t: I’ll soon be the commodore of the infamous Mystic River Mudheads. Actually a really great group that’s the core of competitive sailing around here.
What is the one sailing accomplishment that you are most proud of? I’m probably too modest to go there. How about nudging a son, who is now clearly a better sailor than I am. Dan stepped in for Moise after Mo’s knee operation late this spring and drove our Viper for Wickford and Larchmont. It’s really fun to crew for your own kid and sail with his college sailing buddies.
What sails do you use: Evolution. Local loft, great guys. They have done a nice job.
What will you do to not miss sailing this winter: Hopefully nothing. Not a sure thing, but we at least want to do the Bacardi week regattas
What are your Viper plans for 2013: Haven’t planned that far ahead yet. Hopefully Bacardi regattas, Charleston, Annapolis NOOD, Wickford, Larchmont, Newport, Marblehead, Houston.
Why did you decide to throw your hat in the ring to become an officer of the Viper class? Dunno. Got initially involved with a group working on issues with the early Mark III boats with Rondar. Justin pulled me into the vortex from there.
What is your favorite part about being an officer of the Viper class? Getting to help grow a great group of sailors with a common interest. The boat is really fun to sail – that makes it easy.
What are some of the strangest things you’ve seen added to Vipers (illegally) as Tech Committee chair? Actually, based on my experience in other classes, there’s not much – especially that might be considered speed producing where it really matters. Folks have tried a few things that go over the line (please read the rules, they’re really short) but are good about correcting it when you talk about it over a beer after sailing. Though… there was a sprit that extended about 1 foot too far at NAs this year, as well as an elaborate 4 part spin halyard slack-taker-upper, and a couple folks who tried to register 2 brand new 2012 chutes… No names, all fixed, all good…
What are some of the “upgrades” that you as Tech Committee chair would recommend that an owner of a brand new (Rondar Mark III or Mark IV) Viper do if they wanted to match the top guys in the class? Not much: minimum (legal) diameter lines, 16:1 gnav, Cunningham adjustable while hiking and the aft split-tail mainsheet set up with an auto-ratchet on the boom rather than at the swivelcam. Couple hours work.
What would you like to see the class do more of in the future? Coached clinics. I think we’re pretty good as a class about running organized debriefs periodically at regattas to share the insights of the top guys, but the occasional additional opportunity to do drills, see video, and get advice and tips in a coaching environment can help us all improve and make the racing even better.
What are your goals for the development of the class and of the boat? Try to help make sure the sailing stays as even as it is now. The boats, through two builders and now 4 generations of improvements are all very competitive on the water – that’s fundamental to a strong class and continues growth. We have a really great Tech Committee currently thanks to the efforts of Ben Steinberg in RI, Tim Carter in CA and Bob Matthews in NJ. Talk to them (or me) if you have questions or suggestions.
Tell us your favorite (website appropriate) Viper story: Hmmm. He’s going to kill me for this. Probably, sailing at Bacardi last winter with Justin. The first day in gorgeous Biscayne Bay was pretty breezy. We’d arrived the evening before after driving about 24 hours straight through from CT. Justin and Pete (both really great sailors) and I were a little road-weary and had never sailed together before, so the early race mechanics were a little awkward mostly because of me. In the 2nd or 3rd race, we jibed – well, tried to jibe. Somehow Justin got tangled up and stopped turning the boat mid-jibe and the main had come over – but chute never collapsed on the old side. I looked up, and there we were sailing wing and wing in a puff with the chute billowing out to windward. That didn’t last long as the boat rolls over to WINDWARD on top of us like a death-rolling Laser. Justin and I get dumped hard into the bay, leaving Pete with a Viper all to himself. All I find in water to hang on to is the mainsheet tail. As we flail to catch up with the boat, Justin tells me not the pull the main in. Huh? Me, to myself, “what the hell else do I have to hang on to?”. We go our act together over the next two days and just edged out the legendary Last Call boys for second, but it was a bit of a rocky start.