Local sailor finishes top 10 in two prestigious regattas
A young sailor who grew up in Jamestown recently had strong showings in two major regattas held in the area. Mike Marshall, who lived in Jamestown for nearly all of his 24 years before moving to Boston earlier this year to take a job, finished in the top 10 in both the J-24 North American Championship and the J-22 World Championship.
Marshall attended the Jamestown schools and North Kingstown High before going to Connecticut College to major in physics. He began sailing when he was 6 years old. He participated as a youngster in the Conanicut Yacht Club junior program, eventually becoming a coach.
Following college, Marshall decided he wanted to go into the wind energy field. He landed a job with an engineering firm in Providence. He realized after nine months that his new job didn’t give him enough time to pursue his passion for sailing. Marshall needed a job that would blend his training in physics with his love for sailing. When he got an offer to design sails for North Sails in its Marblehead office, he jumped on it.
The offer came following Marshall’s strong performance in last year’s J-24 World Championship that took place in Rochester, N.Y. A conversation with North Sails began after the regatta, and culminated with Marshall being hired in January.
“It was a pretty exciting offer because it was something I was always interested in doing and it was right up the aerodynamics and physics side of things,” Marshall said. “It was a big opportunity and I was very glad to be able to take it.”
Since then, Marshall has been living in Boston and working in Marblehead. He has been learning the technology that North Sails uses in their sail designs, taking notes from the experts who have been doing it for years. The job also gives him time to sail on boats belonging to clients, and to represent the company at major regattas around the country.
Marshall specializes in J-22s and J-24s for North Sails. Thus far he has sailed in a regatta in Annapolis, Md., and on a client boat in Maine. He is hoping to participate the midwinters in Florida this fall as well. Marshall also likes to practice on Lasers and is willing to give any boat a try given the opportunity.
Marshall has been sailing J-24s for about four years. He started by fixing up an old J-24 with his father and brother. With the help of Waterline Systems, a local boatbuilding company that Marshall once worked for, and Ronstan, a marine hardware supplier, he began campaigning it. Strong racing results by Marshall led to a brand new J-24 to use in last year’s worlds, courtesy of Waterline Systems. In the 2012 regatta, Marshall and his crew finished 11th in an unwieldy field of 96 boats.
Marshall once again sailed the Waterline Systems boat for the J-24 North Americans that took place on Narragansett Bay in September. A field of more than 40 boats assembled for the competition and 10 races were held over four days. Marshall and his crew of four sailed well. They finished in fifth place. The regatta was won by another North Sails representative, J-24 world champion Jim Healy.
“We were very happy with the event,” Marshall said. “I can’t give enough kudos to Anderson Reggio and the Sail Newport race committee. They did a fantastic job. We made some mistakes, but we had some really good finishes and it showed on the scoreline. We were able to recover from our mistakes and that’s what it takes to put together a good series. The guys who are winning are doing it better.”
Just over two weeks later Marshall was back on the bay in his own boat with two crew members for the start of the J-22 World Championship. This time the experience was quite different as light air and shifty breezes dogged the five-day event. The race committee managed to squeeze a number of races in over the five days, despite the difficult conditions. Marshall and his team ended up in eighth place.
“We hadn’t sailed together a whole lot, but we had practiced over the summer,” Marshall said of his crew. “We were working out the kinks as the event was going on and we started getting things together at the end. We were generally happy about that. They’re a great team to sail with and I’d sail with them again in a heartbeat.”
Marshall, who grew up sailing on his father’s J-22 and now has his own, said it is hard to find similarities in the experiences of sailing the J-22 and the J-24. While both are keelboats, the J-24 is bigger, wider and sails like a large keelboat. The boat’s large genoa headsail makes tacking difficult, he said, reducing the amount of maneuvering that is done on the boat. The J-22 is sailed much like a dinghy. It carries a small jib sail that is easier to tack. It leads to more crew maneuvers.
“In any sailboat race, more than half the race comes down to the start,” Marshall said. “If you can get off the line with a good start, you’re going to be able to do well. The boats start fairly similarly, but in terms of how they sail, they have a very different sail plan.”
Marshall’s focus going forward will be on the J-24 World Championship that is slated to be held in Newport in 2014.