Greg Griffin sailed his Quantum-powered Thistle to the top of the 2019 National Championship podium. Quantum’s George Szabo caught up with Greg after the event to try to uncover his secrets.
George Szabo – Greg, Congratulations! Great job by you and your team. It seems you’ve had a lot of success lately. What do you attribute this to, and why do you think you’re winning more races now than you did before?
Greg Griffin - I believe there are a number of factors that have contributed to our success. We have been in the hunt at the national level in the class for the last decade or more. As a team, we have tried to sail conservatively and be in position to have a shot to win going into the last race of each regatta. Having the same team for multiple events has allowed us to focus more outside of the boat and sail this conservative style because the mechanics of the crew work are never on our mind. I cannot emphasize enough how important having a great team was to our success.
Another factor was the switch to Quantum that we made back in 2015. I immediately felt like the main was simpler to trim and to tune the rig for. The flatter lower exit seems to simplify both and again lets our team direct more mental focus to the racecourse and fleet.
Finally, there was a high level of team commitment. At the Orange Peel, our crew weight was 505 pounds, and we all talked about dropping 10 pounds each to go faster. By the next event, we were all down our 10 pounds, and then we decided to drop more, and we all lost another five pounds each. At Nationals, we had a wide range of conditions, and downwind we could really feel the difference in the boat without carrying so much weight around.
George - Fifteen pounds each? Wow! What’s the secret sauce to your weight loss?
Greg - We kept Mark (and me) off ice cream. I had to text him at 9pm a few nights just to say, “Don’t even think about it.” ;) We worked on core strength, crunches, eating right, and staying off the sweets. We’re old—except for Amy—so staying away from sweets was critical.
George - I see that you often sail with a crew of two. What are the dynamics with three versus two on board? How did you pick your crew?
Greg - We sail with three in the venues that support that. The only places we sail with two are the smaller lakes. We sail in a lot of light air in the Southeast, and Mark and I often two-man that stuff. Last year when our friends and fellow Southeast competitors Brad Russell, Joe Hart, and Terra Berlinski won the Nationals, we were thrilled for them. It also inspired us to make a push for it. We looked to do a three-year commitment with the goal of trying to get to the top during that time. It was a mental and physical commitment that we had not undertaken before.
We have a great team in Mark and Amy. This is my 23rd year sailing with Mark and my 4th year with Amy. We have great positivity. When things go bad, we share a calmness, and that can be important at times. We recover and know we can get back into the race. At the Nationals, other than one bad decision to go low on reach, we would round in the top 10 and then go forward. We never won a race, but we were rarely outside of the top 10. Perseverance was key.
George - Looking at regatta photos of the Nationals, it looked like you were starting mid line much of the time.
Greg - Yeah, we pretty much did. We felt like it was pretty shifty all the time, and we wanted to get on the favored tack as soon as possible. We were fairly conservative, and we were in the middle a lot. It felt like we had good speed, so why be risky?
George - Looking at the results, it seems like consistency was a key factor in winning this event. What was your event strategy?
Greg - We thought getting on the favored tack quickly would be key to sailing conservatively. The last two races were volatile. Sailing in the breezy stuff, we were more consistent. All the races are starting to run together. There were a lot of races–it was a difficult venue. For example, John Baker had a 31,1 on the last day. It was easy to get out of phase. We were just trying to be conservative. On the last day, we adjusted a bit to be completely conscious of where our closest competitors in the scores were, and we tried to stay near them.
George - What was your daily routine on the water?
Greg - We would try to get out early, sail the whole beat, and get a feel for the breeze. We would meet with Brad Russell in the morning to go over the technical weather details. Brad would do a scoring on the predictability of the wind, show us an isobar file, and tell us all sorts of stuff that went over my head. He was explaining wind convergence and divergence on the different shores. We’d go out and try to pick up the timing of the shifts if it was oscillating, and then we would go out and do our line homework. We never started near an end. There was a midline buoy, and we used that to help us find the line; it was a good reference. Sometimes we’d start at a third up or down the line if one end was favored. That’s how we’ve been sailing the midwinters for a while. We are just using our boat speed and playing percentages.
To win anything at this level, you have to have some breaks go your way. We had a big break in the first race on Wednesday. It was the first reach, the boat was taking off, we were all in full hike, and the next thing I know the tiller is real light. The tiller extension had come off. I see the tiller go to leeward, and I just dove for it. Somehow, we saved it. We had some other fortunate things with boat traffic that went our way and a general recall that saved a certain OCS that we would have had to recover from.
George - You have seen a lot of Thistle sails in your day. What differences do you see with your current sails?
Greg - With the Quantum Thistle sails, we instantly noticed the flatter lower leech on the main, which made the sail easier for me to trim. You trim it as hard as you can in flat water and medium breeze, when you feel the boat start to slow; you ease, and keep that process/cycle going.
This week we went off/up on the upper diamond and tighter on the lower diamond than we had previously.
The top was six and is now five. It may have come off more, I need to re-measure. The middle was 14 on pro gauge, and the bottom came up to 10 at the end of the regatta. I’ve seen the bottom get out of column when too loose, and I didn’t want that in the breeze. I think we set a record for broken masts a few years ago.
We use a shaved step. In the breeze, we used two shims in the front. With that we just had a ‘maintenance vang’ on in breeze, and we were dumping traveler to just below the tiller hole. We were working mainsheet a lot. On the jib, we barber-hauled out just an inch to open the slot (16-17” out). That seemed to work.
Mike Gillum was eating us up in breeze on Wednesday, and Amy noticed that we had a tighter jib halyard, so we eased ours a touch and it seemed to help us point.
George - We all want to know, what’s the secret tuning? Did you follow the tuning guide verbatim? How was your boat setup?
Greg - Yes, we’re still modifying our tuning. Our leads are 15 1/2 inches off centerline, and we brought the rake forward a little more to 27 7/8 inches. That is farther forward than I had been, but it seemed to work well. We rolled the board back in breeze to balance helm. It was about three-quarters of the way from the hump to the thwart.
George - Any tips for heavy air depowering?
Greg - Get the boat freed up and balanced. I was letting the main out a bit to let the top of the main twist off and used the bottom part to get point. In the breeze, the Thistle likes speed to generate foil lift and flat is fast.
George - How are you placing your crew weight in the boat through the wind range?
Greg - In light air, we are forward with Mark straddling the thwart on the seat and Amy in the space between the leeward thwart and centerboard trunk and seat, ready to come to windward to balance. I am right against Mark. In flat water with all on rail, Amy is against the windward shroud with all compact against her. As the wave state increases, we move back until Amy is as much as 18 inches behind the shroud, again all compact against each other.
George - I know that you’ve been looking at mast bases lately. What have you been worried about?
Greg - We have a shaved step. And we use double mast shims in the front to straighten the mast to keep it from overbending in breeze. I’ve been talking to other guys with normal steps, and they have not had speed issues in breeze, so when the wind is blowing, the mast bends a ton and overbends the mast. The forestay goes loose, and everything is doing the opposite of what you want. With two shims I keep the mast straighter, but the mast did not over bend like it could have without the shims.
George - I hear that your family flew in to make the drive home with you. What’s your itinerary?
Greg - We’re going to go from here to Yellowstone. Two nights at Henry’s Lake State Park at the west entrance to Yellowstone, and then we’re going to Dinosaur National Monument, the Moab area, Deadhorse State Park–beautiful there. Then we go to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, just off I-70 near Grand View, Colorado. If you’re passing through that area, you should check it out. It is a black canyon with gold colored striations throughout. Then, we are cannonballing all the way back. The Great Sand Dunes are in the direction we are going, too. We might stop there.
George - Sounds awesome. Thanks for the tips and fed back, and have a great trip home!
Quantum-Powered 2019 Thistle Results
1st, 2nd Mid-Winters West
2nd Mid-Winters East