Consummate waterman and record breaking pro sailor, Nick Dana is a Newport, Rhode Island native and scion of the Newport Shipyard family. He’s been part of three Volvo Ocean Races: as shore crew with PUMA Ocean Racing in the 2008-‘09 edition, on-board reporter with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in 2011-‘12, and bowman/boat captain with Team Alvimedica in 2014-‘15. Nick’s a passionate surfer, and he managed to catch a few waves during some VOR stopovers. Closer to home, he relishes surf-seeking aboard Goose, a lobster boat that he refurbished.
New York Yacht Club American Magic is a Challenger for the 36th America’s Cup presented by Prada, to be sailed in Auckland, New Zealand in March 2021. Nick races aboard the syndicate’s AC75 hydrofoil, Defiant. When we spoke, he had just completed a simulated race day at the team’s winter training base in Pensacola, FL. That includes executing everything they’ll be doing from dawn to dusk at the first America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) regatta of the 36th America’s Cup cycle, to be sailed April 23 – 26 in Cagliari, Sardinia.
WindCheck: How old were you when you started sailing?
Nick Dana: I started sailing and cruising with my parents at four or five years old…maybe younger.
WC: How did growing up at Newport Shipyard shape your career path?
ND: I didn’t do a lot of youth sailing. None, actually. I was much more into hockey and soccer. I attended St. Michaels for four years, then St. Georges.
My father called me a harbor rat. Dad got his start being a “nipper”…learning from good boat captains. We got the shipyard in 1999, when I was 13 or 14. I knew quite a bit from family sailing, and I started hanging around and working on boats. My experience really came from the maintenance side, working on boats that came through the yard. Captains of local boats started asking me to do deliveries south to Florida, and the miles added up quickly. Miles are king. There are things you can only learn by logging miles. Eventually, I was getting asked to sail on increasingly better race boats.
WC: So, your love of sports was a huge driver. Did you have a sailing mentor? If so, what’s the most important thing you learned from him?
ND: My Dad. He taught me about extreme attention to detail, which is key if you are going to cross oceans. Never compromising on how you fix things, and how you treat the boat…something I still work on. If you messed up, how could you have done it better? Understanding loads through experience; learning and applying knowledge.
WC: How did you become involved with the Volvo Ocean Race, and how did that opportunity lead to American Magic?
ND: I got involved via the shore crew for Ken Read’s PUMA Ocean Racing. Kenny asked me to join the program when I was 20. Casey Smith [now American Magic Shore Team] and Kenny gave me my foot in the door. As for American Magic, it wasn’t really an application process. It was more word of mouth. I knew the guys, Casey in particular. I threw the Hail Mary email out there and Terry [Hutchinson; Skipper & Executive Director] offered me a job.
WC: What’s your position aboard Defiant?
ND: I’m part of the grinding squad. These boats have not really evolved a “bowman” position, so generating the power is what I am tasked with!
WC: Please tell us about training in Pensacola, and what it’s like to sail an AC75.
ND: We will have been training here for six months before we pack up and go to Europe for the first World Series event in Italy. We will have maybe a week off after we break camp to go there. In the meantime it’s sunup to sundown, logging miles, learning and testing.
The AC75s are faster upwind than the cats were. They are totally cutting edge, totally impressive. And the trickle down effect in design software and modeling will be real for the rest of sailing. The accuracy of predicting performance without having to build is truly amazing.
WC: What will it take to defeat the Kiwis on their home waters?
ND: What will it take to beat the Kiwis? Consistency, and logging as many days on the water as we can as we continue to learn. And it’s going to take creativity. The Kiwis are very creative in how they make things, how they solve problems. They have proven that over the years, and we’re going to have to show up with a few creative solutions of our own.
WC: What’s your advice for young sailors that aspire to race in the America’s Cup?
ND: Eat a lot of food and turn a lot of handles! Get big and strong. Get as many miles under your belt as you can, and try to win everything!
WC: Thank you very much Nick. The entire WindCheck Community looks forward to American Magic’s victory in Auckland…and the victory party in Newport! ■
Special thanks to New York Yacht Club American Magic Communications Director Will Ricketson for facilitating this interview.