THE LATITUDE 38 INTERVIEW
As Ullman Sails celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're checking in on the career of the loft's founder and namesake. Dave Ullman, now 71, says the idea that his sailing career is winding down "is in my thought process, but I wouldn't say it's happening yet." Ullman is a three-time 470 World Champion, won the Melges 24 Worlds in 2007, and is a 32-time National and North American Champion in various classes. Ullman has also coached four Olympic teams, and was an America's Cup coach in 2000 and 2003. He was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2016. Ullman was coaching three teams in the Etchells Worlds in September when we caught up with him at San Francisco Yacht Club (then spoke with him a week later over the phone). We asked him about his illustrious past, as well as some of the larger, existential questions about the health of the sport. Latitude: There's a lot of history to cover. We might as well start at the beginning. When did you start sailing? Dave: I was three years old. My dad [Chuck Ullman] was quite a good sailor, and we used to go to Catalina on the weekends. We had an 8-ft pram and when I was three, my dad would tie a long line to the boat, send me out, and let me sail around. Then he'd pull me back in for lunch, then send me back out again in the afternoon. Was your father in the industry? He owned a business called Service Afloat, and they did boat maintenance on sailboats. Their big hook was that they would go out to your boat out on a mooring and do all the work. And my dad was quite an accomplished big-boat sailor. In 1957 he won the Transpac, and we won our class in '63 when I was with him. His family was from Chicago, but he grew up in Southern California, in Los Angeles, and I was born and raised in Newport Beach. I've been here all my life. Was there a specific moment when sailing clicked for you? Well . . . I started racing against adults when I was six, in a class called Balboa dinghies in Newport Beach. I don't remember when it clicked, because I've just always done it. As long as I can remember, I've sailed or raced. We heard a rumor that you used to practice blindfolded. Yeah, when I was 10 or 12, my dad would take me out and blindfold me and have me work on the other senses, rather than just eyesight. When I went on to coach and blindfold sailors, I think it's Page 68 •
• November, 2017
one of the keys to becoming a very successful skipper. It helps sailors use all of their senses, not just their eyesight. When you put the blindfold on, somebody else is in the boat, and they work as your eyes while you try to feel the boat. You feel the heel, feel the wind on your face and all the things you need to know to sail the boat properly (you can obviously do this by just closing your eyes for a little while). What it teaches you is how to drive a boat and not just stare at the telltales, but to look at the horizon, look at the bow wake, look at the other boats and take in the whole racecourse — all the other things you should be doing rather than just concentrating on the telltales on the jib. What were the first fleets you got into as a racer? In Newport Beach, we started in Snowbirds, which was an Olympic singlehanded class in 1932. That was the junior fleet at the time. Everybody under 17 sailed Snowbirds. All of the top competitive people sailed them, and lots of very good people came out of the class, like the Frost brothers, who would go on to be world-champion Snipe sailors. When I was 14, I got a Snipe, which was my first venture to upper-level sailing and out of junior sailing. I sailed Snipes for a number of years, until 1972. And then the 470 came in as an Olympic class. I changed over, and spent the next 15 years sailing 470s at an Olympic level. The 470 really blossomed in '72 when they got chosen for the '76 Olympics. And for those first four years, for that first quad, we used to get huge numbers, like 50 or 60 boats at local Southern California regattas — they were hugely popular. But I never sailed in the Olympics. I never qualified. My best quad was '76 to '80, and I was three-time world champion out of four Worlds [in '77, '78 and '80], and then '80 was the boycott year. It's amazing how you can get on a run and dominate a
The November 2017 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.