Hamlin and Gibbs: Master and Grasshopper

Published on September 21st, 2015

by Lynn Fitzpatrick
Thirty-three teams came out for the 505 North American Championship, held September 17-20 in Annapolis, MD. With the breeze on for the final day, Californians Howie Hamlin and Andy Zinn closed strong by posting three bullets to win the NA’s for the second year in a row, making it Hamlin’s eighth 505 North American’s title.

Hamlin has been sailing 505’s for nearly 40 years. No doubt he has talent. No doubt he has skill. No doubt he has seen it all. What keeps him at the top of the class is also what makes the class so good. It’s the open invitation to spar with the best every Tuesday night out of Alamitos Bay Yacht Club in Long Beach, CA.

When Riley Gibbs, now 19 years old, was barely tall enough to peer over the sides of Hamlin’s 505 in ABYC’s boat yard, he asked Hamlin if he could be his tuning partner when he grew up. A couple years ago, Gibbs’ wish came true. Gibbs drives Hamlin’s spare 505, he trains on Hamlin’s other performance racing boats, and he surfs with Hamlin.

“Of all of the kids over the years, he’s probably the fastest out of the blocks,” beams Hamlin. “He pushes us at home. He’s taught us some tricks about sailing in smooth water too.”

Hamlin and his Tuesday night sparring partners don’t play in the flat waters of the ‘kiddy pool’ inside Long Beach’s breakwater; they sail in the 2,000-foot deep trench between Long Beach and Catalina Island and are always looking for incremental gains. They move crews around, swap drivers, trade information, and debrief long after the sun sets.

On Gibbs’ first visit to Annapolis this year for the High School Nationals, he was on a mission to buy parts and line to rig Hamlin’s spare 505. Strolling the aisles of APS, he was a kid in a candy store, sending images to Hamlin for approval to buy parts to trick out Hamlin’s fleet.

“Riley is a rock star, mechanically,” Hamlin notes. “He has a facility to look at things and rig it so it works. He’s done a great job.”

Gibbs, a natural, credits Hamlin and the training program with his development, saying, “It makes things easy when you’ve got the best in the world to train with.”

Truth is, everyone involved in the program has done a great job. Reeve Dunne, who recently moved to San Francisco, has been crewing for Gibbs. The pair posted a 3, 6 during the first day of the NA’s in very light air, which landed them in third place for the day. Not bad for a skipper who had never participated in a 505 regatta before.

They popped out of the blocks on the second day with a bullet, and after mixing in the top half of the fleet for a few races, the rookie team sailed like champions in the heavy air on the last day to finish in fifth overall.

Look for great things to come from Gibbs. In the 29er as crew, he won the 2013 US Nationals and finished second in the 2014 ISAF Youth Worlds, and now sails 49’ers and can’t get enough of foil kiteboarding.

Good on Hamlin for his high performance development effort. From the outside looking in, the results prove that the master-grasshopper relationship is in perfect balance.

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Riley Gibbs (left) and Howie Hamlin

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Riley Gibbs and Reeve Dunne

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