A Big Guy’s Story to the Bigs

Published on September 19th, 2017

Eric Anderson’s plus-sized frame never fit the mold for the youth-only dinghies, but that didn’t keep him from pursuing the sport. Now 24 years and a Software Engineer for Google, Anderson will be on the start line with skipper Chris Segerblom when the 2017 505 World Championship are held September 24-29 in Annapolis, MD. Here’s how he got there.

What led you to the 505 after college?
I was always too big for college boats. My college coach at Yale, Zack Leonard, pointed me toward the 505 early on so I’ve had a couple years to figure out the ropes. I love the technical aspects of the boat, and it’s great to sail with other guys (something you almost never do in college). The class was incredibly welcoming to me, and I’m still thankful to the first skippers I sailed with for putting up with me before I knew what was going on.

How did collegiate sailing prepare you for competing in the 505 class?
The Yale team taught me everything. Our coaches, Zack and Bill Healy, gave me tons of support and coaching despite my coming onto the team short on dinghy experience. I owe all my success to them. We won eight national championships while I was there, which gives you a sense of how competitive the practices were. There’s nothing that improves your sailing game like practicing against the best kids in the nation every day and then exchanging notes on the bus ride back to campus.

Some of college sailing translates well to 505s. I think my strengths in college – boathandling, boat-on-boat tactics, course strategy, and starting – carry over well. Learning the tuning and equipment game, something we don’t do in college, took a little while but it’s something I’m naturally disposed to pick up pretty quickly (I’m a mechanical engineer in addition to the software stuff). Switching to a crew position was definitely the biggest transition for me, but I think I’m a better crew for all my driving experience.

What kind of sailing background to you grow up with?
I got into the sport a bit later than most, I think. I never did Opti’s (not that I would have fit!) and only really started racing in high school after taking a learn-to-sail summer camp a few years earlier. My high school was too small to have a team, so I tagged along with other local schools for practice and was ineligible for most regattas. I was too big for Lasers even then, although I still took our family van all over the Midwest sailing any Laser event I could.

I built up a fair bit of offshore experience during that time as well; I’ve done five Mac races and a Bermuda race. Yale was the first real program I got to be a part of, which is one of the reasons I’m so grateful to my coaches and teammates there. I’ve always been incredibly driven to sail at the top level, maybe in part because it wasn’t a given for me. But being too big or not having a high school team weren’t really factors in my world. And the thought never crossed my mind to stop sailing after high school or college because I haven’t attained mastery yet.

You crewed for Macy Nelson for a few years, who has been in the class a long time. What were some of the takeaways from that time?
Macy has been so good to me. He taught me tons about tuning, boat maintenance, gear, and – most importantly- 505 lore. He also invested in me before I was 100% in the boat – we definitely spent a bit of time swimming at the outset. I sailed my first worlds with Macy. He showed me how to put together a season, taught me how to ship boats across the country and across the Atlantic, and was always the shining example of energy and enthusiasm, despite having sailed these boats longer than I’ve been alive.

You are a relatively big sailor. How does that work for you?
I’m pretty much the ideal size for a 505 crew. I’m 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds (going light for Annapolis), so there aren’t that many other doublehanded options for me. I sail Finns and am learning a ton from that (it’s also great to get the tiller back!), and I’m looking at some faster classes – maybe Moths, 18s, or foilboards – to round out my training.

Any skippering in your future?
Probably not for 505s. I’ve sailed heavy long enough to know that it sucks. But I do consider myself a driver, seeing as all my other sailing, past and present, has been as a skipper. 505s are the exception.

Source: Bill Wagner, 505 class

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