This article originally appeared on North Sails News August 30, 2019

Nicolas Popp has a day job in tech and is not a professional sailor, but he says he started preparing his boat Invictus, a SunFast 3600, for the 2019 Rolex Big Boat Series as soon as the 2018 regatta ended. “We never stop in San Francisco, that’s the beauty,” he says.

“We” is Nico and boat partner Jacques Benkoski. “I call him my girlfriend,” Nico jokes, “because right after I call my wife I call him next to ask, ‘When are we going to go sailing?’”

Bucket List

Like many San Francisco Bay sailors, winning the Big Boat Series is an important goal for Nico. “Even if it takes fifteen years, we’re going to keep at it. It’s the grail for us.” His team has been sailing together for a long time, but last year they brought North Sails expert Seadon Wijsen onboard as a coach to help them improve. “We needed a coach to take us to the next level—make us work better together, and maybe be more silent on the boat!” Nico laughs. “Everybody on the boat loves Seadon, and his coaching has made a tremendous difference, even now when we sail without him.”

Once they recognized their improvement, the team recruited North Sails Brian Janney to sail on Invictus for this season. As Nico puts it, “We thought, ‘My goodness, it’s truly important.’ And then we noticed the other guys also had somebody to help! So we figure, ‘Let’s do that, because we’ll get better.’ It’s still a long roadway to go towards perfection, but the pace of improvement just accelerated.”

“Number one, be safe; number two, have fun; number three, win—in that order.”

Enjoying the Process

Though Nico and team are working hard toward winning the Rolex Big Boat Series, he says he also really enjoys the learning. “I stopped windsurfing because I was not improving, and I think that’s the magic of sailing. There’s always the next thing to learn, and the little thing that makes the difference. It’s a process. We’re much better on upwind sail trim and crew coordination, and now we’re going to try to improve downwind. Whether it’s at positioning at the start, the laylines, the rig tuning, sail trimming… it’s like, ‘Okay, I think there are just a lot of things we can improve.’” They plan to continue working with a coach even after the RBBS.

More Goals

Nico says he’s also asked himself, “What happens if we win the Rolex? I don’t want to win it too early… because what’s going to be the next step?” He already has the answer. “We’re going to try the Caribbean next year. And probably when we win the Rolex, we’ll go do Les Voiles.” He lists the Giraglia as another bucket list item; “I absolutely have to go and do that race with the team.”

So if and when they do win the Rolex, who’ll get the watch—Nico, or Jacques, his boat girlfriend? Nico has a plan for that too. “We’ll go buy another watch, exactly the same model, and then we’ll randomly put it in a box. We won’t know which one came first!”

“It’s really the journey,” he concludes. “The Rolex is just one big milestone to being better, and we’re having fun doing that.”