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A Chat with Dan Morris, Trimmer on American Magic

Dan Morris, a former cruising kid turned America’s Cup sailor, shares how his love for rigging led to a career in high-performance sailing.

December 7, 2020
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Dan Morris with Lin Pardey
American Magic trimmer Dan Morris smiles with author Lin Pardey. Lin Pardey

“If you want your main halyard spliced, you have to make me part of the crew!” Dan Morris was just 12 years old when he gave the owner of a highly competitive J/29 this ultimatum. The owner did, Dan did, and a few days ago in Auckland, New Zealand, the results were obvious, as were answers to two of the most frequent questions I am asked about cruising.

Should I take my kids cruising? What should I learn to do if I want to earn money as I cruise? Where ever I am asked these questions, I give a resounding yes to the first and list rigging as potentially an excellent way to earn money as a sailor or cruiser. When I visited with Dan at the American Magic base at Auckland’s Viaduct basin last week, what was obvious was not only that his skills as a rigger led to an exceptional career in extreme high-speed sailing, but in spite of his high-speed tendencies, he still loves and looks forward to cruising.

Dan Morris
Trimmer Dan Morris hard at work. Courtesy American Magic

When I asked Dan how he became part of the elite American Magic sailing team, which is hoping to wrest the America’s Cup from the hands of the Kiwis, he stated simply, “My folks taught me to love sailing.” Dan spent nearly five months of every summer cruising with his family on board their 32-foot Pearson Vanguard on the Great Lakes of the USA, not far from their hometown of Edina, Minnesota. His dad gave him the helm often and taught him the basics of rigging. By the time he was 11 he was earning pocket money doing rope-to-wire splices for other sailors. Then his dad died unexpectedly a few years later, and Dan switched full time to racing. His list of championships is impressive: 49er’s, Melges29s, Farr 40s, multiple World Match Racing Championships. Completely hooked on sailing, he went on to get a degree in naval architecture and marine engineering from the University of Michigan. This, combined with his skill working as crew and skippering various classes of foiling boats made him an obvious choice for this team.

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“I have a wrist panel with 20 different readouts,” Dan explained when I asked him how the cruising community might stand to gain from the extreme high-tech sport that is the America’s Cup today. “My job as trimmer is to watch each of the readouts to ensure we don’t overload any single point in the rig. Each time we get out there practicing, we are learning better ways to spread the loads across the rig and sails. Less load, less risk. It’s all about trimming not only the sails, but the rigging itself. That knowledge will definitely trickle down to sailboats of all types, foiling or non-foiling.”

American Magic AC75
The foiling American Magic AC75 flies above the waters off Aukland, NZ. Courtesy American Magic

And cruising, can it still fit in his life? “I’m looking forward to exploring the Hauraki Gulf after the America’s Cup regatta is over,” Dan explained. “My girlfriend is a sailor from here. Met when we were racing dinghies several years ago. We often spoke about cruising her home waters. Now I’ll get a chance to do that.” I suggested they include a visit to my home at Kawau Island and take my little keeler Felicity, a Herreshoff 12 ½, out for a cruise. “Might be a bit of a bore after the excitement of flying just above the water at 50 knots,” I added.

Dan’s answer. “I’ll be out sailing. That’s what it’s all about.”

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Well spoken, just like you would expect from a former cruising kid.

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