Many of sailing’s great names have won the Melges 32 World Championship, but until now these wins were always one-offs. Jason Carroll, 37, of New York City, grew up sailing on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake before matriculating at Harvard, where he sailed Larks and Interclubs. Next came Vanguard 15s, which he raced while he built Hudson River Trading, a quantitative trading firm he co-founded. Carroll entered the Melges 32 class in 2007 with some college sailing friends and slowly improved the team’s performance. Come 2011, Carroll’s Argo program was a serious blend of Corinthian and professional talent, including tactician Cameron Appleton. The team won the Melges 32 Worlds in 2013, and then, in December 2014, Argo stunned the racing community by repeating. We caught up with Carroll to learn more.
SAIL: What drew you to the Melges 32 class?
Jason Carroll: I wanted something more challenging than the Vanguard 15, and the Melges 32 was the new exciting thing. My college sailing friends and I thought that we’d be less disadvantaged if we joined a new fleet, so we chartered a boat for the 2007 Melges 32 National Championship in Newport, Rhode Island. We were all dinghy skippers trying to race a team boat. We learned a lot of stuff the hard way, and finished 12th out of 16 boats.
Still, I had a great time. The boat is technical, and the fleet is really competitive—you’ve got to be good all-around, and you’ve got to manage the race technically. It was super fun, and I wanted to get better, but this required devoting more time. We were an all-Corinthian team for the first few years. Our first Worlds was in 2009, and we brought in some pros. It’s been a slow evolution, adding people and slowly building a cohesive team.
SAIL: What can you tell me about Argo’s crew chemistry?
JC: It’s a collaborative environment. We all work together to constructively help each team member to do his job as well as possible…and we all individually want to win. This manifests itself when the chips are down—that’s when we fight harder than ever. Also, we’re all friends off the boat.
SAIL: What was your secret to success in 2013, and did you repeat this same strategy in 2014?
JC: I can’t say that anything is a guaranteed recipe for success in this class! By 2013, our crew chemistry was positive and marked by deep respect for each other. We’re critical when we make mistakes, but we all know that mistakes happen, so we address this and we move on—there’s no lingering resentment. There’s also a great respect between the sailors and the off-the-boat staff.
We built on 2013 for our 2014 season. We used to go out and mingle, but by 2013 we were “in the bubble,” playing cards together at night at the team house and spending time together. Our debriefs were less technical—less talk of sail choices or rig tune—and we talked about softer things, like sports psychology.
SAIL: How many years have you been realistically chasing the World title?
JC: 2011 was the first year that we trained in a disciplined way with a coach and a regular team. We had a few wins going into the Worlds, for example the Copa del Ray Regatta, and we finished eighth at the Worlds.
SAIL: Which World Championship win did you have to work harder for and why?
JC: There was a little extra pressure in 2014, but it was a really cool opportunity. After the 2013 Worlds, I thought, OK, we’ve won the Worlds, but other teams have also done this. Winning consecutive titles added an extra challenge. The guys loved it!
2014 was more physically challenging—there was a lot of wind—and the team really worked hard.
Photos courtesy of studio borlenghi/IM32ca