Q&A with James Derck of CRAM

Published in the June 2018 Issue February 2020 Feature Vanessa Oler

Great Lakes
Boating: Other than what I used to do before exams in college, what is CRAM?

James Derck: CRAM stands for Catamaran Racing Association of Michigan and is just a collection of people who are really enthusiastic about multi-hull racing. While we are mostly catamarans, we do invite trimarans to race with us as well. The main thing is getting together to race fast boats. It’s quite an incredible group because there are so many people who put so much work into making it happen. The level of planning we have going into our season is pretty thorough and we all have a great time.

GLB: What got you into catamaran racing? 

JD: My dad always had the expectation my sister would be into it and actually bought her a Phantom. We left it up at my grandparent’s cottage and one year I just realized we had it. I’d always had an infatuation with sailing. When I was a kid I would make boats out of K’nex and LEGOs and thought I should give actual sailing a shot. I got it cleaned up and started sailing a little bit. It wasn’t long before I wanted to go faster.

Also my uncle, at his family’s cottage, had a Hobie 16 sitting on the beach that I’d play with anytime we went up there. I never got it in the water, though. I knew they were fast and I wanted one to sail. So I sold the Phantom – even though it was technically my sister’s boat – and bought a Hobie 16. I also love to tinker and it wasn’t long until I had done every upgrade I could think of and I still wanted to go faster. Now I’m part of the F18 fleet!

GLB: What would you say to someone who is trying to get into Catamaran sailing, but doesn’t know how to?

JD: Come out and introduce yourself. Whether it’s on the water, through social media, on our website or email, we’re always enthusiastic about bringing in new people. There are always crewing opportunities if you just want to hop on a boat and start learning. I do know some people like to have a grasp of what they’re doing before they get a boat for themselves. For them, we know people who have extra boats who will just let you come out and race their boat if you want. It’s yours to borrow for the weekend! We are just excited about making our organization grow because we wouldn’t be around if we didn’t have people continuously joining us and turning sailing into a lifelong endeavor for themselves.

For leisure sailors who already have a catamaran but have never raced, there can be an intimidation factor when you come up on a race: Those guys know what they’re doing and I would just be a bumbling fool out there. First off, if you’re interested and want to try it, we will do everything we can to give you the quick guide to the sailing rules. There are plenty of rules, but there are only a couple that are most important to follow. If you can adhere to those, we’ll help you with everything else. Second, trust me, we don’t know everything! It’s a lifelong process to becoming a really good sailor. And the type of boats that people usually have for leisure sailing are actually the ones we have in some of our fleets. So if people do want to join a race, it’s not as big a step as they might think. We certainly want to encourage their participation and we’ll happily bring them up to speed. And we make our first event free!

GLB: What’s the deal with CRAW and this CAT Fight? Is there really a rivalry?

JD: CAT Fight has been around long before I even owned a sailboat. The last one was back in 2007. It used to be held at Muskegon state park and was a huge event, just a giant party at the beach. Management at the State Park changed and the event just went by the wayside. It wasn’t until the lead-up to this season that we started having more dialogue with CRAW and interest from each other to do a joint event again. So we focused on trying to find a site that was not an absurd drive for either organization. CRAM has a lot of people in southeast Michigan and CRAW has most of their people in southeast Wisconsin. Therefore, near the bottom of Lake Michigan turns out to be an ideal location. That’s a centrally located part of the country as a whole, so we made sure all catamaran organizations to the south knew they were welcome to join us.

I wouldn’t say there’s a CRAM versus CRAW rivalry. We’re definitely going to be one big, happy group when we get together. It’s more just about coming up with a way to bridge the gap between us, which in our case is 90 miles across Lake Michigan. While we might be physically close to each other, getting to each other becomes the difficult part. It’s either through the UP or Chicago with a trailer, neither of which is ideal. In previous years, we’ve had a crossover event, but even then it’s quite a drive. So this new event in New Buffalo, Mich., really helps us cut down on the barriers for us to be able to meet up.

GLB: In addition to organizing events for CRAM, are you going to race? What do you do to prepare for a race?

JD: Oh yes! I intend to race most CRAM events this year. Putting the boat together happens the day before, which is a pretty methodical process. Just to mentally go over everything and make sure I don’t forget anything. I mean, spending an entire day out on the water, you can’t afford to forget stuff. The second race I ever did with my F18. I definitely got out there without putting my top batten in my sails, so I was just dumping wind all day.

The day of is mentally running through everything: Am I dressed appropriately for the water? If I’m running GoPros, are all my batteries charged? Is everything snug and secure? Do I have my water bottle onboard and snacks for lunch?

GLB: What is the one thing would you like people to know about CRAM?

JD: That we don’t bite! We’re a group who are really enthusiastic about what we do. One of the things we love is when the public is involved. Last year we had a really great experience at Manistee, where we actually ended up not even sailing that Saturday because of unsafe water conditions. But the general public knew we were there and they still came down to check out boats and ask questions. It was so great to engage with them. I ended up running across someone who used to race CRAM 30 years ago. He was pretty stoked to see CRAM now in his hometown. We just make it known that CAT racing is alive and well in Michigan, that it is an awesome sport to get into, that it’s not absurdly priced compared to most other sailing options, and you get to go really fast and hang out on a wire over water!


For More Information:

Catamaran Racing Association of Michigan


Catamaran Racing Association of Wisconsin




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