Stephan and Monica Irgens frequently win the “farthest traveled award.” Based in St. Louis, MO, they are regular attendees for most of the east coast US regattas, including the Florida winter circuit, and also traveled to Poland last year for the first open European championship. Here they answer the famous 14 questions about what brought them to the Snipe originally, how they met (at a regatta of course), and what keeps them coming back for more.
1. Your first time in a sailing boat?
Stephan: We were four teenagers that had never set foot in a sailboat. The owner of an OK-jolle, about the size of a Snipe, placed us in this dinghy and pushed us out. I was the helmsman since I could handle motorboats…….There were not much wind and we sailed nicely out in the Oslo fjord but coming back was a struggle, in fact we could not make it. The owner had to swim out to get us back on land. Lesson learned, put a paddle in the boat.
Monica: I was about 13 staying with cousins at their cabin by the lake, Estavayer-le-Lac, Switzerland. They had a Vaurien, we went out sailing and the first thing they did was to capsize the boat and teach me how to bring the boat up and quick. We had fun.
2. Your first time in a Snipe?
Stephan: From the deck of my house in Åsgårdstrand, Norway, I was watching my friends sailing the Snipe Nationals. I liked the shape and form of the Snipe. It looked so right and pleasing and advanced with all those colorful control lines. I bought one of the boats and the first time in a Snipe was in my own “White Lady” with my son.
Monica: I knew about the Snipe through my friends Jane and Jan Persson. In 1993, they invited me to Santiago de la Ribera, Spain, to stay with them for the Snipe European Masters. I did not sail, but got to meet sailors and passed three fun days. There is where I met Stephan and Jerry Thompson; they were planning to go to the 1994 World’s Master in Japan and said they were looking for a light crew. A month later I received a letter from Stephan asking if I would go with him to Palma de Mallorca so we could train at a Snipe regatta. I accepted, this was my first time sailing a Snipe and we won the first race.
3. The most bizarre thing that happened in a regatta?
Stephan: That was in San Diego at the Nationals a few years ago. The Snipes were towed out to the race course. Monica and I decided to sail and we were totally alone on our way out.
Then a Navy Ship suddenly approached with a powerful command through its loudspeaker: “Sailboat number 27, go port!” We looked around, there were no obstacles, boats or debris as far as the eye could see, but we did as we were told. A couple of minutes later we got a big surprise; up from the deep came a large submarine. We would have been just on top of it if we were not warned.
Monica: The first time I capsized with the Snipe, my foot got caught between the mast and the lever. The boat was going over me and I could not get my foot free. Stephan was on the other side; he could not see me but managed to hold the boat tilted. That was scary, lesson learned – let go of all the lines.
4. What is the thing that angers you most in a race/regatta?
Stephan: Protest meetings. Some people lie about their position etc. and I am missing the “Serious Fun” and that hurts.
Monica: Foul play.
5. Which is the race/regatta you remember with the most pleasure?
Stephan: I met Monica in Santiago de la Ribera, Spain at the EU Masters. I tried to find a way to see her again and I looked up this regatta in Mallorca and invited her to sail with me. I drove from Norway to Barcelona and parked at the airport because I had a meeting in Madrid. That meeting caused me to have to fly back to Norway and I called Monica and asked her to pick up the truck and trailer and bring it to Mallorca which is an island in the Mediterranean and I would fly directly to Mallorca. She agreed to pick me up at the airport.
We made it to the event and there were 40 Snipes competing. We did not know anybody but to my surprise my son’s Snipe was there. Without telling me he had sold it to buy a new 470 for their Olympic training.
This was Monica’s first time in a Snipe and I was very proud to show her my sailing skill as we won the first race of the day. We were the only foreign boat and they measured and weighed our Snipe and checked that our life vests were used. I don’t speak Spanish and nobody talked to me, not even at the party until somebody made a comment and Monica replied in Catalan, the local language. Then everything changed and we had an unforgettable and enjoyable regatta.
Monica: Stephan forgets to mention, that the truck was big, I was not used to trailering a boat and I had to pass through Barcelona during rush hour to go from the airport to the pier. Astonishingly, everyone seemed eager to get out of my way and left me lots of room. How do you back up a truck and a trailer in a crowded ship; you have a helpful truck driver do it for you.
6. And the race/regatta you would like to forget?
Stephan: Losing the centerboard in strong wind and big waves is not fun. That’s what we did in Clearwater last year. It was all over the internet and that is the one we want to forget.
Monica: Our Green Snipe looked pitiful. We thank everyone who helped get her safe to land.
7. Your “dream in the peak” (your sailing dream)?
Stephan: It would be that Monica and I can find time to train and improve our sailing skills and that she will sail with me forever and then start winning something again.
Monica: That works for me. When I met Stephan he had been sailing a lot and we would often win or be up there. I am quite competitive, so it is frustrating not to be able to sail well, but I still take all the fun I can sailing and being with friends.
8. Sailing goals for 2015, and beyond?
Stephan: We plan to sail the North Americans in Canada and the US Nationals in San Diego. If the European Championship is still open next year we may go. We had such a great time in Poland last year.
Monica: Given the time, I would go to more regattas. Poland was a fun and great experience.
9. The most important people for you in sailing, and in the Snipe?
Stephan: Every one of our sailing friends is important to us but we would not have met them if it wasn’t for my friends Jørgen Skaarnæs and Otto Book in Åsgårdstrand, Norway. Otto was one of the highest ranked Laser sailors in Europe at that time and I crewed for him in his keelboat which he handled like a dinghy. There is an annual keelboat regatta from Oslo via a lighthouse between Norway and Denmark with 1000 keelboats racing for about 20 hours. I was one of the crew and Otto won his class every time.
Otto created a local sailing environment which resulted in 20 Snipes at its peak in Åsgårdstrand. His daughter Pauline became the first Woman World Champion and won it three times in a row while his son Karl Otto won the European juniors plus a National Championship as senior.
Most important to me was that my son Michael was the first Norwegian to win the EU Jr. and also a National Sr. and still sailed with me from time to time and taught me all these tricks that I now have forgotten.
The activities and sailing conditions in Åsgårdstrand attracted top international sailors and the one I remember best was Ricardo Fabini because he stayed longer and we could study his way of South American sailing.
Jan Persson is probably the most important person for the Snipe Class. His innovative improvement of the boat and equipment has influenced every Snipe sailor in the world.
Jan is a personal friend and responsible for introducing me to Monica.
I met Jerry Thompson in regattas all over the western world and we became good friends. He was there when I met Monica and he was always giving his support and kept us updated with Snipe news.
Peter Commette initiated a remarkable openness from the top of the fleet which has generated to all levels. He invites us to his house so we can go training with the master. That is generosity and important to all of us.
Jerelyn Biehl has done a great job to organize and support the Snipe class worldwide. She is more respected and loved by the International SCIRA community than most Americans would believe. International differences would have been difficult to overcome if it was not for Jerelyn.
Monica: My experience with sailing is the Snipe; I like the competitiveness of the boat, the friendliness of the sailors and the whole atmosphere of Serious Sailing and Serious Fun. The list is too long to mention of all the people I admire and enjoy being with; the Snipe is a big international family.
10. Why the Snipe?
Stephan: If you go to a new place and want friends, visit the local Snipe fleet. There are Snipes almost everywhere. It works the same way all over the world and when Monica and I ended up in St. Louis we brought our Green Boat and we traveled around in the midwest and sailed on all the different lakes and we felt welcomed by all the Snipe sailors.
Monica: It is through the Snipe that I met Stephan and that I have wonderful friends.
11. Your perfect sailing venue and your perfect conditions?
Stephan: A perfect venue would be an international regatta where we meet old friends and get new friends.
It should be windy and good hiking conditions. But what I love most is when it occasionally blows wild and we can reach out planing on large waves and we are on the edge of making it. You may ask what Monica thinks about that, well she is not afraid of anything so I can let go and let the Snipe fly.
Monica: I like when the weather is sunny and warm, then give me the wind you want, preferable more than less.
12. Besides sailing, what other sports do you practice?
Stephan: All Norwegians are born with cross country skis on and Monica is Swiss and a very good alpine skier so we can get down anywhere.
Together we do intense strength and /or HIIT training for one hour five days a week – no chatting around with the girl in the gym.
Monica: I enjoy and respect nature. I have lived most of my life by the water, the Pacific in the Philippines, the Mediterranean in Spain and the lakes in Switzerland, so I enjoy swimming and snorkeling, I have done windsurfing and now hiking the Snipe. Due to my Swiss origin and the Alps, now the Rockies, I also enjoy skiing.
13. Are you superstitious?
Stephan: Not at all. What cannot be explained just use common sense and take life as it comes. That makes it easier to cope with mysteries.
Monica: No, I like thinking positive.
14. Your perfect holiday?
Stephan: Go to a new place, for example to a Snipe regatta and stay for a while and be active locally.
Monica: Being with Stephan, enjoying time with friends or making new friends, travelling the world and especially doing or learning something.