Photo: Ken Read explaining what happened during the 2015 Sydney Hobart Race
Imagine having a 100 foot super-maxi with close to 12,000 square footage of sail area downwind (that’s 2-1/2 basketball courts for you sport fans) at your disposal with the one purpose of setting passage and race records! Add to this an employer saying to you, “Go out and win races and then people will buy our product!” That lucky guy is no other than Ken Read.
As one of the world’s most accomplished world class sailors, he has won more than 40 National, North American and World championships. Ken has been named the United States Rolex yachtsman of the year, not only once, but twice (1985 and 1995). He’s been around the world on PUMA and sailed that “lovely” stretch of ocean between Australia and Tasmania on Camanche (and as Ken says, three too many times for each one!)
He started out in small boats (sunfish and 420s) and then moved into large one-design boats (snipes, lightnings, solings, J/24s). Then Shore Sails saw him and offered him a job to win sailboat races so people would buy their sails. I remember him winning his first J/24 North Americans in Buzzard Bay, Rhode Island back in the 1990s. The “kid” got up in front of a large crowd at the awards ceremony and introduced his crew…. Brad, Moose….. then there was this other guy they picked up… Bill Shore…. Who was the outhaul trimmer. He owned the crowd back then and still does today when he speaks.
When he speaks to adults he is passionate, engaging, funny, and takes your breath away with his stories. When he speaks with young people he gets away from the podium, down to their level and relates how, at the age of 8, he actually wanted to quit sailing. His mom told him to give it one more try…… guess he did… some 200,000 miles later. He told them how exciting it is to be in sailing now and how he wished he was younger because everything is getting faster, as speed sailing is the future. He told all these gob-smacked kids that as the next generation they will have lots of opportunities as engineers and designers to use their brains and technology to be on the cutting edge of sailing development for the future. He asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. Many replied lawyers and doctors. He pointed out that if they lived in New Zealand they could be sailors… and in the future, that just might be what some North American kids may be.
Photo: Ken Read with Canadian Yachting Publisher Greg Nicoll
What he told their parents was that too many kids get out of sailing because there was too much pressure to win and get trophies. Kids don’t need to win to have fun, if they have speed. North America has still not evolved into speed as young people are still sailing 420s, just like Ken did growing up. We must evolve youth sailing to keep up with the rest of the world – look more to double trapeze and Asymmetrical spinnakers – everything is moving to foils. Things like sailing Optimists and losing your cookies on the Sydney-Hobart are driving our kids out of sailing. We need to push forward and not go where we have been before.
He gave lots of advice on long distance sailing:
• Wearing layered clothing is key
• Trust the people you’re with
• Safety is key
• Learn how to operate all the equipment on the boat
As he said, “I hate every minute of the journey, except at the end of the race when I love it.” And yes, he admitted that he hates freeze-dried food too and eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all the time on these long distances marathons.
He left all of us spellbound that night when he spoke at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club on a cold January night in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to a packed crowd. He reminded us of a few key things to move us forward in the sport of sailing and to keep the dream alive for young people.
• Love the sport – do it a lot, do it on different boats, make friends along the way
• If sailing is your dream – there’s NO shortcuts
• You must want it, work hard, practise a good work ethic, no job is too low for you to do
As president of North Sails Group he has earned his way there. If he wasn’t a sailor, he probably would have been a lawyer…… it’s so much more fun to be a sailor, and they haven’t come up with any really bad sailor jokes yet either! We do know this about Ken: he’s passionate about what he does, he has a great work ethic, he has great respect for weather and water, trusts his crew and always surrounds himself with the best people he can find, and he’s excited about where the sport of sailing is going – SPEED!