Please select your home edition
Edition
Southern Spars - North Technology

The Professional - Part 2 of a conversation with Ken Read

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 31 Oct 2013
Skipper Ken Read at the helm in the Southern Ocean. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG during leg 5 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajai, Brazil. (Credit: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race) Amory Ross/Puma Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race© http://www.puma.com/sailing
Ken Read (52) has been commanding sailing headlines for the past thirty-plus years, starting with his collegiate days at Boston University where he was a three-time Collegiate All American and the Intercollegiate Sailing Association’s College Sailor of the Year (1982), through his time as a J/24 and Etchells champion and a respected sailmaker in his hometown of Newport, Rhode Island. Along the way, Read amassed a fine record of more than 40 wins in National, North American and World Championship regattas, and he was twice named U.S. Rolex Yachtsman of the Year (1985 and 1994).

Dennis Conner shoulder tapped Read to serve as his helmsman during the 2000 and 2003 'Stars & Stripes' campaigns, and Read has also served on the afterguard of plenty of high-profile big-boat campaigns, including George David’s all-conquering 'Rambler'. More recently, Read served as the skipper of Puma Ocean Racing’s entries in the 2008-2009 and 2011-2012 editions of the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR), where the team finished in second and third place, respectively.

Additionally, Read has worked in various capacities for North Sails since 1996, and in January of 2013 he was promoted to the high-profile role of President. I recently caught up with Read to get his pulse on sailmaking in an modern era that features wingsails in the Cup, One Design in the VOR and a heavy Grand Prix focus on sport boats and smaller keelboats.

What kind of boats have you been sailing since you finished with Puma?
I bought a Marstom 32 catamaran and we started a fleet here in Newport. That was my fun sailing for the summer. Sailing with my kid and my wife and my niece and nephew, just ripping around Newport Harbor all summer long was great.

I have also done a lot of J-class sailing with Jim Clark on 'Hanuman'. I am staying away from really getting involved in a Grand Prix program right now because quite frankly my North Sails job is taking up far too much time to really be able to sail properly.

I am really sailing as much for fun, client based competitive sailing and for fun.



From your position as North’s President how healthy is the Grand Prix market? Are we starting to see a trend back to the pre-2008 days or is it still a little thin?

It’s still thin, for sure, but we’re definitely starting to see a bit of a resurgence in a bunch of different areas right now: new One Design concepts, 30-footers, 40-footers, even multihulls for the first time almost since forever. Super yachts are still quite healthy.

Things like the J/70 have been obviously a boom. There’s lots of pockets that are showing some signs of good health. For sure the 40-to-70-foot range is probably still a little stagnant, but even that is showing some signs of interest.

What challenges does this present to North and what kind of opportunities does it present to try and get a bit more involvement in the 40-to-70-foot range?

We are very much market driven-not the sailing market, but financial market driven, and it’s no shock that when the economy and the financial health of the world’s economy is good, sailing is good. I am also convinced - and it wasn’t looking good there for a while - that when the America’s Cup was said and done, I’m totally convinced that that was a jolt of fresh air that our sport desperately needed. We’ve seen it - we’ve sold a lot of sails since the America’s Cup, since the America’s Cup started ramping up and in its aftermath. That’s all good.



What kind of growth or health are you seeing in the club racing market?

For sure, we’re not seeing a ton of growth. Where you asked earlier where North Sails can do a better job, and that’s exactly where. Our workforce gravitated towards the bigger Grand Prix stuff and we’re making a conscious to get back and help the club racer and help the regional club racers. We know we have to make it more fun for them. We had to cut numbers of crew on all these boats.

The biggest complaint that I hear in the market place is, ‘I’d love to sail more but I can’t afford the time to try to get a crew on the boat and the reason I need a crew is that I simply I need weight on the rail.’ I mean, come on, we just have to do something about it as a sport!

As the governing bodies of the sports, let’s make it easy for owners to get out on the water and not have to kill themselves supplying food, hotel rooms, plane flights, whatever the case may be. We have got to make it easier and that’s one big way we can make it easier right out of the blocks. Even in PHRF fleets, by the way.

How did the economic downturn push North Sails as far as products? Did this make you think about ways of making a good quality sail for a lower cost, or are your clients more concerned about speed, irrespective of the price?

Clients are like snowflakes, none of them are the same, and we have to be prepared as a company to deal with this. We can’t just rely on the fact that we make the coolest, most expensive sail in the world. That’s not an option. We have to be prepared to have a product line that meets the need of all types of sailors, so that’s where we are going.

In the same vein, one of the things that we can do to help the sport is to somehow get the HPRs, the IRCs, the PHRFs-all of these rules-on the same page. One of the reasons we don’t see a lot of Grand Prix racing is because nobody knows what to build. Until the national authorities and the rules makers stand behind one rule, I don’t see it getting better.



Let’s talk a little bit about the Volvo, now they’re moving to a One Design platform.
The airfoil package is One Design as well. The sails and the rigs are all North Sails’ products and everybody has identical stuff. You can’t even recut it. You can’t even move the clew up an inch. You get a package and that’s it. Go sail around the world. Good luck. Push them off the dock.

This led to quite a bit of work for Southern Spars then?
Absolutely. It was a fun project for us but at the end of the day the 3Di product absolutely won us the project because of its performance. Volvo wanted to keep this a performance boat, but it was very clear in the last Volvo that the amount of sail problems reduced by about 95-percent thanks to 3Di. There was no delamination issues-zero. When you are going across the tropics, the sun and the moisture just kill plastic laminates so that’s why a lot of performance cruising sailors are choosing 3Di sails now because it’s so strong and durable and, for something like the One Design project for Volvo, fortunately for us it seemed a bit of a no-brainer.

More from North Sails at www.na.northsails.com

Please stay tuned for Part Three of this interview series.

Southern Spars - 100Zhik OceanLancer 40 years

Related Articles

Gladwell's Line - Emirates Team NZ launches shadow AC50
Emirates Team NZ took a late but significant step along the road to the 35th America's Cup, with the launch of their AC4 Emirates Team NZ took a late but significant step along the road to the 35th America's Cup, with the launch of their AC45S - as the test boats are called in the Protocol which governs the 2017 event. The bloated Protocol, which now runs to 83 pages of legalese, is restrictive on the size of boat that can be built as a test platform but doesn't restrict the number that can be built.
Posted on 22 Jun
Platino recovery - Family confirms that tug has made rendezvous
Reports in social media say a salvage tug has made a rendezvous with the Platino earlier than expected. Reports in social media by family and friends of Nick Saull, the crew member killed during a catastrophic incident abroad the 66ft yacht Platino say the salvage tug which left on Tuesday night has made the rendezvous earlier than expected. The Facebook report says the tug, Sea Pelican, arrived on Friday morning, the weather in the area has eased and with a more favorable outlook.
Posted on 16 Jun
Rio 2016 - Double Olympic medallist on the delights of Guanabara Bay
Olympic Gold and Bronze medallist Bruce Kendall updates on the 2016 Olympic venue at Guanabara Bay. Olympic Gold and Bronze medallist, and now a windsurfer coach, Bruce Kendall has made several trips to the 2016 Olympic venue at Guanabara Bay. He updates on the pollution issue which is clearly not going to be resolved in a couple of months, and also shares his views on the venue from a sailing competition perspective.
Posted on 14 Jun
America's Cup - Artemis win Chicago as Team Japan wins two races
Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series got three races away on Super Sunday. After losing the first official day of racing due to light winds and the non-arrival of the onshore breeze, Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series got three races away on Super Sunday. From a racing perspective this was probably the best day of racing yet in the series which counts for points in the Qualifying Series of the America's Cup in 11 months time.
Posted on 12 Jun
America's Cup - Emirates TNZ NZ and Oracle capsize in Chicago Practice
Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA capsized in Practice Racing at the Louis Vuitton ACWS Chicago There was action aplenty on Practice Day at Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series Chicago, after Emirates Team New Zealand capsized in their match with Oracle Team USA, and then Oracle Team USA capsized later in the day. Team NZ's skipper skipper Glenn Ashby performed some impressive acrobatics ejecting from the AC45 capsize, without injury.
Posted on 11 Jun
America's Cup - Changes proposed to control future Cup options
Changes are being mooted to put the America's Cup on a longer-term footing according to the Daily Telegraph (UK) News that changes are being mooted to put the America's Cup on a longer-term footing is being floated in the Daily Telegraph (UK) by the British Challenger, Land Rover BAR. According to the Telegraph, some of the teams in the 2017 America's Cup are keen to lock-in parameters which would bind successive holders of the a style and frequency for the next America's Cup Match.
Posted on 8 Jun
America's Cup - AC50 construction uncovered - Part 2 - Wings and Costs
Second part of a two-part series looking at the AC50 construction progress at Core Builders Composites Second part of a two-part series looking at the construction progress at Core Builders Composites, and features of the AC50 class which will be used in the 35th America's Cup in Bermuda. Tim Smyth takes us on a tour of the CBC facility in Warkworth, and hour's drive north of Auckland. Where several AC50's, components and wingsails are under construction or have already been shipped to the teams.
Posted on 5 Jun
America's Cup - AC50 building program well underway at Core Builders
For the first time in America’s Cup history, Sail-World can publish photos of America’s Cup yachts during construction. With the forthcoming America's Cup in Bermuda just under 12 months away, production of the wingsails and AC50 one design hulls and components are well underway at Core Builders Composites in Warkworth, about an hour north of Auckland. For the first time in America’s Cup history, Sail-World can publish photos of America’s Cup yachts during construction.
Posted on 3 Jun
America's Cup - Arbitration Panel Hearing over Kiwi Qualifier for July
ACEA CEO, Russell Coutts has confirmed that the Arbitration Panel will hold its first Hearing in July. In a yet to be published interview in Sail-World, America’s Cup Events Authority CEO, Russell Coutts has confirmed that the Arbitration Panel will hold its first Hearing in July. This is the first official indication that the three person Arbitration Panel had even been formed, however Sail-World’s sources indicated that it had been empanelled since last January, possibly earlier.
Posted on 27 May
Rio 2016 - The Qualification Games - Part 2
Yachting NZ's refusal to nominate in three classes won in the first round of 2016 Olympic Qualification is unprecedented Yachting New Zealand's refusal to nominate in three classes won in the first round of 2016 Olympic Qualification is without precedent. Subject to Appeal, the Kiwis have signaled that they will reject 30% of the positions gained in the ISAF World Sailing Championships in Santander in 2014.
Posted on 22 May