Seidenberg: Iron Master of Laser Sailing

Published on October 5th, 2016

By Joe Berkeley, Sailing World
Peter Seidenberg stands aside his meticulously kept Laser. Tufts of white hair, the only obvious hint of his 78 years of age, spill from his ball cap. He’s dressed in tight neoprene hiking shorts, smiling, chatting with a competitor. At Laser Radial regattas, he routinely rigs up alongside competitors young enough to be his grandchildren. On land, these nippers refer to him as Mr. Seidenberg, but on the water, the generational divide is nonexistent.

In 2016, Seidenberg made his 32nd appearance at a Laser Masters World Championship regatta, a feat unto itself, but 12 victories? That’s unheard of in any one-design class, which is why his peers in the Laser class call him the Iron Master of Laser sailing.

It’s unusual for a sailor to be so devoted to a single class, but it’s the purity of competition in the Laser that makes him a permanent fixture, regatta after regatta, year after year, decade after decade. He says he enjoys the one-on-one competition the Laser provides. “It’s a simple boat because there are restrictions on what you can do to it,” he says, “but it’s complex in that little adjustments make a big difference.”

He participates in club-level regattas on lakes near his home and casually spars with whoever shows up on Tuesday nights in the summer on Rhode Island’s Bristol Harbor, but he has also stamped his passport countless times in the pursuit of international competition and training. On the water, he is as cool as Steve McQueen, never yelling or scolding. His sailing and his results do the talking.

Once, at a regatta in Maine, a competitor felt Seidenberg wasn’t entitled to room at a leeward mark rounding, but Seidenberg felt otherwise. The competitor launched a tirade. Seidenberg didn’t utter a word. He contemplated the situation, realized the onus was on him, and simply withdrew from the race. “I was not going to let him ruin my day,” says Seidenberg. As karma would have it, he then won the next race.

At another regatta, after a rare midfleet finish, he reached into the water, ran his hand along the leading edge of his rudder, and then held up a large clump of seaweed. Turning to a fellow middle-of-the-fleet competitor, he quipped, “This is my excuse. What is yours?”

Seidenberg sails in dozens of events every year and abstains from drinking alcohol during competition. For training, he goes to the gym, rides his bicycle regularly, and studies yoga. In the winter, he travels to warm locations to train, such as Cabarete, in the Dominican Republic, and attends warm-water events.

The Laser’s simplicity and world-class competition, he says, are what keep him devoted to sailing a boat the devotees refer to as an “ironing board.” With a smile, he says: “It’s not that I have delusions of glory of being an Olympian. I like that it gives me an incentive to work on my fitness. Without the Laser, I would not work out as effectively. I love sailing and look forward to meeting my friends at the various regattas.”

Seidenberg was born in 1937, in a small village in East Prussia near the Lithuanian border that is now a Russian enclave. When he was 4 years old, his father was drafted into the military and went missing in action on the Eastern Front during World War II, leaving him, his mother and his younger brother to fend for themselves in the family’s bomb shelter. Full Story

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