Scott Easom: Keeping the bar high in rigging and racing

Published on March 23rd, 2010

scott(March 23, 2010) Scott Easom had a superb racing year in 2009. After overseeing the building and rigging of the King 40 SOOZAL, he joined the sailing team to win Key West, the Pineapple Cup, the Miami Grand Prix, the IRC Pacific Coast Championship, and the Big Boat Series. He sailed with Roy Disney on Pyewacket to the overall win at the HOAG regatta, and then sailed his own boat, the Moore 24 8 Ball, to the Pacific Coast Championships and the Moore 24 National Championship at Lake Huntington, CA.

In fact, Scott won every regatta he sailed in the Moore 24 class, including the tricky Delta Ditch run overall, defeating 150+ boats. He’s kicked off 2010 in great style, recently wining the 3 Bridge Fiasco overall, defeating 359 other boats. Michelle Slade talks to Scott about his career and the sport he’s extremely passionate about.

Tell me about growing up sailing in Marin County, California

I was born in Burlingame and immediately moved to Marin County as a kid, to San Rafael, and lived there until I was 11, when my parents bought a boat, sold the house, sold everything we had. We moved on board the boat and went for an extended cruise. We were gone from Marin County for 4 years, sailed 20,000 miles on a 50 ft boat. I left as a 6th grader and came back as a sophomore in high school, and that’s when I really got bitten by the bug. I basically didn’t go to school for a couple of years, just read a lot of books while I was on board, and discovered that sailing was something I really loved to do.

When I came back to high school/San Rafael, the whole Laser thing was just going on, Performance Sail Craft was actually in San Rafael – 1975. I got a Laser then and started competitively from there. I got involved in the St Francis Yacht Club and the Richmond Yacht Club. I went to the College of Marin after I went to high school in San Rafael, and started my company in 1977. I started getting offers to travel and sail the world on other peoples’ yachts, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

Easom Rigging & Racing has been around a long time, what’s your area of expertise?

My business caters to the racing crowd. We were Roy Disney’s riggers and I sailed with him for 15 years, and also sailed with the other major players – Hasno Platner, Larry Ellison. We do modifications and project management for race yachts. We have a company in Point Richmond, California, that builds the lines, supplies the hardware and then I supply myself go to the (race) venues and sail onboard these boats with our equipment.

You race on a lot of different boats, in different locations. What’s your favorite event?

It’s really all about the group of people – the owners – that make it fun. You can go to some great venues like Key West and if the people aren’t good and the owners aren’t nice, it’s not a pleasurable experience. That’s what we loved most about the (late) Roy Disney. He was such a great man, he understood the time commitment that we made for him and his project and he would often times send our entire families to the races, put us up in hotels, keep the kids and the wives there for sometimes as long as a week after the event, just to spend some downtime with them after the races. My favorite event is probably Key West Race Week because the competition is great and you’re still in the US so it’s fairly easy to run the boats. Overseas, I like to go to Sardinia and St Tropez is great; any place in the Med.

What keeps you at the top of your game in this sport?

Sailing with people who are better than I am. I knew if I was going to have a company that prides itself in being a cutting edge company, I needed to go sail with cutting edge programs, cutting edge people. Traveling to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, are absolutely critical to making sure that what we do is cutting edge and find out what everybody else is doing too.

Can you give me an example?

Last year when we did the Soozal program we came up with a brand new winch system, new winch technology which we incorporated into the boat, and the only way to test what you’ve done is to go sail against the best guys in the world. So, when we were at Key West we were able to test new technology under world-class competition, and discovered it was way up to the test, so much so that the IRC committee has now pretty much penalized what we have done. That’s always part of the risk of being cutting edge is having someone think that you’ve gone too far. That’s something we only worry about after the fact. We install the technology, we use it, we win the event and if they want to deal with it after the fact, then that’s just something we have to put up with.

They came back to us after the year was over and said, ok, we’ve reviewed this and they adjusted the rating of the boat, setting a penalty basically for using this technology. It’s a little off subject but it makes me a little upset in that when designers design a very good boat, they get accolades for doing that and then more customers come to them to get designs done. It’s the same way with sailmakers where you design really fast sails which pretty much outdate last year’s product, so you gotta step up and buy the newest stuff, yet the Rules Committee don’t get upset about that. But when I do what I’m supposed to do, which is create a better, faster deck layout, then they assess penalties to us. I think it’s grossly unfair but it’s just the way it’s set up right now. We did a lot of letter writing to them and said, “How much is the success of this boat is attributable to our technology vs what the designer’s has done. Are you sure you shouldn’t be penalizing the designer and not the rigger?” We didn’t make much headway with them. But we have won all our events, we had a super successful year – we were the most successful IRC boat in the world in 2009, then they came back in January and assessed the penalty.

You had a great year onboard Soozal? Tell me about the boat.

She’s owned by Dan and Suzie Woolery of Danville. Dan was a client of mine 20 years ago and got out of sailing to raise his family. Once the kids had graduated, he called me out of the blue and said he wanted back in, I need your help. He purchased the Soozal new in Dec 08. I went down to Argentina to oversee the building of it and then we had it shipped to Florida where we put it together and did Key West 09, the Jamaica race, the Miami Grand Prix which was the old SORC, and then when brought the boat back to San Francisco and won the Big Boat series, the west coast IRC championship, basically everything. She’s a Mark Mills design, was a King 40 at the time she was built, but the same boat now is known as the Summit 40. Mills is a very successful IRC designer.

What’s been your career highlight?

Definitely spending 15 years with Roy Disney and setting records and sailing with such a great person is absolutely the highlight of my life. I sailed the America’s Cup with Tom Blackaller in ’87; it’s just been such a diverse career because I’ve sailed everything from Lasers to 100 ft maxi boats, and so many things in between.

At this time in my career with Mr Disney having passed away, it really was the end of an era. There’s no-one else like him out there that can spend the amount of money that he did and assemble the group of people that he did. So that’s over. But I’m really enjoying my own boat right now, the 8 Ball, and going out with people I choose to be with and just having a great time. I’m probably enjoying yacht racing now than ever before. Before it was always a job and I was always traveling, but now it’s more on my terms, and more fun.

sailing easomWhat do you like about sailing the Moore?
Photo Marin Independent Journal/Frankie Frost

I like sailing the Moore because the competition is great. At the last event we had a a fleet of 38 boats (all Moores) out, the sheer number of boats makes it fun, the people in the class are an absolute gas, they balance the competition with camaraderie very nicely. There’s no yelling and screaming, it’s all fun – they’re a very fun group of people.

Tell me about some of the challenges in your industry and what you do for a job these days?

The economic downturn definitely affected the industry. But last year happened to be one of our best years ever in the 30 years I’ve got in this career. We think we’ve uniquely positioned ourselves in the industry to be the people you have to go to see if you have a race yacht program. While there are many people out there who are “riggers”, we’re really the only company who caters to the really high end customer, the high end serious yacht racer. We do work on the occasional cruising boat, and the casual-race-around-the-bay cruiser/racer. We still work on those guys. It’s what I call technology transfer. We have extremely wealthy customers who allow us to be extra creative and come up with unique ideas and equipment and layouts, and we’re able to filter that down to the people with boats here in the Bay Area who go out and race, or cruise. Whether you’re a racer or a cruiser, what we learn from working with these big programs can be incorporated into these more casual programs, for people who just like to go sailing.

What was your winning strategy for the 3 Bridge Fiasco this year?

I did it on the 8 Ball with Matt Siddens from San Francisco who regularly crews for me on Soozal, Kokopelli, and my other programs including the Moore 24 where he’s regular crew. We did it double-handed. Matt’s a cabinet maker, he’s not a professional sailor but he’s a really smart guy and a tremendous guy to sail with. It just happened to be a perfect Moore 24 type of day. We had done some reconnaissance work on Friday to go out on the motor boat to take a look at all the tides and what time tides were changing around the Bay. So, we had a pretty good idea of where we needed to be at what time. It’s a race that takes a lot of luck, and some preparation, we just had one of those great days where we got it all right. We started around 10:10-10:15am, and finished at 2:41pm in the afternoon. We started at the GGYC, got stuck on the wrong side of the line so started going from east to west, then immediately turned and went towards Treasure Island first, then Red Rock, then Blackaller and back to the finish.

Now, to jump back to your family now. Are they sailors?

I’m married to Leslie, I have an 18-year old son, Elliot, in college and a 16-year old daughter, Emily who is a sophomore at Marin Catholic. Emily is a really good basketball player. It’s interesting because my world is competition and that’s what she also loves so we have a real connection about what we do, even though our sports are completely different. We’re able to talk about the pressure and performing, and competition in general. My kids don’t sail, we tried to get them into it years ago, we took them to the San Francisco Yacht Club thinking it was probably better to have someone else teach them how to sail. But they just hated it. My uncle is Hank Easom, and my father loved to sail – Bruce Easom (older brother to Hank), but my brother and sister don’t sail, and don’t really care for it.

It’s interesting to me that a lot of people who make their living off sailing find that their kids want nothing to do with it. I’m okay with that because my kids have something else that they are really passionate about – for my son it’s skateboarding and my daughter loves basketball and baseball. What I do love about sailing, and I will use my daughter’s basketball career as an example, is that it will probably be over sooner than later, though she’d like to play WNBA, but there’s a point at which you can no longer compete. But here I am at 51 and I can still go out and sail with the best guys in the world. I can continue to partake in my sport as long as I keep myself in shape. That can’t be done with any of these other professional sports.

Do you have a particular mentor in your life you look back on?

I think it has to be my father because he was the guy who drove me to regattas when I was a kid, he was a sailor too, so he taught me what I knew, and then of course you get to that point where you can no longer sail with your father because you feel like he’s not as good as he should be and you start arguing with him, eventually going off on your own! (he laughs). He was a great father and very supportive, made sure I got out there and got to the regattas on time, and helped me compete.

Author’s note: To keep things in perspective, I interviewed some of Scott’s sailing associates. Here’s what they have to say:

From Tim Stapleton (Marin County):
I have known Scott for over 25 years. I consider him one of my best sailing and personal friends. He has included me on several of his crews for many different races, although he certainly knows better sailors than myself. I have several great memories:

A large group of us in the mid 1980’s took my Islander 36 Misfit out for the 4th of July fireworks. It was a clear and hot day with a decent breeze in the slot. Scott climbed to the top of the rig unaided while sailing. When we pulled into the lee of Angel Island for a BBQ, he dove from the second set of spreaders. We all joined him for a swim in the bay.

During the 2006 (+/-) Windjammers Race, on the Turbo SC52 Kokopelli 2, as we sailed under the Gate we found a suicide victim. Needless to say this was unnerving for all on board (including my 10 year old son). Scott quickly took control, sending my son below, having the tactician start a timer, assigned someone to keep an eye on the deceased, and had the foredeck drop the jib as we turned back. He called the Coast Guard and “stood by” while they retrieved the body. When we were released from standing by, we all solemnly went into race mode and rejoined the race. I have never sailed on such a quiet and yet committed crew. We all sailed with the thought of this unfortunate person and vowed to make the most of the day in his honor. We ended up being the second boat to finish and requested redress from the committee for the time we had been stopped. After redress was awarded, we corrected out to First Place. A victory that meant more than the usual.

My favorite “image” of Scott was the return trip of the Vallejo Race on KK-2 in 2007. There was a beautiful warm North-easterly blowing. We set the big kite and weaved our way through the fleet doing 12 knots on totally flat water. He walked the decks in shorts and bare feet with a grin as big as the spinnaker. He kept repeating, “If you don’t like this, you don’t like sailing!”

From Nick Gibbens (Marin County):
I know Scott as a friend, competitor and father. I consider him to quite successful at each endeavor. Scott comes from a family long on local sailing history and has developed a well rounded repertoire of skills. Scott is not only a shrewd racing tactician, but a very resourceful mechanic and consummate seaman. He is someone you would want to go to sea with knowing full well he could handle whatever the ocean threw at you. Scott prepares for races with extreme care and he is a stickler for small details that might seem insignificant to some, but together complete the package that can equal success.

I think the strongest single trait that is at the root of Scott’s success is his strong distaste for losing. He really does not like to be behind anyone on the race course. Not that he is dark or surly, just deeply dissatisfied.

Many sailors are ultra competitive, driven to succeed and thoroughly enjoy thrashing their competitor but Scott’s desire for this burns brighter than most. I would say other successful athlete’s share this common thread with Scott. Whether it’s Jerry Rice, or Larry Bird, they all hate losing and exhibit a strong work ethic to achieve their aim of winning.

Scott and I sailed together in the 2009 Delta Ditch Run where we finished first overall. This was a particularly sweet victory after a close second in class the year before. This race is a bit like running a marathon as there is literally no time to relax for about 9 hours of close racing. You literally watch Mount Diablo go from a mountain far off to the east to a mountain far off to the west! The racing is then followed by at least two hours of work to get the boat on the trailer and ready for the ride home – that is a long day!

From Pete McCormick (North Sails, Sausalito):
We were sailing Soozal in the Pineapple Cup (race from Ft. Lauderdale to Montego Bay Jamaica) last year, and we were having a great sail despite losing our alternator crossing the gulf stream the first day. I remember the last night of the race like it was yesterday. We rounded the southeast side of Cuba for the last 250 or so mile run down the Windward Passage to the finish line. It was blowing hard, really hard, probably in the low 30’s with 15-20’ waves. We lost all of our instruments and lights when our alternator broke so it made driving the boat at night nearly impossible.

There was a lot of talent onboard with a few of Scott’s Pywacket crewmembers, and every time someone took the wheel from Scotty they would crash the boat. We let Scotty drive the rest of the race….12 hours non-stop! He was an animal behind the wheel and I don’t think we would have made it to Jamaica in one piece without him on board.

Images courtesy of Latitude 38 Publishing Co., Inc. and Marin Independent Journal

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