Alison Kent: From Zero to Hero
Published on August 19th, 2018
For those that aspire to be a professional sailor an apprenticeship in sailmaking is one of the best points of entry to consider and there are more opportunities than ever at Doyle Sails.
For Doyle’s CEO, Mike Sanderson, a sailmaking apprenticeship was the obvious route to reaching his career goals. “My aim in life was to be a professional sailor and I left King’s College early at sixth form, having been on shortlist for Head Boy, to start a sailmaking apprenticeship,” he says. “At the time it was quite a drastic move with my peers finishing seventh form and going on to university. But I strongly believed that being 100% entrenched in sailing and sailmaking was the secret to success in the sailing world.”
It was a move that more than paid off. Sanderson worked as an apprentice until he landed his first pro sailing gig on board NZ Endeavour in 1993. “That kick-started everything,” he remembers. The rest, as they say, is history with Sanderson forging a stellar career in sailing, going on to be named the youngest ever skipper to win the Volvo Ocean Race and winner of the 2006 World Sailor the Year Award.
Unsurprisingly Sanderson is passionate about the value of sailing apprenticeships. “An apprenticeship sees you immerse yourself in the sailing world and gives you many opportunities to get on boats,” he explains. “Thinking about boats and the speed and handling of sails – which are the biggest singular component of what makes a boat go fast – is key, and sailmaking also gives you deeper insight into the boats, masts and rigging as well.”
At Doyle New Zealand, American Alison Kent is now immersed in their apprenticeship program and shares the experience here:
Where is home for you?
Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA
What do you miss most from home?
Deep fried cheese curds and Spotted Cow Beer it’s our local and you can only drink it in Wisconsin!
How long have you been a sailor?
I’ve been sailing on the Great Lakes of the States my whole life…ever since I can remember really! Literally all my baby photos are on boats. I tried to quit once when I was a kid and give soccer a-go but then I realised it was pretty lame compared to sailing, so I went back to my ways.
How is sailing different from the states to NZ?
I feel like NZ is a couple steps ahead in their sail technology and skill wise they’re on another level. Even before I came to live in NZ I had always heard that it was the place to be if you wanted to advance in sailing.
How did you come to work for Doyle Sails NZ and what do you do there?
I was lucky enough to get a job here when I originally came to Auckland as a post-grad trip. I quickly realized how many sailing opportunities came from learning how to make sails at this loft and sailing in Auckland. I now joined the apprenticeship program and work in the downwind department, making spinnakers and the code zeros!
What has been your biggest learning curve?
I really came to the loft not knowing anything about sailmaking. The whole process has taken awhile to perfect and I am still learning how to do things more efficiently every day. Spreading the sails on the floor and learning how and why the curves affect a sail’s performance has made me look at sailing so much differently.
What teams do you race with? Any events coming up?
I sail on a YD37 called Anarchy as their main trimmer and we basically participate in all the local Auckland events. They are such a fun crew to work with and the boat is fast! I’ve learned a lot sailing with them.
I’ve also recently joined the all-female NZ Women’s Match Racing Team with some of the crew from Anarchy. It’s a different kind of sailing than I usually do and I’m on the bow, so it’s been cool learning a new role. We also travel around which is a bonus! We just got back from Finland and we’ll be participating a couple of regattas in Australia in September.
What is your biggest sailing accomplishment so far?
Probably sailing on the Magenta Project for the 2017 Sydney Hobart. It was a dream to work with Rockstar sailors like Libby Greenhalgh and Lisa Blair. I was lucky enough to be put on watch with Libby and she was so down-to-earth and funny. When she left the boat to join Scallywag for the Volvo Ocean Race, she had to leave behind some of her kit and she gave me her sailing pants [trousers] from the last edition of the VOR when she sailed with the all-female team. I wear them all the time, they are so cool!
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? 10 years from now?
I hope that in 5 years’ time I’ll have gained the confidence and skills as a sailmaker and that I’ll be using that experience in my offshore racing. At that point I want to be competing in as many events as possible and learning from the very best in the industry. In 10 years I’d like to have at least one major accomplishment under my belt and working in a management position in the sailmaking business.
Who is your sailing idol?
Can I say my dad? My dad (Tim Kent) sailed in an Open 50 alone in a round-the-world race back 2003…against all odds he accomplished it. My step-dad is also a very talented sailor and my sister and I have learned so much from him. My ‘dads’ were such positive influences and encouraged me to keep sailing. I feel very lucky that I had that.
Favourite Kiwi slang?
Fizzing – to display or feel excitement
Can you use that in a sentence?
I’m fizzing to get back home for some cheese curds and beer!