Sitting down with Ken Read

Published on January 6th, 2020

Shirley Robertson

Shirley Robertson’s podcast series of in-depth interviews continues this month with a two part edition, as North Sails President Ken Read talks to the British double Olympic gold medalist about his long and accomplished career at the cutting edge of the sport.

Currently in the top executive role at North Sails, Read’s sailing history includes helming two America’s Cup campaigns, two Volvo Ocean Race campaigns, two US Sailor of the Year Awards, and a trophy cabinet stacked with National and World Championship wins. But as he admits to Robertson, it was a stellar career that from an early age very nearly didn’t happen…

“I hated sailing, I was scared of it as a kid, and I will never forget the day, I was eleven years old….and I said ‘listen, I’m out, I don’t want to do this anymore’, I remember faking I was sea sick on a Blue Jay in the middle of the Barrington River.

“My father sat me down on the bed upstairs and said ‘You’ve got to give me half a summer, if you can’t do half a summer you don’t have to do it anymore’…..and all of a sudden the instructors were like ‘holy cow, where did this kid come from, he was the one that was sea sick in a Blue Jay last year and he hasn’t lost a race all summer’…..and the rest is history.”

Read’s early perseverance has been sailing’s significant gain, he’s a key figure in the sport, and has been on the other side of Robertson’s interview microphone on countless occasions, resulting in a candid and honest exchange.

The pair chat through Read’s early career and move into the corporate world at North Sails, through his early America’s Cup exploits and onto his Volvo Ocean Race campaigns as skipper of Puma, before discussing the future of the sport and Read’s involvement in the record breaking 100ft maxi ‘Comanche’.

Read’s early recollections of his Cup exploits are peppered with tales of his mentor, America’s Cup legend Dennis Connor, whose unique approach is the source of countless anecdotes, from Read’s early recruitment, to the sinking of a Cup boat out on the waters off San Diego…:

“When he asked me, we went to a tiny diner in a street near the loft in Portsmouth, Rhode Island… and that was the beginning of six years of craziness.

“The next thing we did was drive to the Sunfish/Laser factory and on the spot he bought a Laser because he had met a kid in the Caribbean who couldn’t afford a Laser…and had it shipped to the Caribbean. Every minute there was something going on in his brain that nobody could ever have predicted. He was phenomenal.”

Helming Dennis Connor’s 2000 and 2003 Cup campaigns, Read’s attentions then moved offshore, first in the later half of the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race onboard Ericsson, and then as skipper on Puma’s 2008-09 and 2011-12 editions of the race. Yet throughout his competitive career Read has simultaneously operated at an executive level at North Sails, a position that he’s happy to openly discuss throughout the interview…:

“I think it’s a far more complicated working environment today than it was back then… If you just look at what goes up on your mast and boom, you’re not giving it (the sail) credit. It’s nice to be on the team with 3di, a lot of us say that a lot of the time, but at every board meeting Peter Dubens (North Sails owner) says ‘Kenny, what’s next, have you figured it out yet’, and the answer is we haven’t, but there’s a lot of smart people working on it!”

Here’s the two part series with Ken Read:

Shirley Robertson’s Sailing Podcast, produced and edited by Tim Butt of Vertigo Films, is available to listen on her website or via most popular podcast outlets, including iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcast, and aCast.

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