Riding the wave of double handed sailing
Published on October 17th, 2020
When thinking of esteemed and accomplished offshore sailors from the last 20 years or so, Ken Read will almost certainly be a name which springs to mind.
The American, currently the President of North Sails, led Comanche to victory in the 2015 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, competed in three editions of The Ocean Race – twice as skipper – and has a few America’s Cup campaigns under his belt, too.
Sailing has been Read’s “whole life,” but he revealed that what really helped him rediscover his passion for the sport was returning to his roots and sailing double handed with friends and family at home in the States this summer.
“It was a little over a year ago that I was talking to some friends in Annapolis and they mentioned that they were bringing a specific double handed boat called a Jeanneau 3300 to the United States,” he explained.
“With the talk of the 2024 Olympics, and the potential for an offshore double handed mixed campaign for the Olympics, it had me thinking maybe this could be a fun thing to do.
“Before you know it, the Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300, called Alchemist, was in Florida, and I asked my friend Suzy Leech if she would like to do a double handed race with me – the Fort Lauderdale to Key West race.
“That, in essence, started a year of craziness. For me it went down as the summer that I rediscovered sailing.”
Though the inclusion of the Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat Event at Paris 2024 has inspired offshore sailors to look ahead, for Read the prospect was much simpler – going back to basics, adapting to changes in his regular lifestyle due to the current pandemic, and having fun in the process.
“Just the word ‘Olympics’ got a lot of people interested in this potential new class, but for me it was much different,” Read said.
“It’s certainly not a priority for me right now. The priority was trying double handed sailing and getting back to my roots; where you’re on the boat, you’re steering, you’re trimming, you’re doing the pit, you’re bailing out the bilge.
“The Volvo Ocean Race had a lot of that to it – you’re all over the boat with a Volvo team, because the teams are so small – but this is different. You make a mistake and you know about it pretty quickly!
“It was a whole new experience training and trying to figure out how to sail a boat with only two people.
“It also just so happened that double handed racing was the type of sailing that we could do.
“Frankly, I spend half my life traveling with my North Sails job – going around the world to events and dealing with clients and programs. This summer, I literally never got on an airplane.
“All of a sudden it’s about staying at home and sailing local. Alchemist came up from Florida; there’s the New England Solo/Twin, the Ida Lewis double handed race, the Around Jamestown race.
“I also discovered sailing with my brother again; he and I hadn’t sailed together in a long, long time. I did a couple of the races with Suzy and a couple with Brad; again, Alchemist was a great partner in all of this.
“It was fun just working and playing on a boat again. It was fun making mistakes and trying to make up for those mistakes. It was just a completely different experience, and the fact was that COVID kind of forced me home, to sail locally here on Narragansett Bay here in Newport and, like I said, rediscover sailing again.”
And Read believes the simplicity, as well as accessibility, of double handed sailing will encourage many more to get out onto the water and experience the thrill of offshore sailing for themselves.
“There’s no question in my mind that double handed sailing is one of the fastest-growing parts of the sport, and there’s a couple of really obvious reasons,” he said.
“First of all, any boat can adapt to it. Any boat with any sort of handicap rating system for a local event – ready, set, go.
“Second thing is the logistics – my goodness! Getting one person to get down to the boat with you instead of three, five, 10 – in Comanche’s case, 25 – it was just a different world.
“I just love the simplicity of the whole thing. It really made a difference to how much I wanted to get up in the morning, how much I looked forward to going sailing in the evening and going out for a practice with either Suzy or Brad, or both of them – we actually practice quite often with three of us on board so we can learn from each other.
“And with just a couple of little tweaks to your local PH or F boat – a 30-year-old Pearson 36, for example – you can turn it into a pretty good double handed boat.
“You’ll be getting some stuff fed into the cockpit in a different way and you don’t have to rely on a huge crew.
“A lot of these races, 100-milers, are essentially 24-hour, 28-hour overnight races. Everybody is starting to have a double handed class in their races, because they see this growth in popularity, and it’s going to keep going.
“And a lot of these boats coming out – the Dehler boat, the J boats have a couple, of course the Sun Fast 3300 – are being made specifically for double handed sailing.
“So whether it’s retrofitting your old boat, or sailing a new boat that is specifically built for short handed sailing, you can have fun doing it.
“Take it from me; this summer, observing social distancing without a big team on board the boat, staying close to home and having fun in your home waters, and having relatives and friends that you can really enjoy it with, just made a big difference for me.
“I can’t wait to go double handed sailing again!”
Source: World Sailing