Why it's Good to Be Ken Read, Pro Sailor

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Ken Read is one of the world’s most accomplished sailors.  The 50-year-old from Newport, Rhode Island has led two America’s Cup programs (2000 and 2003) and has 46 World, North American and National Championships to his name. In 1985 and 1995, he was named “United States Rolex Yachtsman of the Year.”

Since November, Read has been leading PUMA Ocean Racing’s Mar Mostro in the Volvo Ocean Race, the world’s toughest sailing competition. Last month, the race came through Miami, where PUMA sent me to meet the team. I sat down with Read to talk about life on the water.

Discovery: How long have you been sailing?

Read: My mother claims in the womb.

D: At what point did you realize you had a chance to become a professional?

R: Probably in college. I sailed my whole life, and all of a sudden I got recruited to go to Boston University, which was a sailing powerhouse at the time. Went there, and my freshman year, I just started winning races. I was an All-American sophomore, junior and senior, and then I became College Sailor of the Year [in 1982].

I never set those types of goals, I never even though I had it in me to be an All-American once, never mind three times. And all of a sudden, marine businesses are calling, saying we want you to come work for us. I worked for a sail maker, they bought me three boats, and said, “Go win races,” and that’s how we’re gonna sell sails.

You start at those one-design levels, and you move up and up and up and up, and before you know it, Dennis Conner is calling you to steer his America’s Cup boat, and PUMA’s calling to put together a Volvo program. I don’t think I ever had an ego enough to think, “I have to sail at this level,” I just kept having fun and winning at all these levels, and good things kept happening. It’s really that simple.

Read and the PUMA team celebrate a first place finish into Miami. Photo: Jennifer Langille

D: Could you see yourself doing anything else?

R: I was a history major in school, and I was taking a bunch of pre-law classes. That kind of flew by the boards. The marine world called. I work for Northern Sails, and am actually on a sabbatical to do this race. If not for sailing, I’d probably be a lawyer.

D: Do you see your retirement from professional sailing on the horizon?

R: I can say this is my last Volvo. It’s a young man’s game. These things wear you out.

D: What is the top moment of your career?

R: I would say coming in second place in the 2008-09 Volvo Ocean Race. It was a scrappy win, a real comeback. It’s something I’m very proud of.

D: What is the lowest moment?

R: The 2003 America’s Cup. We had come close in 2002 on Dennis Conner’s boat and had high expectations for ’03. But we never got fast enough.

Read helms the Mar Mostro en route to Miami. Photo: Amory Ross/PUMA Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race

D: Do you ever want to step down as skipper and let someone else have the responsibility on their shoulders?

I enjoy the responsibility. I’m not a micromanager. My job is to get the best people and let them work.

D: PUMA had a rough start in this Volvo, but you’ve won the last two legs and are within striking distance of first place. How do you feel about your position?

R: We’re happy right now, we’re comfortable. Why not us? We’ll never stop trying.

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