Whether crushing speed records, nailing ocean races, or pioneering new technology, Stan Honey knows his position precisely. (Parts of this interview appear in our May 2011 issue.)
The latest in native Californian Stan Honey’s numbingly long list of accomplishments is what earned him the 2010 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Award: navigating the 105-foot trimaran Groupama 3 to a 48 day, seven hour record-setting non-stop circumnavigation and winning the Trophée Jules Verne in the process. Before that, ho hum, he merely won the Volvo Ocean Race (as navigator aboard ABN AMRO in 2005-06); knocked off a slew of Transpacific, 24-hour, and Transatlantic records (including PlayStation’s breakthrough 4-day, 17-hour run in 2001); and called the navigation shots in 22 Transpacs (winning 11 of them while setting the course record three times), among many, many other notable offshore deeds and victories.
Professionally, after earning undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees from Yale (where he sailed competitively with Steve Benjamin, Peter Isler, and Dave Perry) and Stanford, respectively, he spent some time as vice-president of technology for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and started a couple of companies: Etack, which pioneered in-vehicle map displays before GPS came online, and Sportvision, which introduced TV sports junkies to the now ubiquitous yellow first-down markers in football games and virtual strike zones in baseball telecasts, among other innovations.
Just for good measure, he’s married to another pretty excellent sailor, Sally Lindsey Honey, who’s won a pair of Rolex prizes herself.
So who’s the best sailor in the Honey family?
Sally, by far (laughing). I might have an edge navigating, but she’s definitely the better sailor. She points out that I’m never catching up to her (as far as Rolex awards).
You’ve circled the planet as the lone American on basically an all-Kiwi boat (in the Volvo) and an all-French boat (Groupama 3). All things being equal, which would you choose if you were picking crew for a round-the-world race?
I think it would be based on the kind of boat it was. If it was a multihull, you’d go with the French guys. As far as big offshore multihull sailing, there’s nobody better: the seamanship, the preparation, all of it. On a Volvo 70, you’d want the Kiwis. The V70 is just…pain. And endurance to pain. It’s just brutal. And there’s nobody better at that than the Kiwis. You know, grunt up, mate. And off you go. Sometimes, there’d be this heinous sail change, it’s only going to pay off for fifteen minutes, but you do it. You always sail the boat absolutely optimum, and you never go bow down for a change. The French can’t sail (the big multis) that way, you’d wreck the boat. They have to know when to back off and hide and when to let ‘er rip.
As a navigator, the dynamics onboard (the different boats) are interesting. Every French sailor is a navigator, because they all come up through shorthanded sailing. They all know how to navigate and are interested in it. So on Groupama, there was a reasonable amount of time when someone was looking over my shoulder and asking questions, and I actually enjoyed that part. On a Kiwi boat, the rules are you don’t hang around the nav station.
How’s your French?
Not very good is the short answer. I tried. I took courses. But once I was onboard with the crew, I couldn’t follow it at all, unless it was a one-to-one situation. They’d all talk at the same time. Though, by the end of the trip, I was able to tell whether they were talking about boats or women.