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.)
Stan, talk about some of the most influential sailors in your career? Who are the guys who really stick out?
I grew up in San Marino, and I first started sailing out of the Los Angeles YC in Guppies, then Lasers. But I was interested in navigation from the beginning, so from the time I was 14, I was navigating on Sumatra for Al Martin. My dad, Dave, was an avid offshore sailor, but he wasn’t very interested in racing. So we had a series of boats growing up, and my dad would tolerate me racing them. He did a nice job in a very subtle way of getting me interested in sailing. And he was the navigator on Kelpie and Utopia, the Friendship sloop. And my godfather was a B-17 navigator, so I think I probably picked up some interest from both of them.
I think early on, as I started to navigate myself, Ben Mitchell, Sr. was a great navigator, a great competitor, and just unfailingly supportive of nippers growing up in the sport. After every Transpac, we’d have a perpetual date to have breakfast after the second one of us got in to go over the whole race and compare notes. But he was terrific. And Mike Quilter is a legendary navigator. He was hugely supportive during the Volvo Race for me.
Then in terms of other sailors, in the early days, having the opportunity to race and navigate for Willard Bell and Al Martin and George Griffith, some of the Southern California ocean racing stalwarts, was fantastic. And those were the days in Southern California when all winter long there was the Whitney Series, and those were incredibly challenging ocean races…the Tri-Island race and the Channel Islands race, and so forth. They don’t do those races anymore, but there was just a community of guys where I learned seamanship and learned sailing. And they let me navigate, because I was interested, and it would save a body. By having the nipper navigate, they didn’t need to bring another guy. So that was a hugely formative period.
Then John Andron, he was a good friend from 5-0 sailing, but he got me my original ride on Drifter in the ’79 Transpac that we won overall and were first to finish. That was a key breakthrough for me in navigation, where I suddenly began to get good rides. And that was a real interesting race; it was the real slow Transpac where the high came way south. We figured it out, and jibed to the south. Merlin was much faster and had a much better crew, and we beat them by 24 hours because we jibed south and they didn’t. Peter Hogg was the guy who got me the opportunity to sail with Steve Fossett, and that was a great set of opportunities that came out of that.
And then of course, I’ve got to mention Robbie Haines and Pyewacket. The level of the professionalism in that program was terrific. And then Moose Sanderson from ABN AMRO—a fabulous seaman, a fabulous sailor, and a terrific leader—one of those charge-up-the-hill, Marine-type leaders. I loved working with Moose. I followed him to Team Origin, and then things got chaotic there as the America’s Cup went through various adventures.
Speaking of the Cup, what’s your take on it coming to San Francisco?
I think it could be terrific. It’s certainly a fabulous venue. It’s beautiful, the winds are great, it’s an interesting venue in terms of the tactical decisions and so forth. I think the boats will be very interesting. The evidence from the (prototype) 45-footer is that the tacking loss may be modest enough where the boats are pretty darn tactical. That was something people were wondering about and that people would be concerned about with the catamaran, but then the C-Class boats were certainly having some tactical races and the 45 seems to tack very efficiently, so I think that’s all real encouraging. I think it could be great.
I’m also doing some contract work for the America’s Cup Event Authority. I’m working to develop this new tracking and highlighting system so you can highlight the races with helicopter video. So we’re subcontracting with Sportvision—I left the company in 2004—but adding to the SV technology so that it will work with sailing and it will work from a helicopter. Up until now, the SV system has worked from tripod-mounted cameras. So it’s an extension to their system.
If I get the opportunity with the Cup, that would be a real interesting challenge to kind of bring together my sailing background, and my experience in technology and tracking and special effects for sports TV. And that’s the fascinating part; I didn’t think those two worlds would ever really come together. It’s not yet clear whether I’ll be able to do it for the Event Authority, but it would be really fun to kind of give back to the sport in that way, to make the sport more accessible to more people on TV, to make it easier to understand. I have a huge debt, of course, to this sport, and I try to pay that back by serving with US Sailing on the board and helping out in handicap areas. I’m on the WSSRC as a council member and so forth, and I’m a U.S. delegate to ISAF, which is one of the more painful things that somebody can do in the sport, but somebody’s got to do it. But this is an area that is more hands on for me. If we can come up with a set of tools that really does make the story easier to tell, I think that’s the kind of thing we’re working on. It’s kind of like the yellow line in football, but showing who’s ahead and who’s behind, showing the laylines, helping the commentator.