The Truths About Sailboat Racing

What is the magnetism of sailing that has drawn skippers and crews to racecourses for centuries?

June 3, 2002

In the course of a typical lap around a racecourse, racing sailors ask all sorts of questions: What does that flag mean? Are we over? Is this lift holding? Are we in the corner again? Are we having fun yet? After a day on the water, have you ever stopped and asked yourself the larger question: Why do I race sailboats?

As we put together our 40th Anniversary issue, we started wondering ourselves . . . why is it that we spend nearly every minute of our free time preparing for and playing this game of aquatic chess? We put the question to 40 passionate rank-and-file sailors and weren’t surprised by the long pauses, nor the scope of their answers.

Ask yourself the same question before reading what others had to say, and you’ll find that you, too, are in it for many of the same reasons–the competition, the teamwork, the physical and mental challenge, and most importantly, the camaraderie.


Paul Rasmussen
60, mechanical engineer, Wareham, Mass
“I love the complexity and variation. It’s more than tactics, trim, boat prep, crewwork, or ergonomics. I spend hours and hours thinking about moving something small that later helps me come out on top.”

Dennis Case
61, real estate investor, San Diego, J/105
“I love being on the water. Actually, racing allows me to use my boat a lot more than I did when I used to cruise. Plus, my wife Sharon is on the boat all the time–it’s the one sport we’ve always been able to do together.”

Molly McCloud
24, Long Beach, Calif., waterfront director at Long Beach YC, match racing and one-designs
“I race because of my competitive spirit. My father calls me a performance perfectionist.”


Wick Smith
43, automotive industry, Detroit, Laser, Thistle, Tartan Ten, RC Cup boats
“I enjoy the competition, and testing my abilities. In fact, I don’t pleasure sail at all. Let me put it this way: if you seriously golf, you go to a golf course and keep score, you don’t go out your front door and hit a ball around the neighborhood.”

Bruce Gardner
42, restauranteur, Annapolis, Md., Beneteau 10M
“It’s the challenge of preparing a boat, organizing a crew, and getting them to meld together–what we call pulling the wagon in the same direction. You can do it from the time you can walk to the time you die.”

Frank Rinaldi
25, IT consultant, New York, J/24
“It’s the constant competition that keeps you on your feet, the heated moments, and the changing situations. Squeezing that half-knot out of your boat is more exhilarating than driving 85 miles per hour down the highway in a fast car.”


Susan Korzeniewski
43, car wash owner, Liverpool, N.Y., high-performance catamarans
“There are many reasons why I race, but mostly it’s my love of the water; once I’m out there, nothing else matters. On top of that, it’s highly addictive.”

Tom Weber
51, CPA, Chicago, Beneteau 40.7
“As my body started breaking down, I realized that sitting behind a wheel and driving wasn’t all that taxing on my body. But really, it’s because the competition makes me work harder and harder to succeed at it. I can submerse myself in it, the same way I do with golf.”

Alfred Poindexter
60, OB-GYN, Houston, J/80
“There are a lot of reasons. One: it keeps me young–it’s got me on a diet and working out every day. Two: I like to compete, whether I win or lose. Three: I enjoy the camaraderie on and off the boat. Four: I enjoy the human against nature thing.”


George McCarthy
32, financial project manager, Westbrook, Conn., 505, JY15, Soverel 33
“It’s probably the most complex game you can play. Strategically, in terms of the game board, it’s always changing. There’s nothing better than sailing with a team and winning.”

Robin Jackson
39, Littleton, Colo., interior designer, J/24
“For the men, of course–it’s at least a ratio of 1 to 15. But seriously, for the sheer competition, the scenery, the sun, and everything else. It’s a great way to meet different people.”

Angela Garcia
25, lawyer, Baltimore, Laser Radial, 420
“For the thrill of improving, that’s huge. I also enjoy the camaraderie that goes with it. It’s not the same if you show up at the party and haven’t sailed the regatta.”

Tom Callahan
42, Newport, R.I., restauranteur, Shields
“I race because it forces my body, my brain, and my blood to race a little bit. And that makes me feel good.”

Ricky Lang
20, U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman, Annapolis, Md., Laser, 420
“It’s the people in the sailing community who make racing great. I love competing against people I respect–not only for their sailing abilities, but also for being great competitors and sportsmen. In sailboat racing, what happens on the water tends to stay on the water, and it’s always fun to hang out with everybody afterwards, no matter how well you did.”

Kurt Gregory
43, St. Petersburg, Fla., software developer, Corsair F-27
“To some extent I like the competition and also the fine tuning of the sails, maximizing the potential of the boat. But, I prefer the sailing more than the tinkering, being out there and seeing what you can do, the different places you get to see.”

Michael MacAllister
25, sailing coach, Biddeford Pool, Maine, 420, Vanguard
“It’s boring to do anything else. I’m not one of those people who race because they can’t lose. I like the challenge of solving a new puzzle with a different set of variables each time.”

Dwayne King
40, attorney, Seattle, Swan 51
“The competition. I could make it more complex, but ultimately, the competition.”

Adrienne Patterson
15, high school student, Newport Beach, Calif., 420 and FJs
“It’s really cool that girls can compete at the same level as guys and not be put into a separate league.”

Britt Hughes
42, investment counselor, Stratford, Conn., J/24
“I guess that it’s also in my blood somehow. Sometimes I wonder myself why I continue to do it, why I go out every weekend. I keep thinking that I’ll go into some winter saying that I’m never racing a sailboat again, but it never happens.”

Mike Carroll
53, health care consultant, Clearwater, Fla., Henderson 30
“Because I can. I’ve got the bug, the insatiable desire to put together a crew, a boat, and a sail plan that moves the boat faster than the rated speed.”

Buff Wendt
35, civil engineer, Truckee, Calif., Laser, Europe
“I just love being on water in a small dinghy because you’re very close to the elements. It’s your body and your motions versus the water. It makes me feel alive. Sailing is something I can do for life.”

Bob Bozeman
50, Sarasota, Fla., insurance agency owner, Olson 30
“It’s the competition and the great group of people. It’s fun because no matter what level you’re racing at there’s a pecking order–some days it’s hard, some days it’s easy.”

Bill Faude
41, Chicago, creative director, Lightning, Mumm 30, and Vanguard 15
“It’s environmentally sustainable and, except for jet-skiers, there are far fewer idiots out on the water than normally found on land.”

Judy Woellner
34, Wayzata, Minn., speech therapist, Laser and J/22
“I’m addicted to water, and sailing is a great sport to throw your heart into. I love the people I’ve met sailing–many of my best friends are my competitors.”

Chris Jewett
27, Deep Haven, Minn., stockbroker, E Scow and J/24
“It’s one of the few sports that you can be as competitive on the water as you want, and off the water be true friends with everyone you’re sailing with. It has opened so many new doors–friendships–and it gives me a thrill I can’t get anywhere else. I’m super into the sport.”

Drew Freides
33, investment advisor, San Diego, big-boat crew
“I honestly love sailing but the most important thing, for lack of a better word, is the rush of the competition. I have no desire to go pleasure sailing, none at all.”

Dr. Derrick Fries
48, middle school principal, Auburn Hills, Mich., Sunfish
“For me, it’s the totality. There’s more than the competition and the cameraderie, there’s the mental preparation, the continuous decision making, and the organization. When you box it all together, it’s a complete sport.”

Steve Jones
34, restaurant/tavern manager, Cookeville, Tenn., Melges 24
“It’s the excitement of close racing and the speed–that’s why Isail a Melges. And it’s because of the sailors–they’re a unique group of people. Before the race you’re talking with them about what makes the boat go fast, on the racecourse, you’re yelling and screaming with them as you’re going around the the marks, and then after the race you’re cutting up and having a good time. It’s remarkable.”

Reed Johnson
16, high school student, Toms River, N.J., Lasers, 420s
“Racing is the reward for practicing. I enjoy getting better by competing. If I get beaten it just fuels my desire for the next time.”

Lauren Usrey
16, high school student, Coronado, Calif., 420 and FJ
“I race because it’s a close-knit group of people. And in other sports you rarely become close friends with your competitors.”

Jim Bishop
44, Denver, telecommunications, Santana 20
“I played college football, and racing a sailboat with a good crew is as close to that experience as you can get without getting hurt. It’s the only sport I can get the whole family together and race as a team, as equals.”

Jeff Bright
37, Air Force major, Pensacola, Fla., J/29
“I enjoy racing because of the camaraderie and the challenge. I really enjoy taking on the challenge of something that’s extremely difficult for me, and doing well. I didn’t grow up sailing, in fact I’ve only been sailing for about two years. It’s such a complicated sport that to do well at it requires more effort on my part; reading books, practicing, learning the minute differences that are so important. I’m enjoying racing more this second season because I’m starting to actually see my improvement. I’ve even started to introduce others to racing.”

John Bradley
54, Littleton, Colo., auto mechanic, Mumm 30 crew
“To be good at this sport you have to know so much, and if you’re not a natural you have to learn a lot–that’s exciting. Being on a team and competing at a high level is exhilarating . . . it’s a magical sport.”

Mark Gaudio
44, bond broker, Newport Beach, Calif., Naples Sabot, Lido 14, Cal 20
“Each and every time I leave the dock I strive to learn something new. When you excel you want to go back for more and raise the bar a bit. The older you get, the more the competitive and social aspects intertwine, similar to the Twilight Zone.”

Kate Shehan
22, graphic designer, Annapolis, Md., FJ and Lightning
“For the thrill of competition, and being up against 30 or 60 people at a time who all have the same goal and who all know the facts as well as you do. You have to be able to think one step ahead at all times.”

Graham Biehl
15, high school student, Point Loma, Calif., 470
“Because it’s one of the only sports that’s self-policing and relies on having your own ethics. It creates real-life situations where you have to make big decisions.”

Will Rogers
44, composites sales manager, Tiverton, R.I., big-boat crew
“When I was younger it was all about winning but as I get older what keeps me racing is that incredible feeling you get when you sail well as a team, win or lose–but it’s always better to win.”

Damon Harvey
40, molecular biologist, Bainbridge Island, Wash., Farr 40
“I love climbing and mountaineering; sailing’s a similar thing to me. You’re out with a team but you’re also on your own and you’ve got to take care of yourself. It’s always a challenge. In climbing you can take an alternate route to make it fun. In sailing, every race is different.”

Mark Harris
53, Sparks, Nev., electrical engineer, multihulls, land yachts, iceboats
“It’s the best way to learn to sail.”

David Millet
57, venture capitalist, Needham, Mass., Aerodyne 43
“I like to be out on the water and try to make a team do great things. Then again, Maybe it’s the rum and tonic afterwards.”


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