nine lives? how about two?
Today Puma announced that they will be racing in the 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race. It wasn’t exactly the best kept secret, so we jumped on a Q&A with Ken Read, the skipper and CEO of Puma Ocean Racing. Enjoy.
SA: So we see that you have entered il mostro in the upcoming Newport to Bermuda race, and we see Puma Avanti ramping up. We know what it all means – that Puma will be back for the next VOR! You guys have made the announcement today, so tell us a little bit about the Puma VOR effort this time. You are the CEO/skipper, so we know you’ll be aboard. What other changes have you made for this effort?
KR: Well, we are thrilled to be back. It has been touch and go since the end of the last race. It gets in your blood and it’s hard to shake. With that said, Kimo (Worthington), Antonio Bertone and I broke down every single part of the program from the last race- what we did well and what we didn’t do so well. We have massaged nearly every aspect of the program but kept the fundamentals that made it successful- like PUMA being a sailor driven program that relies on a touch of common sense from time to time. And, of course trying to bring a new level of excitement to the sport of sailing.
SA: How about the design team. Will you build one or two boats?
KR: The rules have changed quite a bit a process we were a large part of. The big advantage of building two boats has been negated by the fact that there is essentially no two boat testing allowed now. So we will be a one boat program again and will be using “il mostro” as a training boat this summer. Our goal is to sell “il mostro” to another team who wishes to sail “the boat around the world again and allow them to be part of our training this summer, then hand the boat off for good in September. The boat just got an ultra sound and passed with flying colors so we think it can be competitive for another lap around the planet. With a couple tweaks it could be more than competitive.
As far as the sailing and design team is concerned, we are working on finalizing all of it soon and announce it all together. It’s a long process, and one that has to be thought through carefully to get all the chemistry and skill sets right.
SA: We got the sense, perhaps mistakenly, that the VOR took a lot out of you. Did it?
KR: Ha…Does that infer that there is anyone who did the last race that didn’t have a lot taken out of them? This race is hard. To hear the multi race veterans talk about the brutality of this last race gives me a bit of relief that it wasn’t just me. If a sporting event doesn’t take a lot out of you then you aren’t trying hard enough. But, after a couple weeks of R and R after Russia we were back at it. Not sailing a lot, but certainly working a lot.
SA: This is sport is becoming a young man’s game. At 48, how do you prepare for a race of this magnitude, from both a physical and mental approach?
KR: 48 and proud of it! Would I trade the experience I have to get back 10 years? Probably not. I still feel good physically. I got a rebuilt hip three years ago and it feels great. My shoulders are acting up a bit but that should get fixed. Still playing plenty of hockey in the winter. We start working out hard soon and we have some great guys around here that will kick our asses into shape. Mentally I feel great. Ready to try and win this bloody race. But it won’t be easy.
SA: This is a big deal that Puma has come back for another go. What do you think they got out of the first VOR to convince them to come back?
KR: The Volvo Ocean Race is the rock and roll of sailing. High drama on the edge stuff. That is what PUMA is all about. Usain Bolt is no normal sprinter. He has an edge to him. The boat has an edge to it. I think our team had a bit of an edge to it. Jochen Zeitz always says that one of his rules is if one of the guys gets thrown in jail make sure he has PUMA gear on! PUMA broke into a new sport category, they sold a lot of stuff through the licensing agreement with Volvo, they promoted the brand all around the world both in the sailing category and outside of it, and they boosted sales period. All good.
SA: How big do estimate the budget to be?
KR: Same as last race. Almost to the penny.
SA: Approximate number?
KR: Wish I could help on this one, but really can’t. Boss’s orders. More than a VW bug, less than a 737.
SA: One of the things that Puma did well, besides the on the water, was some of the pr – like the the ‘reality’ videos. The PR efforts might actually be as valuable to a company like Puma. Can we expect more of the same?
KR: You bet. The reality series was just a start and unfortunately the company that was producing it went out of business just as things were getting going. There is a lot being planned right now. Stay tuned.
SA: Does a VOR change your perspective on your other races? For example, do you look at say a Bermuda race and think "No big deal?" And now that you’ve done so much long distance offshore racing over the last few years, how do you compare it with inshore racing? Do you have a preference?
KR: Absolutely. Bermuda is basically a day race now. We are sailing il mostro back across the Atlantic in a few weeks and it seems like it is similar to a Narragansett Bay crossing. My sailing life will never be the same. But to be honest it has simply opened up my eyes to offshore racing rather than tarnished my view of inshore racing. One of the events I did right after the Volvo last year was the NYYC invitational. Yet another completely different style event, it’s all great. That variety is the best part of our sport.
SA: You, like a whole bunch of former AC sailors, sat on the sidelines for the 33rd Cup. What did you think of the entire event, the boats, and the outcome?
KR: Well, the event could be seen in two completely different ways. A huge coup for sailing because it was in the press non stop for two years in non conventional press, or that the event was a mockery…A pissing contest between people not looking out for any interests other than there own and dragging the Cup down with them. Which was it? I guess I could argue either side depending on the day. The boats were nothing short of amazing. That is obvious. I know the boys had fun, spending every day dreaming up stuff to try that the sport may never see again.
The outcome? Not surprising. One boat was going to be a lot faster than the other. That is historically the way the Cup goes. One interesting thing about the racing was the fact that there were such large mistakes made on both boats—which is no slam on the sailors-it simply shows how hard even the simplest maneuvers were on those monsters that are clearly set up to go fast in a straight line. Oracle in irons in the first start. Allinghi getting the two “unforced” penalties and not getting outside the starting box in time. Obviously there was nothing easy to do on those boats which made it pretty cool to watch.
SA: How would you like to see the next Cup happen, in terms of boats, venue, rules? Any changes that you view as critical?
KR: This is a question that could take up a book, and to be honest I am fully concentrating on the best event in sailing which is the Volvo Ocean Race.
SA: Give us a couple of examples of those changes
KR: Listen, there are a lot of people chiming in their opinions so mine probably isn’t really relevant or interesting at this stage. One of my rules is to try not to speak just to hear myself talk. A rule I probably break from time to time- but I really do try not to. If I voiced an opinion on this subject right now, while I really am thinking full time about the Volvo, it wouldn’t be well thought out. Maybe my only advice is- when in doubt use common sense. Doesn’t seem to be a lot of that in the Cup these days.
SA: Assuming some return to normalcy, do you see yourself getting involved in the next AC?
KR: I have learned that you never say never. Although I do see myself doing this Volvo and getting back to mainstream life hopefully soon there after.
SA: Since big multihulls are all the rage (BMWO, Groupama 3 being the most recent examples) when do we see you joining that scene?
KR: I sail what the events that I participate in tell me to sail. 70 foot canting keel monohulls that go 40 knots is the weapon of choice right now. Although those big multi’s look pretty nice in the big breeze I have to admit. The 70’s are a bit more hand to hand combat. I sailed a lot of Cats in the early 90’s when the Formula 40’s were the rage. Since then it has been all mono hulls.
SA: Let’s talk about your business – you are full time with Puma, yet you still remain with North Sails. Are you still in the same capacity at North? You can’t possibly do both jobs full time, can you?
KR: No I can’t. Yes I am still part of North Sails and North Marine Group. In a small way right now as my job was absorbed by a few people within the North team. I still talk to Tom Whidden and Jay Hansen and Dan Neri a lot. I am a client, a consultant, a product critic and advocate, and I have a unique view of the marine industry for North because I am looking through clear glasses with very little bias.
SA: We talked to one sailmaker who claimed to actually see an increase in business last year. How has North faired through the economic turmoil? Are you guys seeing a decent spring so far?
KR North is run by smart people both from a product standpoint and a business standpoint. All around the world for that matter. The companies health is strong and it has a very strong path into the future. Innovation will always be the key to the success at North. Terry Kohler and Tom have made that clear from day one. I have learned a ton working with that company and am proud of it. I wish your readers would look at North a little differently sometimes. Just a hard working bunch of people trying to be leaders of an industry through technical innovation. No different than any other company in any other industry that has worked hard to get to the top. Its not easy getting to the top, and it isn’t easy staying there.
SA: Innovation does indeed seem to be a pretty important part of the company. What can people look forward to seeing in terms of new products? Can you tell our readers about 3dli? 580? And have we seen the last of the 3dr sails?
KR: Well, this is a subject for a book as well but in simple terms 3Di is a product innovation that is unlike any other in the industry ever. It has great up side, and like all great products – the market place will decide where it wants to use the technology. Like all innovation, it has had its growing pains but the concept of the tapes over the molds- with no films- is very very good. 580, 700, 800—those are all just product designations for both 3DL and 3Di which define the fiber content and the thread/tape layout being used on the particular sail. Essentially we went from the simple “Regatta” and “Grand Prix” designations several years ago to the numerical definitions of the sails. Much more accurate and I think easier to understand. Not unlike the BMW 3 series through 7 series system.
3Dr was an amazing development that literally went up in smoke. A fire ruined years of hard work and potential. The growing pains were large with 3Dr and the product was always behind schedule but with a huge upside. A fire ended the project’s life.
SA: What classes or kind of boats are you seeing getting some traction? Are you involved in any of them?
KR: Volvo Open 70. That is my involvement for the next couple years. After that, who knows.
SA: Why do you think the STP 65 class didn’t succeed?
KR: Remember when the TP 52 the class started on the west coast- stopped-and restarted when we built the three Farr boats in 2006. I considered the 52 Class as a class with huge potential at the time because IMS was coming to a screeching halt and IRC had its teething pains and I was never sure of a single number rule like IRC for the long term. The TP 52 was fun, fast, modern and I thought had some staying power. As we built up the TP 52 class, I heard from a lot of owners that they loved the concept but wanted something bigger. So, we put together a rule, the STP 65, and let it run. A few of them were born, but several owners who said they were interested went off and built custom boats instead. For a variety of reasons. Timing, need for something different, or simply because most of them could afford to do whatever they wished to do. But, like the 52’s, I wouldn’t count out the STP 65’s yet. It just takes a little traction at the right time like Esmeralda, Sjambok and Bright Star. The flood gates opened.
SA: Beyond Bermuda, what’s next for you? is it VOR full time from here on out?
KR: More than full time. The race is won or lost right now based on decisions made. Its all on!
SA: Thanks brother.
KR: No sweat.