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Around the World in 280 Days

Ken Read’s now in Galway, heading next to Sweden


Ken Read in Boston (above); as a BU student (below); rounding the tip of Cape Horn and working the grinder on il mostro (below). Photos by Marie Força Cornuelle, BU Photography, and Rick Deppe/PUMA Ocean Racing

Nine months and more than 30,000 miles of water behind him, Ken Read, skipper of the Puma racing boat il mostro has tacked and jibed, using strategy and muscle to make it about 90 percent of the way through the Volvo Ocean Race. Beginning in Alicante, Spain, on October 11, 2008, and ending in St. Petersburg, Russia, by the end of June, Read will have navigated the entire planet.

“I grew up in a landlocked town, with a father in the dairy business delivering milk in glass bottles,” says Read (MET’83), whose team landed safely in Galway, Ireland, last week despite a broken rudder. “Now I’m in some of the coolest sailing events on Earth. It’s a pinch-me, dream-come-true kind of thing.”

As a BU student, Read won the 1981-82 Morris Trophy as the nation’s outstanding collegiate sailor, became a three-time All-American, and was inducted into the BU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1990. Following graduation, he won a pair of J-24 World Championships, in 1985 and 1986, and was named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year.

BU Today caught up with Read on his Boston stopover, before he and his crew headed across the Atlantic. The next leg takes them on a short sprint from Galway to Marstrand, Sweden.

BU Today: What do you need to keep in mind before each leg of the race?
Our goal is to win each leg. We reevaluate every part — the boat, sails, crew — and then tweak what needs it.

The Atlantic leg is notoriously difficult. Any thoughts?
This whole corridor keeps you fighting. The shorter time makes for a little more pressure, a little less sleep. The first 24 hours or so are typically the hardest. No one wants to give an inch. It’s definitely challenging.

What was it like arriving in Boston, the race’s only North American stopover?
I was stunned at the outpouring of enthusiasm. I can’t believe how many nonsailors were interested. After all the events at Fan Pier, I couldn’t wait to go sailing again and catch up on my sleep.

What advice would you give to this year’s BU grads?
I’d say, if I can make it in the world, anyone can. I was a complete failure. I was actually driving through BU’s campus while I was in Boston, thinking that if I could do my four years there all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. BU taught me about life and sports and made my career happen. The sailing industry just sort of fell into my lap after I graduated.

Actually, I’d say find a niche in life, and never stop looking for that niche. This school has prepared you for the unexpected.

How would you describe your time at BU?
You could say I majored in sailing. I was recruited to sail, but I wanted to be a hockey player. I actually wanted to do both. But I was better at sailing.

Coach Skip Whyte got me to BU. He was a major influence, teaching and bringing the sailors together as a group. I can’t thank him enough.

Do you still manage to keep hockey in your life?
Heck, yeah. When I’m home in Newport, I play twice a week. I haven’t been home for eight months, though.

I got the chance to take Coach Jack Parker on the water in Boston. He got a little taste of what it’s like for us. But he said he’s not dumb enough to sail across the Atlantic. He was just a regular guy, having fun on the water. Even before he was the director of athletics, he was a huge ally of BU sailing. It’s amazing to think we may not have had a sailing program without the hockey coach.

Were you able to follow the hockey team in the NCAA tournament?
We were in the middle of the Southern Ocean, one of the nastiest places on Earth. There’s a red light on the bulkhead that goes off whenever an e-mail comes in, and my brother, Brad Read (CAS’86), kept sending us updates on the final game. I remember there was five minutes to go, and Brad sends a message: “It looks terrible.” So I went back to the race. Then the red light goes off again and Brad writes, “You’re not going to believe this.”

I’m thinking, it’s the best college hockey game ever, and we’re in the middle of the Southern Ocean, as far away from land as you can be on Earth. Amazing.

What’s it like being the skipper on a round-the-world race?
I thought sailing around the world was insane. One of the things I’ve done from the beginning of the race is to keep a deep bench in order to rotate the crew if they need it. Our team is solid, even if everyone has their moments. But having all these guys stuck in essentially a cave, soaking wet, in bitter cold and boiling hot conditions — heck yeah, there’s going to be conflict.

After sailing around the world since September 1, I’m used to it. But when the race is over, I’ll wonder, now what do I do? When we were in Boston, I got the chance to go home for a little while, and it wasn’t so bad — the cats still hate me and the dog still loves me.

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu.


One Comment on Around the World in 280 Days

  • kcornuelle on 06.04.2009 at 11:39 am

    saturday they head to sweden!

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