Interview by Charles Milby
Dave Perry grew up sailing on Long Island Sound at the Pequot Yacht Club. If you’re familiar with this part of the country then you know they have some great sailing clubs. Larchmont Yacht Club and Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club are just a couple of places people gather to race sailboats on the weekends all summer long. In this competitive environment Dave Perry honed his sailing skills and got the reputation as a darn good junior sailor. His next stop was Yale University where he was an All American for two years, 1975 and 1977.
After college Dave kept up his now famous working and racing schedule. He is a five time U.S. Matching Racing Champion, and two time Congressional Cup winner. In 1992 Dave was voted into the Sailing World Hall of Fame. He doesn’t seem be slowing down at all unless he is setting a mark trap for you, so be ready.
Dave is a husband, author, and a good teacher. He wrote the North U Rules and Tactics Seminar Workbook, Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing through 2016, and Winning in One Designs, which I just finished and highly recommend.
Dave, along with his wife Betsy, recently made a trip to Texas to run a team racing seminar at the Texas Corinthian Yacht Club. They both were so friendly and fun that we hated to see them go. If Gary Jobson is the heart and voice of US Sailing then Dave is the soul of US Sailing. He has that unique ability to break down complicated sailing rules into a language that the rest of us can understand. Dave is busy these days and hard to pin down but he was kind enough to answer a few questions on the sport of competitive sailing, we hope you like them.
Where did you grow up and how did you get started racing sailboats?
I grew up in Southport, Conn., where sailing and racing is very popular. My dad was a big sailor, and I was heavily involved with the Pequot Yacht Club junior program.
I know you’re a big fan of Buddy Melges; who else was a big influence on your early sailing career?
As a kid it was my Dad and my sailing instructors. In college I became aware of Paul Elvstrom, whose books I love. And then my sailing peers were big influences, such as Peter Isler and Peter Commette.
You’re a big man; You must have played a lot of sports growing up. What was it about racing sailboats that turned you on?
I love sailing. I love being on the water. I love the challenge and feel of making a boat go fast. I love games, and sailboat racing combines my love of sailing and my love of games.
I really enjoyed attending the Team Race seminar you did at the Texas Corinthian Yacht Club. While you were lecturing you mentioned the 3 P’s, what are they and why are they important in racing sailboats?
Patience – Frustration shuts down the objective thinking in our brain. Frustration and blame are unpleasant emotions to be around in others. It takes a long time to prepare a feast. Sailing is difficult, and there are many variables, many of which are out of our control. You need to be able to stay objective and focused despite distractions and set-backs.
Perseverance – Hang in there….races are long, series are long, it’s a sport for a lifetime.
Positive – It is just better and more pleasant to be positive, and to be around – and do things with – people who are positive.
The US Olympic sailing team will be heading off to Brazil soon. How do you like our teams chances of winning a few medals?
I like them. We have some strong 470 teams (men and women), and some strong singlehanded sailors (Laser men and women, and Finn). We also have some strong 49er and Nacra teams. It will be exciting to see if they can put together the regattas of their lives.
Why is it so hard to stay focused when you’re driving a sailboat in a race and how do you accomplish it?
I don’t think it’s hard at all. I think some drivers lose their focus because they try to tell everyone on the boat how to do their job. I try to sail with people who know how to do their job. Some get distracted by adversities (wrong side of the beat, etc.). I try to pass boats wherever I am in the race…for the fun of it.
What do you do with a drunken sailor?
I can’t remember…