(1st June, 2011) - As we continue our series of interviews about rock-star sailors and parenting, we talk to Olympic and America's Cup veteran Rod Davis. To start with, we asked Rod to summarize his career: "This will be my 11th America's Cup. I started as a 21 year-old bowman, I did three as skipper or helmsman, four as coach (this next one will be the 5th as a coach), one as a mainsheet trimmer... I competed in four Olympic Games (Gold, Silver and two 5th placings) and was Head Coach for Denmark and New Zealand in two Games. I've done a ton of match racing, with a few Admiral's Cup and other things thrown in..." Simply put: extraordinary!
CLEVER PIG: How and when did you start sailing?
ROD DAVIS: My family had a 28-foot boat we used to sail from my earliest memories... I think I was around six years old. I first started racing in Key West, Florida, where my dad was stationed with the US Navy. I raced a Sunfish against the Navy officers on the base. I was good in light winds but really bad in a breeze. I was about half the weight of the officers. I guess I was 14 or so, just learning the very basics of sail boat racing. Not very advanced tactics when I started out: start on starboard and get to the top mark on starboard... (funny we still use that system in match racing!)
CP: How did you transition from a young aspiring sailor to a world-renowned top-level professional?
RD: I was two years into my Accounting degree, can you picture that? Me an accountant! Anyway, I decided I wanted to go sailing more than have a "real" job. So I left University and went to work for North Sails in Long Beach, California (my dad was not impressed...). I worked for North for ten years. My big break came from the Congressional Cup. I crewed for a few years, won a couple as a crew and then decided to try skippering. At my first attempt, we lost the cup in the last race. It was very disappointing after so much preparation to get it "right" the first time. The following year we won.
In my time at North Sails Seal Beach (1976-'85) I did three America's Cup campaigns and two Olympic campaigns. Remember back then you did not get paid for sailing, only for making sails. So I was always broke. The good thing was that AC programs were very short, one year or so. Olympic programs were a weekend deal, with weeklong regattas every so often. That is how you sailed "professionally" - by sail-making during the week and sailing on the weekends. Now things are different. But when you are 24 years old you don't have many expenses, so it worked. My sailing career was a bit backwards of the norm. I cut my teeth crewing on "big" boats in southern California. Well, we considered them big back then, 35 to 40-foot boats, mostly for offshore sailing. I did a little skippering on the side in Snipes and Lasers. I took to match racing and that transformed me from crew to skipper.
CP: Do you enjoy being involved in sailing as a parent?
RD: Funny, none of my kids sail competitively now. They can all sail, but racing boats has not really taken in a big way. They are all competitive in swimming or cycling but not sailing. Grant raced his Opti and was pretty good. Not thanks to me. I kind of left him to it. The last thing he needed in his development was his dad telling him what to do. I made him do it all himself. Rig, launch, measure, fill out entries, even what time he needed to leave the beach to get to the racecourse on time. To me that's how you learn, by doing it all yourself. Sure, mistakes are made, but he did come out of it much more switched on than if I did everything for him.
CP: How does your sailing expertise affect your kids' sailing?
RD: Tough love, I guess. But I believe with kids it is about teaching them bigger lessons than just sailing - lessons that will help them through all their lives. If you cut corners for short-term gains or wins, you just cheat them in the long run. Like I said, it is not about the sailing: when it comes to teaching, the lessons are much bigger than that.
That is the same way I coach, be it Dean Barker or an Opti sailor; I want to teach more than just how to win at sailing. We owe it to our students, kids or fellow sailors to share all the knowledge and make them better - even if we are not there to advise at that moment.
CP: What advice would you give to all the young sailors who are at the beginning of their careers? And what advice would you give to parents of young sailors?
RD: Expect to be at the bottom of the "pecking order" for a long time, learn to love it, because when you finally make it to the top, you will be much better than the other guys that did not pay their dues properly. The sailing career has almost gone full circle. If you don't want/need money then there is more sailing work than you can handle. It will take time, and a few breaks, to get to the point where you can make a profit.
CP: What projects are you working on and what's in your future?
RD: The biggest project I have is learning along with Team New Zealand how to sail and get catamarans with wings to perform in the next America's Cup. That is a big challenge as TNZ was, arguably, the best monohull team in the world, now we have to do that in cats. I am doing some coaching with the RC-44s and starting to take on more speaking engagements about coaching. I am still planning to do a bit more sailing for myself. You never know, maybe I will start all over again from the beginning and do a second lap! I love it!
You can also find Rod's interview on the Clever Pig website at http://www.cleverpig.org/resnews.php