COURTESY PHOTO |Racing champion David Kriegel at the helm of Easterly.
The fall is here, the boats are out of the water and the Race Committee has headed home.
It was a fantastic sailing season, lots of good races ending with a very challenging Whitebread. Reading the race results over the summer and into the fall, seemed to show one consistent pattern. Regardless if the airs were light or heavy, David Kriegel’s Easterly was always viewed from the stern. I recently sat down with David to ask him how he managed to accomplish this feat.
How did you win ELIYA’S, Poor, Heatherton, SIYC 125th anniversary race and PBSA’s Whitebread in your division?
It seems that after 17 years of racing Easterly we’ve finally got the boat going well. It’s a combination of a lot of factors, but the biggest is having a dedicated, exceptionally talented core crew willing to dedicate time to racing. Their management of sail handling and trim enables me to focus on driving the boat fast, and their experience in tactics mean I have very few distractions. Key among the crew are my friends in the Etchells fleet, including Donald Shillingburg and my son Malcom, a very successful laser sailor in his own right. We all have a good knowledge of local conditions; an understanding of wind and current around Shelter Island takes a long time to acquire. Mark Twain described having to memorize every ever-changing snag and bend of the river in “Life on the Mississippi” — it’s not that different.
The boat, designed by two geniuses of yacht design, Rod and Olin Stephens, and built by Seth Persson in Old Saybook, of course plays a huge part. This is the same design and construction team that produced Finisterre, and I don’t think there is any higher pedigree in yacht design and construction.
How many years have you been sailing and how many racing?
I started sailing as a 10-year-old on Cape Cod, where my parents, neither of whom knew a thing about boats, inexplicably sent me to sailing camp. In my 20’s I raced quite a bit out of East Hampton with a very salty old fellow named Bob Skemp, an ex-Atlantic class sailor. My real sailing education though, came when I first sailed on Easterly in 1983, then named The Bride of Gastonia. The boat had a full time captain who still is a good friend, and following a delivery from Maine, I helped sail down to Tortola. First leg was 3 1/2 rollicking, wet days to Bermuda, and it was my first taste of sailing offshore. I did six more deliveries to and from the West Indies on the owner’s next boat named Hound, a 57’ Aage Neilson-designed masterpiece.
How many boats have you had in those years?
My first boat was an old wooden Lightning from the 50’s, followed by an even older catboat that couldn’t get out of its own way; next was the lovely Aage Nelison yawl Nutmeg, followed by Easterly.
Tell us about your preparations for these races.
In terms of long term preparation, the boat has been structurally upgraded over the years. She was used hard and was cruised from the West Indies to Greenland. Recently we have been improving sail handling gear, largely with the input of those on the foredeck. Pre-race preparations are typical: clean the bottom, tune the rig, check weather and make sandwiches on rye bread.
Tell us how you turned her into a winning race boat.
It’s funny, Easterly is unique around here, but when we sail in the Eggemoggin Reach regatta, we’re just another wooden boat.
What other races do you sail in?
We’ve done the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta for the last two years up in Maine — a tradition I hope to continue. That’s certainly a race where local knowledge is key, but we’ve been observant and managed to do O.K. We participated in the NYYC race week up in Newport a few years ago — very tough competition up there, and of course do the Greenport Classic Yacht Regatta, which sadly was canceled this year due to lack of entries. I have no idea where everyone went.
What do you enjoy about racing in Shelter Island waters, any negatives?
The only negative about racing here is that Easterly is a boat designed to cross oceans in a cruising mode, and we are often racing against boats designed for more in-shore sailing or race-specific designs. The ratings don’t always accommodate the huge variations. In the Whitebread, due to the sheer number of boats, they managed to get the class distribution equitable.
What is the upkeep on a vintage boat like? Do you do the work yourself utilizing your engineering skills?
The boat is a good shape, so much of the maintenance is no different than on a fiberglass boat: bottom paint, systems, rig. Of course, there is an acre of varnish to contend with, but I enjoy it. It is like putting a Steinway out on the front lawn and it’s a testament to the builder that she’s held up so well for 52 years. We have had to do repairs far above my skill level, but there is such a great pool of talent both locally and in Maine that it’s been possible. A fortunate aspect of wooden boats is that they were designed to be taken apart and repaired.
Would you ever consider a hot race boat like a Swan 42 or one of the J boats?
I would not. One, I couldn’t afford it, and two, my heart simply doesn’t leap at the sight of most modern boats. I have tremendous respect for the engineering involved and am constantly impressed at how the art of naval architecture advances, but stretching out in a plastic cockpit with a rum after a long passage just doesn’t do much for me. How many people want to live in plastic houses? Anyway, when you get offshore it’s comforting to have a piece of wood close by to remind you of land.
It’s worth noting that six of the architects in the area, all of whom are involved in designing modern buildings, all sail old wooden boats. I’m not the only one to have noticed that these old boats can be really fast.
Thank you, David. I’ll see you on the water next year. Hopefully from not so far behind.