The Marina del Rey sailing scene is rife with talented sailors and has seen many a world-class talent within its ranks throughout the course of a relatively short history.
World champions and Olympic medalists, record holding circumnavigators and collegiate champions have all inhabited Los Angeles’ thriving yachting neighborhood and managed the fickle winds of the Santa Monica Bay.
Recently, one of the more accomplished of these sailors came back to this area, where he once lived, and gave a seminar on advanced racing tactics. Peter Isler knows something about advanced tactics, considering his incredible sailing resume.
He is a two-time America’s Cup winner (navigator with Stars and Stripes in 1987-88), and five-time participant. To name just a few of his on-the-water accomplishments, Isler was Intercollegiate Sailor of the Year, a Transpac winner, and a two-time Maxi Class world champion. Off the water, Isler has worked as an ESPN broadcaster, a roving editor for Sailing World magazine, a coach of the U.S. Olympic sailing team, a founding member of the American Sailing Association and author of a new book, “Peter Isler’s Little Blue Book of Sailing Secrets.”
I caught up with him to get his thoughts on the state of sailing/racing today:
The Argonaut: When it comes to local club racing, how’s the future look from where you sit?
Isler: My opinion has always been that [club racing] is certainly a foundation of sailboat racing and the way to keep it healthy is to emphasize the social aspects of the sport. I think the reason people get into sailing and stay in sailing is more than just getting out on the water, being one with nature and doing all the fun things on the boat – it’s also the people.
Part of the changes in sailing are due to the changes in our society and how people choose to allot their free time. In my mind, I think part of it is that there’s been more separation within youth sailing and adult sailing – meaning there’s fewer times when the kids and adults sail with each other and against each other. Something in my gut says that’s not a good thing.
The Argonaut: Do you think the type of boat kids sail is important to keeping them hooked?
Isler: I’m not sure what the ultimate entry-level boat is but I don’t think it really matters. Bic verses sabot may be less important than the next level up where kids know how to trim a sail and move their weight around from whatever they learned on. When they move on they’ll get on a boat that challenges them.
That said, the problem with the lighter weight high performance boats is that there aren’t a lot of adults sailing them. So when they go to a midwinters, or nationals or weekend regatta, it’s all kids without adults competing. It’s good to have the opportunity to learn and socialize with a broader base.
The Argonaut: What about the drop-off of kids as they get older. Do you think sailing is losing more troops these days?
Isler: There was always the challenge of the drop-off of kids as they hit their later teens. They’re getting pulled in a lot of different directions and certainly the directions they’re getting pulled are different now than 30 years ago. So, if more kids get pulled away, does that mean sailing or youth sailing has somehow failed or is it just a change in society and it would happen anyway? It’s a complicated question.
The Argonaut: What other components do you think are important for sailboat racing to thrive?
Isler: I think it’s important to feel like you have a chance. If you’re a competitive person and you go out and get pounded all the time, then realize you have to spend way way way more time and money to win in this thing – a lot of people are going to go away.
The Argonaut: So, one design racing is a good thing?
Isler: One design is a great thing.
The Argonaut: Do you feel responsibility, as a person prominent in the sport, to promote and protect sailing or do you prefer to allow things to take their own course?
Isler: I’ve always felt the compulsion to share my joy of sailing with anyone who wants to listen. I’m very interested in the health of the sport and keeping kids and everyone else in it because the sport’s been so good to me.
The Argonaut: What about your new book?
Isler: Yeah, I’m really proud of it – it’s called “Peter Isler’s Little Blue Book of Sailing Secrets.” It’s designed after a very popular golfing book called “Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book,” which was sort of a cult classic written in the 60s that’s on almost every golfer’s shelf. It’s an easy read with a lot of short stories and tips – easy for a golfer or a non-golfer to read and get a taste of what the sport’s about. My book was modeled in the same way. I worked hard on it and got some of my friends like John Bertrand, Jonathan McKee and Ben Ainslie to contribute chapters.
“Peter Isler’s Little Blue Book of Sailing Secrets” is published by Wiley and available on Amazon, West Marine and at most book stores.