An Interview with Kerry Poe

By Andrew Kerr

Kerry Poe and his wife Amy run the North sails loft in Portland, Oregon. When they are not making sails, they are sailing in a wide variety of one design classes ranging from Cal 20’s, 505’s, Thistles, Lasers, J24’s to name just a few. Kerry sailed in the Santana 20 class for a number of years with Keith Hammer and Kent Sisk and his boat, currently under new ownership, is part of Eugene’s fleet 19.

Kerry is a multiple champion in a wide variety of classes; he was 3rd in the Olympic trials in the 470 after a very successful campaign in that tough class. When you watch him sail, the first thought that comes to mind is what a total natural sailor he is - comfortable in any boat he sails on. Just give him the tiller extension and the mainsheet and the rest all falls in to place. He can make any boat go fast from the get go.

Any person who has met Kerry will tell you how approachable and helpful he is to anyone who has a question about their sailing. He is an enormous resource of information on everything from tuning, to sail shape and design and all aspects in between. In addition to sail making and servicing customers sails needs, Kerry also helps run the events of the Columbia Gorge Racing Association. The Santana 20 class association is very pleased to have him as our principal race officer for the National Championships – to be held at Cascade Locks August 8th to the 12th.

Andrew Kerr sat down with Kerry to find out more about his sailing, plans for the future and the Cascade Locks venue.

AK: How long have you been sailing and what got you started?

KP: I have been sailing for over 25 years. When I was a kid, I had a paper route and there was a picture of a sailboat in the paper. I clipped the picture out and tacked it to my peg board and decided I wanted to buy a sailboat. I went to the Portland Boat Show with my parents and looked at all kinds of crazy sailboats. I decided I wanted the plastic catamaran with colored sails that you could motor or row. It was the all in one boat that I thought was perfect for a boy of 13 years of age looking for a cool ride to get the chicks out on. Fortunately, one of my mother’s co-workers steered me down the right path and I purchased a Sunfish and started racing at Willamette Sailing Club. The first time I set foot on a sailboat was on my own Sunfish. Good thing I liked it!

AK: What was it like sailing in the 470 and campaigning to go to the Olympics?

KP: A great life experience. I think I can honestly say I got more out of campaigning for the Olympics than I did from college. When I was growing up in Portland we did not have a very good junior program or coaching available. I learned how to be very disciplined in coaching myself and then eventually working with US Sailing Team coaches. I learned how to organize a campaign and fundraise. We were the first US boat to display corporate sponsorship, thanks to Full Sail Ales. I also had the opportunity to travel to many different parts of the World and meet people from many different countries.

AK: You sail in a multitude of one design classes, do you have a favorite class or is each one a different challenge?

KP: I actually enjoy sailing in all different kinds of boats. I think that the diversity of boats is what makes sailing so interesting. The Lido 14 is not a very exciting boat, but when everybody is going around the course slow together in a tight group it makes for some great tactical racing. On the other end of the boating spectrum is the 505. With its carbon hulls, high aspect foils and strings to adjust everything from the mast bend to the trapeze twings (to keep the mast up when going downwind), the 505 is a tweaker’s dream boat. Santana 20s pretty much go the same speed around the course so the racing is tight; however you have to depend on crew work more with a crew of three and you have to make sure you keep your foredeck crew on the boat.

AK: Tell us about the Columbia Gorge Racing Association and your involvement with it. I know you have long been a proponent of sailing on the Columbia River and in the Portland area - how are sailing progressing in this area and how do you see the future of sailing in the area shaping up?

KP: In the 80’s I use to practice at Hood River with my friends. We would take turns trashing each other’s boats in the big breeze of Hood River. We had a great time and greatly improved our breeze sailing, but Hood River has some pretty extreme breeze and you have to dodge a lot of sailboards. When I won the 470 Pacific Coast Championships in 1996, I also won the opportunity to host the next year’s PCC’s. I knew I wanted to have the regatta in the Gorge, and eventually settled on Cascade Locks. The great breeze, the sailboat accessibility and the width of the river there made for a great regatta and a great sailing venue. As the word got out, more fleets kept calling to have me run races for them so I founded the Columbia Gorge Racing Association as a non-profit organization to help organize regattas and clinics. CGRA has been working with the Port of Cascade Locks and the community to hopefully, one day, build a world-class sailing facility in Cascade Locks. We currently run our events off of a beach, some docks and a parking lot. The marine park we operate out of is beautiful, but we do not have room to expand and keep up with the increasing demand.

AK: How about the Cascade Locks venue- what can a team expect conditions wise do you think?

KP: The average wind speed is 17 knots. It is rare to get above 25. I would expect most of the racing to be between 12-20 knots. The water will be warm so you may find yourself sailing in shorts and a spray top. Depending on where we put the course you will find fairly flat water to short waves. Of course you will be sailing in freshwater with maybe a ½ to 1 knot of current. The wind conditions are such that there is not one side of the course that is always favored, so it keeps the racing interesting. The breeze usually starts light in the morning and builds until 2:00 PM when it reaches its peak velocity. After about 4:00 PM the wind velocity begins to subside. Depending on how the fleet is handling the breeze and how strong the wind is building, we may go out for one race in the lighter breeze and take a long lunch break and go back out for a later race when the wind dies down again.

AK: Any advice to a team that is sailing at Cascade Locks for the first time?

KP: Come early and practice in the breeze. I had a San Diego Melges 24 sailor come early to a regatta and he said it was the best thing they could have done, since they spent the first day just ogling over the scenery. Once they got that out of the way they could actually concentrate on the sailing. I would check your rigging. Make sure your tiller does not have dry rot and every thing on the boat works well.

AK: How does your summer schedule look? I am guessing it’s booked! Tell us about the highlights on the calendar for you.

KP: Yes, this is a busy summer for the CGRA. Besides the S-20 Nationals, we also had some college regattas, the Laser and Laser Radial PCC’s, International 14 North Americans, 49er and 29er North Americans, A-Class US Nationals, Santa Cruz 27 Nationals and Wind Youth Clinic.

AK: Thank you Kerry.