G Force

Setting sail for thrills

Billy Black


Mike Dreese


The cofounder and CEO of Newbury Comics will pilot his 40-foot racing yacht, Toothface, in the 2012 Atlantic Cup race, beginning May 11, joined by crewmate Ken Luczynski. The three-leg race (Charleston, S.C., to New York, to Newport, R.I.) ends May 27. Thirteen teams, including ones from France, England, and Germany, are entered. As the first carbon-neutral sailboat race in the United States, this year’s Atlantic Cup requires teams to charge their batteries using alternative fuel sources (solar, hydro), eschew plastic water bottles, recycle waste products, and take other ecofriendly steps while competing for $30,000 in prize money.

Q. How long have you been sailing competitively?


A. I took it up seriously six years ago, when a group of us bought Shout, a sailboat that races on Boston Harbor every Wednesday. During a Marblehead-to-Halifax race, I decided to get a double-handed, technical ocean-racing boat.

Get The Weekender in your inbox:
The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Q. You mean a boat that two people can race?

A. Right. I’d also sailed with a group from Antarctica to Chile, which really got me into that type of adventuring. I used to do a lot of mountaineering, and expedition sailing is similar. You’re among a small group of people who are self-reliant, risk-taking — and whose lives depend on each other.

Q. Have you encountered any unusually hairy moments at sea?

A. When I first got Toothface, I raced it to Bermuda by myself. On the way back, with another crewman on board, we hit some of the worst storms in two decades. For about 30 hours, you could not reasonably go up on deck. All our man-overboard gear was torn away. The boat ran on autopilot while the winds blew 25 to 40 miles per hour for 36 hours and the waves built to very large size. The middle of that storm was my scariest moment.


Q. Sounds terrifying. What’s the allure for you, then?

A. Part of what I love about sailing is, I sit at a desk all day, staring at computers, dealing with lawyers and accountants, having HR issues. On the open ocean, your life’s at risk — and you’ve put yourself there. There’s nobody else to blame or push around. If you’re having an equipment problem, it’s because you chose it. When you’re cocooned in a high-pressure job like mine, it’s very liberating to be out at sea by yourself for three days.

Q. What does a boat like Toothface cost to build?

A. Without equipment, about $300,000. We put another $100,000 into it. It’s expensive, but it’s also a racing machine, not something you have wine and cheese on the back of. There’s nothing on it that’s not there to help you race.

Q. How often do you race it?


A. Usually about five significant races per year. Boston doesn’t really have a traditional yachting scene, like Marblehead or Newport does. Class 40 racing isn’t about that, anyway. A lot of these guys are French or German. They’re rebel types who don’t wear blue blazers or have cannon salutes at sunset. They’re more Extreme Sports types. This is racing sailing, not yachting sailing.

‘When you’re cocooned in a high-pressure job like mine, it’s very liberating to be out at sea by yourself for three days.’

Q. Where is Toothface berthed?

A. Normally right next to the USS Constitution, in Charlestown. Great spot, actually.

Q. Talk about the race’s carbon-neutral feature.

A. This really started with the French. Because we’re out on the open ocean a lot, distance racers like myself have more respect for the ocean in general, I think. We feel close to it. I have solar panels on Toothface, so when we dock, we don’t plug in anywhere to recharge generators. We probably use half the diesel fuel that other boats use in the open ocean. On a 25-day trans-Atlantic race, you don’t want to be carrying all that diesel fuel anyway. It’s like mountaineering: Everything must be compact and lightweight and efficient. Being green in general is efficient for racing purposes.

Q. Has competitive sailing become a growing part of your life?

A. More like overwhelming it. In the next two months, I’ll spend 32 days on the water. That’s a big commitment for a company executive. I have three things in my life: family, work, and not-for-profit volunteer time. Put it this way: I don’t have a lot of other hobbies.
Joseph P. Kahn

Interview was condensed and edited. Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at