Interview / Sailing News

Shoreline Interview: Dave Dellenbaugh, creator of Speed & Smarts

Kyle_Dave Dellenbaugh

I met up with Dave at the 60th Sunfish Anniversary Celebration.

July 15, 2013
In sailboat racing, a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money is expended in the pursuit of speed. At Shoreline Sailboats we highly recommend Dave Dellenbaugh’s  Speed & Smarts as the most cost effective way to improve your results on the race course. The newsletter covers in great detail every aspect of sailboat racing, and we cannot say enough about how much we like it, and how much we have learned from it.

We recently caught up with Dave, and had an opportunity to chat with him about the beginning of his publication.

SS: Dave, thanks for taking the time to talk with me, I really appreciate it. As you know, I’ve been a subscriber to Speed & Smarts since I met you at Sail Expo  ’94 and really love your publication.

In ’94, when you first struck out to create Speed & Smarts, what was the impetus?

DD: I worked as an editor for Sailing World for four plus years, and then when I left there, and I went on to work at North Sails and I kept doing a column in Sailing World. At North I did a lot of things. I was very involved in the North U programming, the Fast Course and Smart Course books, and we started a new Cruising and One Design course. I really got into writing about sailing topics. At the same time I had some successful sailing and it seemed to evolve that way.

SS: When was the moment that you decided that you were going to create something new – Speed & Smarts?

DD: I think it was after the ’92 Cup, which we won. That ended in the summer of ’92. Then in ’93, I was America3still working for North, and I was thinking – I have this idea, there’s no other product like this that exists. Wouldn’t it be cool to write the stuff, and do my own thing? I began thinking of it after the America’s Cup, and if there was a time I was going to do it, it was then. I had lots of ideas for articles, and maybe some name recognition and people would actually read it. So, I sort of did it. The thing that made it possible was that Bill Koch was heading the women’s team, and I made a deal with him to hire me as a coach part-time. Getting that money meant I could quit my job and get started on my idea. My kids were young when I started doing this. I worked at home and ended up being at home the whole time while my kids were in school – which I was happy about.  

SS: One of the things I like about Speed & Smarts is that it doesn’t have ads.  There is no filler. It’s all good, useful information. Was there ever a sense that you would move toward an advertising model?  

DD: I am glad you like that. I always considered it, but I also was hoping that a lot of people, like you, would appreciate having no ads.  For one thing, I was hopeful that the benefits might outweigh the cost of not doing it. I like the way Practical Sailor does it. I like the idea of being able to write something and not have any question of being influenced by the advertising.  And, I guess finally, I am not really a salesperson, I didn’t really want to get into the whole thing of selling space. So, I just never did that.  Once I started promoting it with no advertising, it kind of kept going and it seemed like people liked that. I had considered the possibility of a publication sponsor where there might be a title sponsor on the front page, but that would be it. But, I haven’t done that.

SS: In the early years did it take off, or was there a moment when you were thinking I am not going to get enough subscribers to make this worth my while?

DD: It did kind of take off pretty soon, I think. I went to that Atlantic City boat show, and I think that was almost the first thing that I did. Then, soon after that, I started doing mailings. I got maybe 75 or 100 people from the boat show, which is actually pretty good for a boat show. Boat shows are not what they used to be. Last year, I went to Newport and Annapolis, which I hadn’t been to in many, many years. There are just no racing people going through those shows. There’s not none, but there’s very few. My audience is all racing people, and I think Sail Expo was largely racing, which was good. Once I started doing the mailings it seemed like a lot of people were interested.

SS: And now you are 125 issues in. It is probably amazing to think back at all the work that you have put in to this. Do you still do all the writing?

DD: I do all the writing.

SS: That’s fantastic.

DD: I interview people, but I want it to be my opinion on things. I like doing the interviews and hearingSpeed & Smarts Cover other people’s point of view, but those things are out there in other places. I didn’t want to farm out things for other people to write.  Partly because I do all of the layout, too. I think it’s a cool process because I do the writing, the layout, the artwork, and everything all sort of as one.  I think that comes as a result of my days at Sailing World where I was an editor. We wrote the story on a typewriter, or on a computer, and then gave it to the art director and they started to try to fit it here and there. We didn’t really have that much say in the art that was in there. And, the art director couldn’t edit the story.  So it was really two totally separate things coming together, which didn’t seem to make sense. So, I try to do it all together, and that works well.

SS: It sounds like a lot of work. Is it basically a full-time job?

DD: Yeah, but it doesn’t take my full-time. Producing the newsletter doesn’t take my full time, there are a lot of other things, obviously, that are involved that take more of my time. I still have time to do things, like go sailing, and do other things.

SS: You get to get out and race and meet people that are your subscribers, what kind of responses do you get about Speed & Smarts when you’re sailing at different venues?

DD: Mostly it’s people tell me that love it, or that they’ve subscribed for a long time and they love it, which is good because just sitting in the office you don’t get a ton of that feedback. You get occasional feedback, which is good, but people generally write if there’s a problem, which there aren’t that many of, thank goodness. When you’re talking to people and they tell you that they like it that is good, because as you say, it’s a lot of work. So, it’s nice to know that it is worthwhile to people.

SS: And when you’re sailing do you ever come to a moment and you think – I should remember this because this would be something good to write about?

DD: Oh, yeah, all the time. And, I know you have probably noticed that I have done a couple of issues in the last three years or so, about regattas that I have sailed in. One was the Thistle article and the other one was on the Lightning last year. It was kind of cool. I hadn’t ever done that before, and it seemed like an interesting way approach different subjects.

SS: They were fantastic. I really enjoyed them.

DD: Thank you.  I am doing some PHRF racing this summer, so I am going to do something like that on PHRF racing, maybe not specifically with the races I’m doing, but more general.

SS: The majority of my racing is PHRF, so I’m looking forward to that. Is there anything else that is on the horizon?

DD: It’s sort of an organic process for subjects. Obviously, I repeat certain things over time. For example, right now I haven’t done an issue on starting in probably six or eight years. I have done a lot of starting issues in the last 14 years or 18 years, but not so much recently. I don’t have a great handle on how many of my subscribers are new, but probably enough so that I try to at some point go back to that and look at old issues and think of what I wrote about then how I could do them in a new way, or an updated way, or a different way because I think people learn in different ways.

SS:  There was a recent issue you had where you approached the same topic in a couple different ways and I found that really helpful, and I think that was great.  By the way, if you do an issue on starting, my crew would really appreciate that.  (SS laughs)  That would be great. I think they would really like it if I read that. (DD laughs)

Sometimes sailors like to think that they have tricks up their sleeves that nobody knows about. Do you ever feel it is hard to reveal stuff, or do you feel more like – if I figure something out I want to share it.  Or, is there ever a moment when you think this is too good to share?

DD: I get more of a thrill out of figuring out something that would be really good to share, and sharing it. Rather than keeping it, I guess. The things that I share; what are the odds that somebody is going to use it against me and make that much of a difference? Or if it does, who cares? (SS laughs) It’s more interesting or exciting to figure out the little things I can share.

SS: I was hoping you were going to say that. I was really hoping you weren’t holding out on us.  (SS & DD laugh)

DD: You’re right. I don’t think of anything and keep it as a secret. I wish I did have a lot of things, and then I could use those things to write about. I do occasionally get ideas from other people, like in the last issue there was an idea. The idea about using the mainsail position to judge boats’ positions downwind. It’s something I sort of thought about before, but not really in an organized way. A friend of mine, Paul Murphy, was talking to me about it at the boat show in Annapolis last fall. He said, “You should put it in, this is a really good idea. I use it all the time.” I thought, yeah that’s pretty cool. You know, that’s one way to look at it. Someone might not like it, but it might work really well for someone else.

SS: What are things outside of Speed & Smarts that keep you busy?

DD: I do some coaching.  I do some match race coaching, some youth sailing coaching, and some other varieties of stuff. I did a lot the last two years as I was coaching for the Olympics.

SS: Dave, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t ask… As a past America’s Cup competitor, what is your opinion of the current Cup?

DD: Well, I am not a multihull racer. For me, I like classic match racing, and I am not convinced that there is going to be much match racing in this event.  You know, the danger aspect of it… If people are willing to do it, that’s their choice. I do think it’s quite exciting to watch, but I don’t think the boats are that close. I’m not convinced that either there is going to be good match racing, or that the boats aren’t going to break down, and there is actually going to be racing. So, I guess I was not in favor of having it go like that. I did watch the AC 45 Series in San Francisco one time last year online, and I thought it was quite interesting. It was mostly fleet racing with the boundaries. The way they did it on TV, I thought that was kind of cool.

SS:  I actually have a race tonight.  Do you have any free advice?  (SS laughs)

DD:  Get a good start sounds like good advice.  (DD & SS laugh)

SS:  Dave, thank you very much for your time.  I really appreciate it.  I am looking forward to reading your next issue.



David Dellenbaugh is the publisher, editor and author of Speed & Smarts racing newsletter. He was the tactician and starting helmsman on America3 during her successful defense of the America’s Cup in 1992 and sailed in three other America’s Cup campaigns from 1986 to 2007. David is also a Lightning world champion, two-time Congressional Cup winner, seven-time Thistle national champion, two-time winner of the Canada’s Cup, two-time Prince of Wales U.S. match racing champion and past winner of the U.S. team racing championships for the Hinman Trophy.

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