A Captain of the Sea, and a Master of Logistics
When Kris Matthews ’03 tells people that he’s a sailboat captain, a job that takes him around the world for racing competitions, they are a tad envious. “You’re the luckiest person alive,” they tell him. “You are living the dream.”
Captain Kris Matthews ’03, also pictured standing on the bow of his team’s boat, travels throughout the U.S. and Europe for races. Photos: Matthews, James Regal; Boat, Nico Martinez/©MartinezStudio
Yes, he admits, the sailing is great. It is as you would imagine: the ocean, the sun, the breeze. Some 60 days a year, he’s sailing as part of a 15-man crew aboard a custommade, 52-foot, $3 million boat that’s built to move fast, up to 28 knots, through the sea.
But while the sailing is exhilarating, Matthews’ job doesn’t end when he comes on land. In fact, it’s only beginning. As captain and project manager of the Interlodge Sailing Team, he must do whatever is needed to prepare the boat and crew for eight to 10 yearly racing events. That means a boatload, so to speak, of logistics. After hiring the crew, he must clothe, transport, house, and feed them. And the boat must be moved to events all around the U.S. and Europe. “It’s a job with a lot of responsibility,” Matthews says. “I need to have that boat ready. It’s a multimilliondollar investment of someone’s money. I’m the one responsible.”
Sailing has been a part of Matthews’ life since he was a boy. He grew up in Newport, R.I., a seaside city where many professional sailors live, and he first learned to sail on dinghies. In high school, he started working on big sailing boats. “You get in young,” he says. “You take any job they want you to do.” Those jobs included sweeping, washing, polishing, and, eventually, sailing on a boat as an extra hand. While at Babson, Matthews eschewed the usual route of internships and spent his summers sailing, working on boats, and “enjoying the sunshine.”
At the age of 23, Matthews caught a big break, the chance to captain a 45-foot sailing boat for an owner in Michigan. “You go from taking direction to being 100 percent in charge,” Matthews says. “I was confident I could do it.” When that owner retired from racing, Matthews moved on, hooking up with a pair of New York attorneys who wanted to start a racing team. Interlodge was born in 2007.
To be a boat captain is to live a life that isn’t quite settled. Matthews owns a house in Newport with his wife, who is also a member of the Interlodge crew, but he rarely sees it. In 2013, he estimates he was home only 90 days. That year’s racing itinerary took the team from Newport to Annapolis, Md., and then to Florida, Spain, and Italy. In between racing stops, he traveled. “It’s an opportunity to see the world,” he says.
Moving the team’s boat from race to race is an exercise in coordination. Four trucks are needed. One carries the boat itself (when in transit, the boat’s mast and keel are detached). Another truck moves a 35-foot powerboat that shadows the sailboat during competitions, and, once a race is over, provides food and parts for repairs. A coach is also onboard. As for the remaining two trucks, they contain a port-able office for Matthews and an array of tools and parts. Much like a NASCAR pit crew, the Interlodge team is ready to fix any problem the boat may incur. “We can rebuild it overnight if need be,” he says.
Beyond the boats and trucks, Matthews also must provide transportation for the 15-person crew and an additional five-person support staff, including the coach, sailmaker, chef, and two hires who handle the support boat.
A good half of the crew are veterans of America’s Cup teams, and that experience is needed. Sailing can be dangerous, Matthews says. Waves crash over the deck. Ropes break. Boats can even collide during a race. Matthews was once on a boat when the mast shattered, ripping a hole in the boat that caused it to take on water. “Keeping cool and calm is one of the most important things,” Matthews says. “[The crew] is an orchestra, and all 15 have to work hand in hand to make it all happen.”
Add it up, and running a sailing team is an expensive enterprise. Winners of races don’t even win prize money, only bragging rights. But for the Interlodge’s owners, racing a sailboat isn’t about money. “It’s about the thrill of winning,” Matthews says. “The balance sheet is never even.” —John Crawford