The Life with Henry Strauss - Sail Magazine

The Life with Henry Strauss

Henry “Hank” Strauss, still tack-sharp at 97, had to give up sailing solo a few years back but still regularly gets out on San Francisco Bay with friends. His lifetime in sailing spans the evolution of cruising under sail as we know it.
Author:
Publish date:
hank&joanstrauss

Henry “Hank” Strauss, still tack-sharp at 97, had to give up sailing solo a few years back but still regularly gets out on San Francisco Bay with friends. His lifetime in sailing spans the evolution of cruising under sail as we know it. 

Strauss built his first boat when he was 13 and later designed his first cruiser, based on a Lightning. In 1939 he took his wife, Joan (who passed away last year), on their honeymoon aboard this tidy boat. From there his love of cruising took him on 14 voyages from Connecticut to Grenada in the 1970s and ‘80s, along with countless cruises to Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. He took part in many distance races, transatlantic passages and adventure cruises aboard his McCurdy & Rhodes-designed Swiftsure 33 and later in his Whitby 42. 

What was it like to navigate offshore without electronics?

We used to sail from Morehead City, North Carolina, to Antigua, a 10- to 12-day trip. About 30 miles before you reach Antigua, you pass Barbuda, which has an elevation of roughly three feet. We always seemed to pass Barbuda at night, and it always felt good when Antigua appeared on the horizon. 

There were no navigation aids in the Caribbean back then. We did everything by lining up palm trees with points on land to dodge reefs. This was cruising using techniques that went back to the turn of the century! GPS removed the moments of terror, but it also removed the feeling of accomplishment. My concern about electronic navigation is that it allows people to sail without as much concern for safety.

What do you remember about the evolution from wood to fiberglass hulls?

Fiberglass represented a bigger change than modern electronics. Spring commissioning became much faster, and you didn’t need to know as much to go sailing. It made cruising easier, and it allowed people to learn the important things without the dangers.

What sold me was an early trip up to Grand Manan Island in the Swiftsure 33. We hit a pole going 5 knots. With a wooden boat it would have sprung planks, but with our thick fiberglass hull it just left a scuff. 

But people sometimes refused to let us tie up alongside, because they didn’t want the glass to rub off on their topsides! 

Have you seen any negative changes in the way people cruise?

E-mail and the ability to talk to the office while you’re offshore: this eliminates the sense of detachment. The inability to get away from your life on land is a great loss. But it’s wonderful for safety. 

You’ve sailed your whole life—what’s your secret?

When I was in my 40s, I used to wonder how long I could sail offshore. Then I met Frank Casper, who singlehanded a 35-footer to Grenada when he was 70. I heard that he had sailed there from Florida, and I was impressed. Later, I learned he was completing a singlehanded circumnavigation. We became good friends, and I asked him about sailing when I got older. He explained that you have to slow down so you don’t get into trouble. He taught me skills that allowed me to bring the boat back from Grenada when I was in my 80s, and to cruise to Maine in my 90s.

Related

daviscards

Davis Instruments: Quick Reference Cards

CHECK THESEIf you’re sailing with new crew this summer or your kids have suddenly and inexplicably started to look up from their phones and take an interest in the finer points of cruising, these Quick Reference Cards from Davis are a great way to further their boating education. ...read more

01-rbir18-596

Another Epic Round Britain Race

There are basically two kinds of offshore sailboat races out there: those that take place annually, like the Fastnet and Chicago-to-Mackinac races; and those that take place every other year, like the Transpac and Newport-Bermuda race, in part so the competitors have sufficient ...read more

01b_WALKING-KEDGE-OUT-cmykpromo

Getting More Use From Kedge Anchors

If you are cruising, you need at least two anchors on board for the simple reason that you must have a backup. Imagine having to slip your anchor on a stormy night with other boats dragging down on yours, or having your rope rode severed by some unseen underwater obstacle, ...read more

SailAwayCharter

How-to: Navigating on a Bareboat Charter

So you graduated from navigation class where you practiced dead reckoning, doubling the angle on the bow and maybe even celestial nav, and you now feel well prepared for your first charter trip. Well, you won’t be doing any of that on vacation—not past the first day, anyway.Most ...read more

04-Turtle-rescue

Turtle Rescue in the Vic-Maui

Strange and often wonderful things can happen in the course of an offshore sailboat race, and one of the strangest and most wonderful things we’ve heard of recently took place during the 2,300-mile 2018 Vic-Maui race, from Victoria, British Columbia, to Lahaina, Hawaii.It ...read more

dorcap-open-blue

ATN Inc: Dorcap

COOL SLEEPYou’re fast asleep in a snug anchorage, forehatch open to catch the breeze, when you’re rudely awakened by a sneaky rain squall. Now you’re not only awake and wet, you’re sweltering with the hatch closed. Sucks, right? That’s why ATN came up with the Dorcap, an ...read more

HIGH-RES-29312-Tahiti-GSP

Ask Sail: Who has the right-of-way

WHO HAS RIGHT-OF-WAY?Q: I sail in Narragansett Bay, which is a relatively narrow body of water that has upwind boats generally going south and downwind boats generally going north. When sailboats are racing, the starboard tack boat has the right-of-way over the port tack boat, so ...read more