BROTHERS OF THE BOAT
Mike Martin and Adam Lowry are one with the brother hood of the International 505.
Mike Martin and Adam Lowry are one with the brotherhood of the International 505.
Entering the penultimate day of the 2019 International 505 World Championship
in the Fremantle, regatta comfortably, Australia, Mike but while Martin warming and Adam up for Lowry the first were race, leading the hole that holds the centerboard pivot pin ripped open, leaving the centerboard free-floating inside its trunk. With some quick thinking, Lowry says, they wedged a paddle—required equipment on a 505—into the trunk to minimize the board’s movement. Not ideal, but good enough to continue racing. “It moved all the way back in the trunk, and then it tilted backward, so the center of lateral resistance was all over the place,” Lowry recalls. “That was challenging, and we were trying to do a lot with our trim to compensate.”
With Lowry steering from the trapeze, Martin was able to occasionally reset it during the race, and they managed to finish fourth. But with the wind increasing, they’d surely have a difficult time managing the boat in the following race. What now? Their training partners from back home in California—Parker Shin,
Eric Anderson, Mike Holt and Carl Smit—all of whom were battling for the world title, came to their rescue. “They had an extra centerboard onshore and a coach with a boat, and they said, ‘Go get our centerboard, and use our coach,’” Lowry says. “We went through all the procedures you have to with the jury afterward, but we used their centerboard for the last race that we sailed (another fourth). And that was enough to seal the regatta win.”
Lowry adds that he also had an issue with his trapeze harness the day before—a three-race day—and when it seemed his harness wasn’t going to last through the day, he borrowed Smit’s backup. Incredible sportsmanship, you might say, but Lowry and Martin would say it’s just the 505 way. Holt and Smit, by the way, finished second overall, and Shin and Anderson were third.
Nearly a year later, in early 2020, Martin and Lowry are standing astride in blue blazers on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Midway in San Diego. They’re not there to tour the winged relics of military aviation history, but they are there for a different sort of historical moment. Finally, after being shortlisted for sailing’s Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Award an incredible five times, Martin is getting his due. And just as he was on the wire when they won the world championship title, Lowry is right by his side, towering over his skipper as they both open their boxes to flash their shiny new golden timepieces.
Rarely does the crew get a Rolex too, but this time, the selection panel felt that it was impossible to recognize the accomplishments of one without the other. It’s another victory of sorts, for non-Olympic dinghy sailors and forgotten crews alike.
“After we won, I took a look at the list of everyone who had won the award—men and women—over the decades, and that was a really humbling experience,” Lowry tells me over the phone a few weeks afterward. “It’s a lot of people who I know and respect, and it’s a pretty elite group of people to be a part of. Winning a world championship is something that kind of follows you forever, and this is very similar in that regard.” He and his skipper are not professional sailors, he reminds us. They go to work every day. In many ways, they’re weekend warrior like everyone else. “We sail one day a week and a weekend a month maybe,” Lowry says. “But what a great sport we participate in, where you can develop over a long period of time the skills and techniques you need to compete at a really high level. And to win an award like this when you’re 54 and 45, respectively, and doing it the way we are doing it…” Never in a million years, he adds, did he think he was going to win a Rolex, especially at his age. But the truth is, he was more excited for Martin. “It’s no secret that the guy is a stud in all forms of sailing that he’s done,” Lowry says. “I’m just helping a little bit.” Martin, for the record, didn’t follow the traditional path of an American junior sailor. By his telling, he taught himself how to sail at a horse-riding camp where he and his sister were sent one summer long ago. “I didn’t really like the horses, and they didn’t really like me,” Martin tells me. But at that camp, there was a little pond with a small sailing dinghy stored on the beach. “I would just go Snark sailing all day instead of riding horses.” camp, The his following parents summer, bought him instead learn-to-sail of sending lessons him to on back the Potomac to horse River, where he gleaned fundamentals in a Flying Scot. When his lessons were done, he’d hustle over to Washington Sail Marina, near Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. “I’d just bum rides on any boat I could it was the late 1970s, so racing was pretty active"
As a teenager, he soon got a laser and started mixing it up with the local adult Laser fleet He was eventually remited by Thistle Class standout Brent Barbehenn, whotutored him in the art of racing to win. bgether they won Thistle National titles in 1982 and 1984. When he was 17, local D.C. sailor James Jacob got his hands on an International 505 and needed a crew, so he tapped Martin—obviously having no idea that someday he would become one of the greatest Five-0h saiois of a generation.
After his freshman year of college, in 1985, he won the Laser North Americans—a 185-plus boat fleet. “That was probably the first time I thought that maybe I can be good at this sport at a top level,” Martin says. And man, was he right.
His competitive-sailing trajectory would lead him to a Finn campaign, and to California for the 1992 Finn Olympic Trials. Soon after, weight jackets were banned, and it was obvious he wasn’t built for a boat that’s built for beasts. So he hunted for a hookup in the West Coast International 505 sailing scene, and his friend from
back home, Macy Nelson, directed him to the great Howie Hamlin.
“I called him up to see if he wanted to sail together, and he said: ‘No thanks. I’m all set up sailing with Steve Rosenberg, but thanks for the call anyway,’” Martin says. “I figured, oh, OK. So much for that.”
But a few months later, there was a regatta in Richmond, California, and Rosenberg couldn’t make it. Hamlin called, they won the regatta, and so began Martin’s long and illustrious 505 career.
Not quite concurrently, Lowry’s rise to the top of the sport began on the waters of Lake St. Clair, Michigan, coincidentally, sailing a Thistle with his father. “I don’t remember how young,” Lowry says, “but really young. There was a good little club scene in Detroit in the summertime. There were some really good Thistle sailors, and Dad would bring me along every once in a while. People in the sailing community kind of get that Detroit punches above its weight in terms of sailors.”
As a talented junior sailor himself, Lowry won the Sears Cup (US Sailing’s junior keelboat championship) in J/24s in 1992, and that, he says, parlayed into getting into Stanford and racing there for four years.
The sailing-team roster would have listed him as a 6-foot-6-inch 210-pounder with the physique of a basketball player. He says he’s the runt of his family. His brother played European pro basketball, and his father was drafted by the 76ers in 1964 but never played for them. For sailing, he says, he whittled himself down to 176 pounds.
“My sophomore year, I sailed with these twins—Sareeta and Sujatha—who were like 85 pounds apiece,” he recalls. “When it was windy, they weren’t strong enough to last a whole practice, so I’d sail with one of them for like an hour, put her out, and then put her sister in the boat, and do the rest of the practice with her sister. They were like interchangeable parts.”
After graduating as an All-American in 1996 and taking a job as a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, Lowry eventually jumped into the new high-speed realm of 49er sailing. Those years of Olympic 49er-class training clarified his understanding of high-level sailing.
In 2002, balancing work and sailing, he started skippering an older 505 with a friend. Over the next five years, he says, he fell in love with the boat and the sailors who worked together for the greater good of the fleet. After his friend sold the boat, he says, he spent a few years racing Moths before returning to the 505 as a crew—an ideal place given his physique. You could say he was right where he belonged.
Fast-forward to 2019, and together Martin and Lowry were running the 505 table: winning the class’s National, Canadian and World championships all in one year. Suffice it to say, the Rolex selection committee had an easy time.
But their success that year wasn’t a singular effort. They had the help of their tightknit West Coast crew and their regular Tuesday training sessions. To note, five of the top boats at the Fremantle Worlds in 2019 were members of their training squad.
“That’s something that Howie [Hamlin] and I developed in Long Beach,” Martin says. “When we started sailing together, he would talk about goals and set new ones every year. And one of his goals was to win the 505 Worlds. And I said, ‘That’s fine to set that goal, but what steps are you taking to achieve that?’ And he just sort of looked at me like, ‘What do I need to do besides just go to a regattas?’ I said, ‘Well, you need training partners, you have to test equipment, etc.’ And that was how the Team Tuesday training sessions started.
“Howie—being the most motivated person in the world—started organizing it, getting training partners, and we started racing on Tuesdays. The philosophy behind our approach is what’s key: sharing all information and having the mindset that your goal is to speed up your training partner. And that means everything, not just boatspeed. It has to be a mindset of working together and everyone working for the goal.”
Initially, Martin tells me, they would just go out and speed-test. They got really fast in a straight line, but sheeting in and blazing into a corner doesn’t always work. “It became clear that we weren’t practicing the tactical side of the game, so we changed up the program, set out a couple of marks, and practiced racing. That was a key improvement to the program because it forced us to practice everything: starting, tactics, jibing, tacking, mark roundings. We saw our regatta results really jump up after that.”
Lowry wasn’t part of the founding Tuesday crew, but his Olympic-class training experience certainly cemented similar foundations. His 49er sailing, he says, drove home the importance of preparation. “I think preparation is one of the big things it taught me,” he says. “Junior sailing and college sailing are obviously really great and intense sailing, but the level of preparation both on the boat as well as from a mental standpoint is really different. Understanding that there is a broader set of things that you really have to master was a big learning moment. It also goes beyond the boat preparation. It’s all about mental preparation for the various cycles within big events that you need to really perform well at. There’s also a ‘one-notch-up’ kind of physical element.”
Self-motivation and collaboration, he adds, were also important takeaways: “In many cases, the ability to work with other teams that you’re competing against and make each other better is a big part of what we’ve been doing, and it really makes a difference. If you’re working with another team, you can compare and contrast things—where you are weak and vice versa—and you can trade notes, and everybody gets better. It’s a very simple thing, but it’s