Face to Face 09.03.15: Karen Loutzenheiser – Monterey County Now


We were going to try to keep this particular interview a secret – from the subject.

When you work with someone every day, you get bits here and pieces there and you can string together an entire narrative of their life. In the case ofWeekly art director Karen “Loutz” Loutzenheiser, we were going to tell about how a kid from New Jersey landed in California, went to art school, indulged her adoration of the water by taking sailing lessons and loved it so much, she reached the top levels of women’s sailing.

Then I remembered: She touches virtually every page that goes into print.

At some point, she would realize she hadn’t seen this page and come flying into my office with that “Where the hell is this page and why wasn’t it filed on time?” look. (If she were prone to violence, she could kill a grown man with her thumbs.) So I cornered her to ask her about being one of the best.

Loutz spent July 14-20 in Vladivostok, Russia, sailing under San Francisco-based Skipper Nicole Breault in the Nations Cup Grand Final, the world’s premier match racing event. In match racing, two boats of the exact same size (down to the weights of the crews) sail head-to-head on a windward/leward course in a race that lasts about 20 minutes. The courses are tight and the objective simple: Finish first.

Team Breault won, beating Team Courtois of France in the finals. In August, Loutz headed to Newport Beach, where Team Breault won the U.S. Women’s Match Racing Championship. In both events, Loutz was “trimmer,” working the jib and spinnaker sails. Next she heads to Oyster Bay, New York, to sail again for Team Breault in the U.S. Match Racing Championship, which is open to men and women.

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Weekly: What brought you to sailing?

Loutzenheiser: I went to San Diego State University and I had always wanted to learn to sail. They have this huge aquatics program, so I took classes and started helping the instructor. Then they asked me, “How would you like to do this and make money?”

They offered me a job teaching sailing.

How did you get involved in racing?

I didn’t start racing until I came to Monterey in 1997 or ’98. I got hooked up with the Monterey Yacht Club. The very first person I raced with was Greg Cailliet, former professor at Moss Landing Marine Laboratory.

Explain the difference between cruising – sailing for fun – and racing.

In racing, you have to be much more precise about everything. Your sails have to be trimmed perfectly and everything has to be just right.

You’re looking for puffs and wind shifts on the water and subtle variations in current. In match racing, you’re tacking and battling the other boat constantly, and if you think the other boat broke the rules, you raise a flag and an umpire decides. You’re always trying to get someone to get a penalty.

The Nations Cup happens every two years. How did you get in it, and what was it like to win?

The world is divided into regions for the Nations Cup, and each has qualification rounds to send a team to the final. But to get to the regional, you have to apply and have a certain ranking.

All the sailing you do all year gets you points. In Russia, we had long days on the water, sometimes 10am-7pm. Not only did we win, we won for the United States.

It created a unique feeling because we ran the U.S. flag up the halyard and flew it on our way to shore. It was pretty neat to fly an American flag in Russia.

What do you do to train?

I work out with CrossFit Santa Cruz Central, which gives me the strength and endurance to handle competitive sailing. I also love mountain biking Santa Cruz Mountains and running Jacks Peak.

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you while sailing?

[Laughs] There’s a lot of stuff that just can’t be printed. In Long Beach, I was holding the spinnaker with all my weight; just my feet were on the boat. I was a human pole and as we were going across the finish line, they released the halyard and that releases all the pressure [on the spinnaker]. I went over the water and straight in. I dolphined it, up and down, and apparently it looked really funny. But I had to hold on because you have to finish with all your people on the boat.