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Conversations within the sport of sailing - Matt Struble

It is often said how sailing is unique as a sport, where the opportunity is readiliy available to compete against the very best in the sport. Occassionally we get the chance to chat with them too.

Matt Struble
(March 30, 2009) The DN is the largest iceboat class in the world, and American Matt Struble has won the class world championships for the past three years. Scuttlebutt checked in with this master of the hardwater:

  • Tell us about your iceboating roots.

  • I have been sailing ice boats for 28 years. This seems hard to believe even for myself because I am only 35 years old. Ice boating has always been DN's for me as it is for most sailors in the winter. The DN class is without a question the strongest and most competitive sailing class in the winter. Growing up on the water in Michigan with a family that sailed, made it all too easy to learn ice boating. My father and I started ice boating when I was 7 and from there on, it was a passion for both of us. We built everything we sailed in the early years, making a trip to the lumber store was something special to me. I think growing up with ice boating and sailing in my life at such an early age, has corrupted my soul. For basically my entire life, sailing has been the greatest desire and enjoyment of my life.

  • How would you describe DN racing to a softwater sailor?

  • Be prepared to make decisions fast. If you have thought about tacking on the header, you have missed it. It is a sailing machine that you become one with. Just by design you lay down on your back inside the hull. It suits sailors who can feel the boat and make strong tactical decisions.

  • If you are to simplify DN racing, what are the key elements to succeed?

  • Runners and rigs. Have your runners in alignment and a mast sail combination that will get you through the gears. Regattas are won in a variety of conditions, so be fast on average.

  • You also sail an A-Class catamaran. Did hard or soft water sailing come first?

  • Soft water sailing came first for me, but not multihull sailing. My father loves to compete and raced his Tanzer 22 and then a Capri 25 in the local Bay City sailing club. I learned how to walk on those monohauls and loved every minute of it. But then we moved to a new house on the Kawkawlin River, just off the Saginaw Bay. In the neighborhood lived these guys, Jan and Meade Gougeon. They were sailing these strange looking boats that they had built themselves. It turned out that the Gougeon brothers were also ice boaters and we the Strubles got to know the Gougeon brothers very well through the winter months. My father ended up buying one of Jan's creations called Splinter, a 25-foot trimaran that my father still races today on the Saginaw Bay. So, I would say that ice boat racing led me to multihull sailing. I was forever changed. A class catamarans are my favorite summer sailing machines. That is what I sail now in the summer and am really looking forward to this year.

  • What is it about you and winning DN Worlds… magic boat, brass balls, or..?

  • I am afraid it is all of the above. Winning the DN Worlds is something that I dreamed about since I was 7 years old. In my teens and 20's I was good, but never great. To become the World Champion, it was going to take more and so seven years ago I made up my mind to become better prepared. I had years of experience, I was just not putting it together. So, I started over with a clean sheet and documented everything and did smart testing. It took me several years to form the program that I am using today, but it is built on sound results and years of testing.

    DN World Champion Matt Struble
    I have also been lucky to work with the greatest innovators and technicians in the sport. Jan Gougeon is a multi-time World Champion and one of my best friends. He can solve any problem. Ron Sherry of Composite Concepts is also a close friend of mine and a multi-time World Champion. He and I test together, and most of the equipment I am using today comes from Composite Concepts. And where would I be without sails. Mike Boston at the North Sails loft in Detroit is the premiere DN sail designer and builder in the world.

    2009 was an interesting DN season for me. Ron Sherry and I designed a new mast, Mike Boston and I designed a new sail (MS-1), and I designed and built a new runner plank. I spent a lot of time testing before the Worlds and the data showed my new equipment was good, but I was still nervous about changing so many components in one season. Maybe my greatest advantage in DN ice boat racing is my physical preparation. I have worked very hard over the years to prepare my body for ice boat racing and the results seem to support my approach.

  • Any particularly scary hardwater stories that you care to relive?

  • I have been pretty lucky through the years, without any major accidents or problems. There is always the occasional story about the ice blowing out to sea, but none with me on them. Ice boaters as a group are very tuned into the weather and the conditions.

  • Is there any slow monohull sailing in your past?

  • It is funny, because after my very young years of monohull sailing, I never thought I would be back. But then in my early 30's I moved to the Detroit area near Cass Lake and Pontiac Yacht Club (note: currently resides in Wixom, MI). The largest fleet of Lightnings in the World lives here. Within a month, I was looking at Lightnings for sale and owned sail number 15021. Racing Lightnings was really fun and my wife and I really enjoyed the boat and the class. I used the Lightning for week day training and the weekends, my wife and I were racing the F-18 catamaran circuit. However, my wife and I now have a two year old son and one more on the way, so we sold the Lightning last summer and I am now fully into the singlehanded A-Class catamaran. To be honest, the A-Class is the ultimate sailing machine next to the DN. I really like sailing the Acat and plan to for a long while.

  • Are there many DN racers that go both ways… hard and soft?

  • For sure. All of the top sailors race competitively summer and winter. There are some sailors that are winter only, as they are only attracted to the speed of DN racing. But without a doubt the guys at the top are good sailors and tacticians of both the winter and summer racing scene. I have sailing in my blood, so for me any time on the water, hard or soft, is a good day.

  • What are some of your notable hardwater and softwater victories?

  • Leading off is winning the DN Worlds in 2007, 2008, and 2009. I won the DN North Americans three times in 2005, 2007, and 2008, and the DN North American junior champs 7 times (back when it was under 18 years, now it is under 21 years). 2008 had to be the best when I won the DN North Americans, Worlds, and Europeans in one year. That season validated a lot of hard work on and off the ice for me. Softwater has been pretty good to me also. I have won several North American catamaran championships, in several different classes. Randy Smyth and I won the Worrell 1000 together in 2000. The most notable would be the US Sailing Alter Cup Championships. I won that regatta in the three years that I competed in it (2001, 2002, and 2003).

    Matt Struble (second from right) getting a running start at the beginning of one of the 2009 DN North American Championship Regatta races February 13 on Lake Michigan near Marinette, WI

    Matt Struble (second from right) getting a running start at the beginning of one of the 2009 DN North American Championship Regatta races February 13 on Lake Michigan near Marinette, WI (AP Photo/The Marinette Eagle Herald/Rick Gebhard)

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