If you cling to a stereotype of racing sailors as being boastful or loud, then meeting Annapolis sailor Dave Gross will shatter it. A mild-mannered Eagle Scout, who learned to sail by teaching sailing at a summer camp for 10 years on Cayuga Lake, the Upstate New York native didn’t cut his teeth in junior sailing or college racing programs as many of his sailmaking colleagues did: he came into it by following a dream.
By the time he graduated as a technical theater major at SUNY Oswego, Gross already knew that he wasn’t headed in the direction of New York theaters. “I wanted to race boats. People said to me, ‘You can’t do that,’” he says with a shrug. “I figured it out.” After working for a year in a wooden boat yard doing repairs and “grunt work” near his home in Ithaca, he and his friend from summer camp, Jerrett Hering, debated which sailing town they should move to. Newport was too far north for Gross and Charleston too far south for Hering. In 2002, they drove to Annapolis, a place they had never visited. We parked the car and looked for jobs,” he says. Gross found one at UK-Halsey Sailmakers in Eastport, where he started patching, sewing, and putting sails together. He moved on to service manager, slowly acquiring more duties, and is now production manager and designer. (Hering works at APS, right next door).
The ambitious dreamer started to race while at UK-Halsey and learned by watching, listening, reading, and doing. He credits Scott Allan (owner of the loft) and Alan Drew (who was his boss in the early days) as the sailors who taught him the most at the start. “Scott still teaches me,” he says. In addition to racing weeknights in Baltimore, Annapolis, West River, Herrington Harbour, and North Point in the past eight years, he has been on competitive crews for a variety of big boats in major Bay regattas and Key West and Charleston Race Weeks. As crew on Art Silcox’s Beneteau 36.7 Ka’io team, he’s won his class in the IRC East Coast Championships (2004, 2007), CBYRA Annapolis Race Week (2005), and High Point honors (2008). As part of Bert Carp’s Donovan 27 Remedy team, he’s won his class at Charleston Race Week (2007), Summer Oxford (2008), Annapolis Fall Series (2008), and Screwpile Lighthouse Challenge including the Lord Calvert Trophy 2009).
In 2005 at the Ronstan party at the U.S. Sailboat Show, Gross met Liz Hansen, former SpinSheet staffer, whom he will marry in June in Annapolis, yet another reason to stay on the Bay. “I just love the water,” he says. “There’s water everywhere here and more opportunities than you can take to get out sailing.”
SpinSheet: Who are your mentors?
Scott Allan, Alan Drew, Chris Teixeira, and Bill and Ken Ward.
Who are your best sailing buddies?
Bert Carp, Jonathan Downey, Sally Collins, and Seamus Duffy.
Do you have a favorite place on the Bay?
Liz and I got engaged on the Rhode River. Also, racing in Solomons.
Do you have a sailing story you’ve told over and over?
We were doing a delivery from Beaufort, NC to Miami, FL when the steerage failed. The conditions were not friendly. It was blowing 20 to 30 knots with swells. We immediately broached. Balanced down-below, using my feet to steer the quadrant, with my head in a bilge full of diesel and 10 years of boat sludge, was the only time I have ever been seasick. We had to be towed 18 miles…
What magazines do you read?
SpinSheet, PropTalk, and Sailing World.
What is your favorite watering hole?
The Boatyard Bar & Grill.
Do you have any non-sailing passions?
I do woodwork, such as building tables—I’d like to build a rowing shell. I teach lifeguarding and work at a Boy Scout training camp for instructors.
What would be your advice to a young racing sailor?
Sail as much as you possibly can on as many different boats as you can get on. Ask as many people as you can for advice. I still learn from all sorts of people.
Do you have anything you haven’t achieved yet on the water you’d like to?
All the big stuff. Do some offshore racing such as Newport to Bermuda. Win a national championship.
What gear do you depend upon?
Kaenon sunglasses—the lenses make a huge difference seeing puffs and sail shape. Ronstan gloves, Dubarry boots, and a Henry Lloyd spray top.
If you won the lottery, what kind of boat would you buy?