Interview With Paul Glimcher - Owner of Swan 53 Seastar
Passion – the emotion that guides us through the infinite maze of daily decisions and challenges, the driving force behind some of human's greatest accomplishments. What else but passion could have led Joshua Slocum to sail single-handedly around the world, the first man ever to do so? Passion is the recurring theme in the story that you are about to read. A fascinating one, that starts in a modern day hyper-technological lab in New York City.
Paul Glimcher, Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics and Professor of Neural Science, Economics and Psychology at NY University, knows a great deal about passion and decision-making. The central goal of his laboratory is to develop and advance interdisciplinary models of human choice. Paul's life has been dictated by a strong passion for sailing – his hero is in fact Slocum. Since 2008, Paul has been the proud owner of the Swan 53 Seastar. "We simply couldn't love this boat more," says Paul, who describes Seastar as the perfect yacht for his growing family, with kids ranging in age from 4 to 13. Looking for his ideal boat, Paul had a very clear vision: he wanted a yacht that was comfortable for a large family either offshore or coastal cruising. Besides his extraordinary career in the fields of neuroscience, Paul is an extremely accomplished sailor, with years of grand-prix racing and many offshore passages to his credit, including a few single-handed ones.
Glimcher is an illustrious name in the arts and in sailing – two worlds that blend seamlessly together. Paul's father, Arnold "Arne" Glimcher owns the magnificent 122-feet Maxi yacht Ghost designed by Luca Brenta, and is an eminent art dealer (founder of The Pace Gallery with seven locations worldwide), film producer and director (his work includes the films Just Cause, The Mambo Kings, The Good Mother, Gorillas in the Mist, and Legal Eagles).
Paul's passion for yachting has deep roots: he started sailing with his father at a child, and now he shares his love for the sport with his own family. "My dad always had sailboats, I was taught to sail by him around 4 years old, mostly in little boats as well as cruising boats in the 35-40 foot range," recounts Paul. "The boat that really stood out in my childhood was a Hinckely Bermuda 40 that my dad had. When I was 14 he took me offshore for the first time and I loved it. Later I went on to race Blue Jays, Fireballs and 505s. I did ok, but I really liked big boat sailing better."
After starting college at Princeton, Paul managed to talk his way onto Harry Macklowe boats: "I was a very mathematically inclined kid and I was light, and I asked Harry if he would let me navigate for him and he basically laughed at me," recalls Paul. Thanks to a bit of luck and sheer determination, Paul ended up navigating for Macklowe for the next couple of years, competing in the one-ton grand-prix circuit of the time.
Paul's next big sailing adventure confirmed his whole-hearted passion for offshore sailing. And it was passion, for a boat and a woman, that led him on a two-year voyage all the way to Australia: "I had raced on a three-quarter ton boat called Country Woman, one of the first cold-molded boats that Eric Goetz had ever built. The boat had outlived its racing life and had been left in a boatyard to rot," recalls Paul. "Fresh out of college, I did a compulsive and stupid thing – I bought the boat and spent the next two and a half years rebuilding it and transforming it into an offshore cruising yacht." After finishing college, Glimcher sailed the boat to the West Indies, got a job as crew and fell in love with Dana Nicholson. After a year in the West Indies, Paul and Dana decided to sail around the world: "It was a great and crazy experience. Spray [the new name for the ex three-quarter ton] was a ridiculous boat for offshore sailing, but it was very robust and strong. We ended up sailing for a year and a half as far as Australia – by then I had been admitted to graduate school and it was time to go back. Dana and I broke up and I kept Spray for the next eight years or so."
With a new love in his life, his wife Barbara, a splendid career and a growing family, Paul went on to own a series of small boats. "When my daughter Zoe turned three, we decided to move up. We thought we should buy a used Swan 48. I always liked that design, in many ways it is similar to the 53 but not so complicated. We had looked at the 53, but decided it was going to take too long to build," recounts Paul. "But then the Swan 53 Serafina appeared on the market, it had been built for a Norwegian who had no sailing experience. When the boat got delivered, the guy decided it was too small and he immediately put it on the market. There was a lot of interest, but the price wasn't right. Then one day Nautor called me with a new offer. I remember it was a Tuesday and on the Friday afternoon I was on plane with my son Matthew who was probably 8 at the time. When I got to the UK, they already had two offers and I was completely distraught. We decided to see the boat anyway and we totally loved it. That afternoon we overbid the guys and bought the Swan 53."
Was it fate or Paul's drive and passion that led him to the Swan 53? He clearly knew what he would be able to achieve with that boat: "I wanted a boat with which I could cross the Atlantic with my older son and a couple of friends, and also go cruising in the West Indies or the Mediterranean with my wife and the little ones. This boat is exactly perfect for that." With his strong sailing background and mathematical mind, Paul is involved in all the aspects of owning and running his Swan 53 Seastar. He knows his stuff: "We set the boat up with two rigging configurations. When we are in coastal mode we have an all-purpose genoa that rolls up, lazy jacks and main with two reefs, and a code zero which we also use a lot when family cruising. The boat is big enough that we can carry lots of toys – we have a Laser Bug that fits on the cabin top, an inflatable SUP, towable tubes… it's all about having fun!" Of course when the Glimchers go offshore, Seastar gets uncluttered and the configuration changes: "We have a bulletproof Spectra furling staysail, and I leave a trysail mounted all the time; we also have a suite of big offshore sails, including number 2 and 3 spinnakers and a furling number 5 spinnaker which we truly love."
Seastar is a new generation Swan 53, which is really 54 feet. It has all the amenities of a big yacht and is extremely comfortable – all the bells and whistles, including a washing machine, fantastic water making capacity, air conditioning that can run all the time. The Swan 53 is equipped with the electronics and systems of a 70-foot boat, and almost requires a professional captain. But for a family like the Glimchers, who have plenty of hands-on sailing experience, it is really well suited: "For me it's natural to be able to fix an engine. The Swan 53 is very sea-kindly and robust, and this is a quality that I really cherish given my love for offshore sailing. I've taken the boat on a bunch of significant single-handed passages: Antigua to Bermuda, Tortola to Bermuda and Bermuda to New York." Sometimes Paul likes to take Seastar for a long spin just with his wife Barbara: "We did a transatlantic passage a few years ago, just the two of us, from the Canaries to Antigua and I have to say that was the most romantic sailing trip of my life. It was such a beautiful voyage, we had some rough weather in the middle but it was just great. With 40 knots of breeze and big seas, the boat kept sailing happily along and we never felt out of our league."
When asked whether he races with his Swan 53, Paul is candid: "Having grown up grand-prix sailing, Seastar is not my idea of a racing yacht, we have a stable cruising speed of 8 knots! But we've attended plenty of regattas, often as cruise-tandem for Ghost. We love going to Porto Cervo for the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup."
One last question for Paul, is how his decision-making science applies to yachting. Taking from his own experience as a navigator, Paul comments: "I should probably have been a racing tactician, but the truth is I lacked the self confidence and aggression needed for that role. For someone like me who grew up as a scientist soaking up and learning how to analyze data and how to draw conclusions from data, being a navigator is just natural. When I race, navigating is a comfortable place for me. It's a question of how you can affect the data that you gather about the yacht, and how you use that to make decisions – how you programme computers to make decisions and help you make decisions. I think it's such a fascinating problem and one that has matured in the last 10-15 years, mostly thanks to the work of the America's Cup syndicates. It's so different from when I first started navigating and for someone like me it's really neat to see that sailboat racing has really come of age as a statistical science. Baseball did it a very long time ago and basketball is starting to do this now – to be involved with sailing when the switch is happening, from a sports driven by intuition to a sport where science is involved, is really fun."
Information from Nautor's Swan