Technical Sports Star, Circumnavigator & Submarine Guy


Stan Honey - Game Changer

Published: October/November 2012

The America's Cup director of technology may be about to change sailing forever with the next big idea in TV graphics.

Photo of Stan Honey
Photo: ACEA/Giles Martin-Raget

You can take your pick of accomplishments when describing Stan Honey. He led the group that developed the yellow first-down line on televised football; co-founded Sportvision in 1998, a company that sells those live-tracking enhancements to TV; started SailMail Association, which provides onboard email to cruising sailors virtually anywhere on the oceans over single-side band and ham radios; took first place as navigator in the Volvo Ocean race and 11 Transpacs, with a single-handed first-place in the latter; and won three personal Emmys for technical innovation. His most recent job, as director of technology for the America's Cup, might prove to be his biggest game changer to date. Honey aims to make sailing something it has never been: a full-blown TV event.

The boy from Southern California, who's been sailing 8-foot "guppy" dinghies since he was 7, has developed a system to track the America's Cup boats to within 2cm (or 0.787402-inch), 5 times per second. The program then quickly superimposes graphics, such as ahead-behind lines, on the live helicopter footage of the race to help viewers follow the action of the AC45s and AC72s as they soar around the racecourse.

Stan Honey's football graphics are now making waves in sailing
Stan Honey's football graphics are now making waves in sailing.

"It's still expensive to do," he says of the technology. "But I think it'll get cheaper with time, and become increasingly common.The objective is to make sailing on TV more accessible to folks who aren't yet sailing fans." It's special for Honey in another way, too. Despite his many work accomplishments, this is the first gig where he gets to combine his parallel careers as a professional navigator and electrical engineer.

After completing an engineering and science degree at Yale, where he was on the sailing team, and an M.S. in electrical engineering at Stanford, he was invited to navigate by several prominent sailors, including Roy Disney, Steve Fossett, Nolan Bushnell, and eventually Larry Ellison, aboard his 80-foot maxi, Sayonara.

Photo of Stan Honey with his Emmy Award
Photo: ACEA/Giles Martin-Raget

"Of course, Ellison's a technical guy. We spoke about augmented reality, the technology I was working on that superimposed graphics in sports and the highlighted hockey puck, and about how it would be possible to do the same kinds of special effects for sailing," says Honey. "Apparently Larry recalled that when he decided he wanted to use augmented reality for the America's Cup."

Things continue to be hectic in the Honey household heading into the America's Cup finals in San Francisco next year. Stan and his wife, Sally Lindsay Honey (twice named Rolex U.S. Yachtswoman of the Year), are finding less and less time to indulge their own sailing passions. "Yes, we both seem to be pretty busy right now," he says. "But we do still try to take our vintage Cal 40 out when we can, and occasionally we'll do a major project on it."


Beth Leonard

BoatUS's new technical editor is a two-time circumnavigator.

When Beth Leonard's husband Evans suggested they quit their jobs and sail around the world, it seemed far-fetched. "I think I reacted pretty much the same way I would have if he'd said, 'Let's build a rocket and fly to the moon,'" she says. After all, they were both successful management consultants with McKinsey & Company, about to be promoted to partner, and living in Europe. It seemed like a lot to give up, but a fit of introspection brought on by a close call with a plane crash and 18 months of lobbying by Evans brought her around to the idea.

Photo of Beth Leonard
Our new technical editor, Beth Leonard, has put more miles under her keel (110,000), than many people put on their cars.

Beth's boating experience had begun early in her life, with summer outings from the family cottage near Oswego, New York, on a variety of powerboats. "I grew up on Lake Ontario fishing for bass and perch, waterskiing, and canoeing," she said. "But we'd never sailed." A four-week test trip off the south coast of England with Evans convinced her they could do it, though, so they bought a sailboat, sight unseen, in America, and spent the next three years and 35,000 miles sailing their Shannon 37-foot centerboard ketch Silk around the world.

Beth had some mechanical experience in college, she rebuilt her Corolla with her grandfather's help but she and Evans set sail, she says, with the attitude that "we'll take the boat to the oil-change place when we need the oil changed." There was a steep learning curve, she laughs now, "but by the time we finished the trip, we could basically fix anything and everything aboard that boat."

They returned to land, built a 47-foot aluminum sailboat, then set off again around the world (eastbound, this time), exploring the northern high latitudes, then sailing 8,000 miles from Iceland to Cape Horn. "Spending two years in Chile, we had to be self-sufficient as there was no help available along 1,500 miles of the most remote coastline in the world." Their hard-won ability to troubleshoot and fix anything aboard themselves proved essential during a 60-day, 9,000-nautical-mile, nonstop, east about passage through the Southern Ocean from the Beagle Channel to Perth, Australia.

Over the course of their second circumnavigation, Beth and Evans passed under all five of the mariner's "Great Southern Capes," eventually logging over 75,000 miles aboard Hawk.

Considered to be among the most knowledgeable blue-water cruisers in the world, Beth has parlayed her deep technical experience into a new career as an award-winning writer, and she and Evans have written hundreds of articles and columns for top U.S. and U.K. boating magazines. She's also written three books The Voyager's Handbook; Following Seas; and Blue Horizons, which won the 2007 National Outdoor Book Award. This year, the couple returned to life on land, where Beth has just been named technical editor of BoatUS Magazine, and assistant director of Technical Services for BoatUS. She'll also write for Seaworthy, the BoatUS Marine Insurance publication dedicated to helping members avoid injury and boat damage due to accidents and storms.


Mark Ragan In A Yellow Submarine

If you're living on the East Coast and have a hankering to earn your submarine license, then you can consider forking over $300 to lifelong submarine lover Mark Ragan and his Chesapeake Submarine Service. For that, you'll get three submersions and ascents in his little yellow submarine. Those dunks in the 12-foot Kittredge K-250, according to Ragan, make you a legitimate pilot for any small sub. The Coast Guard considers miniature submarines the equivalent of small boats in operating terms within the navigable rules of the road, like the 20-foot inboard/outboard that Ragan uses to putter around the Chesapeake Bay, so long as you don't take passengers for hire. To cart paying submarine passengers in U.S. coastal waters, Ragan had to pass the Coast Guard test on basic operations and procedures. To date, he's taught just over 200 people.

Photo of Mark Ragan in a yellow submarine
… And he told us of his life, in the land of submarines.

"Everybody who's done it is cut from a different cloth," he says. "A guy came from Singapore, and I dove him for two days. The following day I got a call from the Department of Homeland Security, who had picked him up taking photos of the Pentagon. They wanted to know whom I'd taken down. But so far the guy's kept his nose clean."

Submarine instructor is not Ragan's only occupation. He's also an archaeologist, author, and project historian who worked on novelist Clive Cussler's quest to raise the Hunley, a 37-foot, hand-cranked Confederate submarine lost on the evening of February 17, 1864, with eight rebel volunteers. In April 1995, Cussler's crew located the sub, lying on her side in 27 feet of water, encased in silt. Today the Hunley sits in a freshwater tank at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in South Carolina, preparing for its 150th anniversary in 2014. While compiling the complete history of the vessel, Ragan worked the night shift on the project as a hard-hat helmet diver. He's also written a book, The Hunley, on the subject.

As for the relatively slow traffic of students to his submarine business? "I think the problem is, humanity is not as adventureoriented as I give them credit for," Ragan says. "But I don't want to totally condemn humanity for not taking submarine classes."End of story marker