For the first time in the modern history of the Volvo Ocean Race, a large portion of the skippers and sailors will be newbies to the race. Most have never lapped the planet on a sailboat. This is in stark contrast to previous races where only the most elite helmsmen – Chris Nicholson, Paul Cayard, Frank Cammas, Grant Dalton – have been able to garner the support of top sponsors and yacht designers to compete. This rarified atmosphere was the driving principle of what is considered the marquee professional ocean race in the world.
This fall we will all see a new race with the same challenges of ocean, mind and body, but with a new one-design Volvo Ocean 65 to defray costs and eliminate the quess work in designing and building a custom racer that could be the key to winning or losing before the race even starts. This is race director Knut Frostad’s vision and with nearly all boats spoken for and teams already training, Frostad’s concept already has legs. Will the infusion of new, yet untested talent prove to keep the level of racing high this fall and the return on investment for sponsors even higher? Time will tell. But this bold move is a very modern style of thinking brought to a very established sport. I remember when the Volvo 70 first hit the water and I sailed a punishing upwind leg in 2006 for The New York Times. The boats changed the sport of ocean racing and provided a drama and backdrop to exploit what was already a compelling and harrowing event.
The May issue of Seahorse Magazine (UK) has a brief analysis of this evolution of the race that has allowed for the first major paradigm shift in professional ocean sailing since Sir Peter Blake and his generation basically created professional offshore sailing. Blake personally found the funds, created a team, and took a professional approach never before seen in the sport. Dennis Conner did the same and all those crews and those to follow never knew a world where sailing wasn’t a full-time profession.
In my article I focus on the creation of Team Alvimedica and its American leaders Charlie Enright and Mark Towill. Much like Blake, these two sub-30 year-old sailors created their own opportunities. But before Knut’s visionary move with the Volvo, these two would have been a decade away from leading their own Volvo team. They and several others teams in this year’s Volvo have been fast tracked with equal boats and a more robust marketing package from the VOR.
Here is a selection from my interview with Charlie done at his home Bristol, RI on an ice-covered day this winter. It is exciting to speak with someone on the threshold of the greatest opportunity of their career. You will here in his voice and read his words and see that regardless of age or experience, the Volvo has opened the doors to a very worthy batch of freshmen to the race who know no different than being payed to race full-time. This is certainly a notable milestone in the sport and it will be fascinating to watch this next race play out.