The first solo sailor to circumnavigate the earth in 1898 had to hug the Castle Hill coastline as he finished his 47,000 mile voyage in Newport, Rhode Island. Joshua Slocum was dodging the lethal shipping mines planted at the entrance of Narragansett Bay during the Spanish American War. After surviving two years and 47,000 miles at sea, he was at risk of being blown up just miles from the finish line.
The six teams racing in the Volvo Ocean Race face no such perils. Only the Atlantic Ocean stands between them and Newport Harbor, where they will complete the sixth leg of the around-the-globe race on approximately May 5. With some 4,000 nautical miles between them and Newport, their arrival time is still a guess. This Volvo Race, sailing’s biggest biannual event, has previously stopped at Alicante, Spain, Capetown, South Africa, Abu Dhabi, Sanya, China, Auckland, New Zealand, and Itajai, Brazil . They’ll be in Newport from May 5 through the 17th, when they set sail for Lisbon, Portugal, the next leg of the what used to be known as the Whitbread Round the World Race.
When Slocum sailed around the world, he sailed a wooden 37-ft. oyster boat. The Volvo Ocean Race chose the Farr Ocean 65 for 2014-15, and basically established a new one-design fleet of carbon fiber rocket ships. Instead of the weird and disparate multi-hull competitors in what the America’s Cup race has evolved into, the Volvo boats are very similar. Because of that, right now, the boats have been sailing at close quarters for the first three days of the current leg. Often the difference in speed is a mere 0.2 knots.
Team Alvimedica has three Rhode Islanders aboard: Charlie Enright, the skipper, Mark Towhill, the general manager and Amory Ross, the reporter. Charlie and Mark, both with formidable offshore sailing experience around the world, know each other from the Brown Sailing team years ago. With advice from PUMA Ocean racing veterans, they put a world class team together. They are highly motivated to win this leg, and have a great number of fans here in Rhode island.
Team SCA, one of six current competitors, is writing history with an all women’s crew. Corinna Halloran, from Newport, is aboard SCA as a reporter. The 15 women comprising Team SCA come from six countries including Switzerland, Sweden, Great Britain, Australia, US, and the Netherlands. SCA is the largest private forester in Europe and manufacturers paper products marketed internationally. The 15 women were chosen from 250 applicants. Skipper, Sam Davies, took fourth in the recent Vende Solo Race, and she leads a talented crew. What has been mainly a playing field for men over the years has opened up, with due respect to Isabelle Autissier, and Ellen MacArthur.
A seventh competitor, Team Vestas Wind from New Zealand sailed up onto a reef in the Indian Ocean on an earlier leg of this year’s Volvo Ocean Race. The last harrowing moments were caught on video:
It is exciting to see Newport once again hosting a world class sailing event, and how great it is with such equal boats pitting sailor versus sailor, for unpredictable, close competition. The inshore race May 15th and 16th will be in the West Passage outside of Newport Harbor, visible from many vantage points in Newport and Jamestown. It should be thrilling to watch the Volvo boats sail under the Newport Bridge. And then the VOR departs for Portugal, France, and Sweden, to finish off 38,739 nautical miles of blue water sailing. For the sailors it means more freeze dried food and only one change of clothes at sea.
I’ve been a sailor for 45 years. I grew up sailing on San Francisco Bay, I’ve sailed across the Atlantic twice and I’ve sailed the Mediterranean and the Caribbean seas. This Volvo race reminds me why I moved to Newport more than 20 years ago.