“In parts of the Southern Ocean we’ll be doing everything we can to slow these things down,” said Enright, skipper of the 9-man crew sailing Team Alvemedica around the world in the latest edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.
The Volvo has long been a dream for Enright, 29, a champion sailor at Brown University who had a role in Roy Disney’s 2008 documentary “Morning Light.” He also happens to be the grandson of famed boat builder Clint Pearson, who introduced thousands of people to sailing in the 1960s and 1970s with then-newfangled fiberglass yachts. Along with fellow Brown alumnus Mark Towill, 25, Enright put together a crew and got funding from a Turkish medical-device manufacturer to mount a challenge in the race that Alvimedica Chief Cem Bozkurt calls “the Everest of sports.”
“In 2011 we decided this was an idea we wanted to commit to making a reality, and now here we are with a boat and a team,” Enright told me on the docks in Newport, shortly before he set off on a shakedown cruise across the Atlantic.
“The boats actually move faster than the containers,” Enright explained.
To drive down costs from previous years, the 65-foot, carbon-fiber boats are all the same – “down to the toothbrush and sunglass holders” Enright said – so teams have few opportunities to compete by spending more money on better technology.
Traditional sailboats have a solid keel with lead weight to hold them upright. Volvo 65s have canting keels, hinged arms with a lead bulb that can be swung 40 degrees from side to side to provide more stability at the cost of a complex system of hydraulic rams to move the keel. After years of tinkering, the hydraulic rams and swing joints appear to be durable enough to survive a circumnavigation of the globe.
Accommodations are sparse; sailors sleep in narrow berths when they can, eat prepared meals, and the head, or toilet, is a simple carbon-fiber bowl just ahead of the mast with a handheld spray nozzle to flush it.
Teams share a single repair crew to cut down on costs and are limited in the number of sails they can buy. Each team must make it around the world using a single mainsail, a huge, computer-shaped slab of synthetic fabric covering 1,700 square feet, or the floor area of a modest suburban home.
Since the equipment’s the same and the crew members are evenly matched in muscle power and endurance, one of the key differentiators will be navigation. The oldest crew member on Team Alvimedica is Will Oxley, 49, an Australian marine scientist who’s competed in four round-the-world races including guiding Camper to a second-place finish in the last Volvo Ocean Race in 2011-12.
Oxley will spend most of his time in the navigator’s station belowdecks, a dark space directly beneath the cockpit equipped with laptops and communications gear streaming in constantly updated weather forecasts he will use to chart the best course to make it to the next port.
He has 20 years of data to help narrow the odds of where high-velocity winds will show up on a particular leg of the race.
“We start off with what worked” in past races, he said, and then determine a corridor to maximize the chance of getting to the right winds first. “I have to have a very good reason to move out of that corrider,” he said.
As the oldest man on the boat by far, Oxley won’t spend as much time “on the handles,” as sailors refer to the coffee-grinder winches in the center of the cockpit. But he will endure a grueling schedule that allows him only four-and-a-half hours sleep in every 24, “and if I’m lucky I get that in three lots,” he said. Every five or six days he gets to splurge on a 90-minute nap.
For Alvimedica Chief Bozkurt, the race is an opportunity to get his company’s name out there as he prepares to enter the U.S. market. Bozkurt, a medical doctor, has built the company by diving into markets that industry giants like Johnson & Johnson JNJ +0.25% have largely abandoned, like cardiac stents coated with drugs to inhibit clotting. Founded in 2007, it has already grown to the fourth-largest interventional cardiac device maker in Europe. Bozkurt said he expects to pour 27% of top-line revenue into research and development this year to develop devices in close consultation with the physicians who use them.
“Being a very young company, our brand awareness, brand recognition is quite low,” he said. And thanks to the threat of litigation and pesky U.S. regulations on medical-device manufacturers, “we cannot directly advertise, so that is why we decided to go on sports sponsorships.”
Sailing is an appropriate marketing vehicle since it appeals to all ages and has an international audience, he said. Bozkurt sought out Enright’s less experience team because he wanted the youngest sailors and claims, on camera anyway, that he doesn’t have any expectations other than returning safely home.
“The first target they have in this race is to finish the race in one piece, in a healthy position,” Bozkurt told FORBES. “We’re not looking to win.”
By: Daniel Fisher