2015-04-30 / Front Page

The Smell, The Sight, The Taste of Home

Joje Berkeley

“The smell, the sight, the taste of home" 

By Joe Berkeley

Imagine you are a Volvo Ocean Race sailor. This is no easy task. Sure, this being Newport and all, you know a lot of people who are sailors, who kind of look like Volvo Ocean Race sailors.

But comparing a club racer to a Volvo Ocean Race sailor is like comparing a Wiffle ball enthusiast to David Ortiz, a flag football fan to Tom Brady, a pond skater to Zdeno Chara.

These sailors are different. They are consummate professionals, the best of the best, able to endure the agonies of competing on the edge while living with eight other people in a space very similar to the interior of a wet dumpster.

Consider the adventures of hometown heroes Corinna Halloran, Charlie Enright, Amory Ross, Nick Dana and Mark Towill, the Hawaiian who was adopted by Rhode Island when he attended Brown University.

They have experienced champagne sailing conditions and also endured minor indignities. Onboard reporter Amory Ross wrote, “Discomfort, however, has taken a new form lately with everyone coming down with the itchies. An obviously common side effect of ideal sailing conditions is that we’re always wet, but what’s new this leg is the high temps to go with that. It’s insanely damp down below and with all the hatches sealed nothing has had the opportunity to dry. Our skin has been hot, soaked, and salty for days, and our forearms, legs, and joints - really any areas that chafe against skin or wet gear - have erupted in rash.”

On another day, May 1, the team steams along in 22-knots of wind, making 450 miles in 24 hours which sounds like a beautiful day at the office. But wait a moment, what’s that sound? It’s a large clump of Sargasso weed catching on the keel and rudder. To remove the weed, the helmsman carved an S-turn, which resulted in a wipeout.

Ross described the scene. “Any time now I’ll be on my back, camera cards, GoPros, and batteries pouring down from my work desk on top of me. It’s already happened a few times this hour. Yup—cavitation on the rudder, no steerage, here comes the wipe out and spin up. Annnnd we’re done, I can reach the keyboard again.”

But what is unique about this leg of the Volvo Ocean Race is that the Alvimedica team is not just racing toward a port. They are sailing to their home port.

The bowman and boat captain for Alvimedica, Nick Dana, wrote, “Racing home. Not a very common feeling when sailing into Newport. Many races start in Newport, but not a lot have a finish line there. Us locals and the rest of the boys could not be more excited to be coming home to Newport. Hopefully we luck out with the weather and get a big turnout for the event.”

It will be an exciting moment when the racers get close to Newport. Approximately 50 miles from shore, they will smell land and experience channel fever, the desire to be in port. Ten miles out, they will see land. Then it will be an emotional moment as they round Castle Hill and make landfall in Narragansett Bay, protected from the insanity of the Atlantic, welcomed home by friends, family, and fans.

With all due respect to a November football game, the sensation of arriving in Newport by water is a homecoming that goes back to the beginning of time.  

Thousands of years before the arrival of the Volvo Ocean Racers, the Narragansett Tribe navigated through these same waters, returning from fishing trips to the shores with sustenance from the sea.

Charlie Enright, the skipper of Alvimedica, the only American entry in race is proud to call Newport his home port. He’s offered his thanks to Sail Newport for all the legwork they’ve put in to making this stopover, the only one in North America, the best yet.

Creating a world-class welcome has required the work of a world-class shore team. Brad Read, the executive director of Sail Newport, is also the director of the Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover.

This is a welcome that has been more than two years in the making. Read has been focused on a million little details, and as a former College Sailor of the Year and J24 World Champion, he has used everything he learned on the water to prepare this event on land.

He said, “This stopover represents two years of work, with the bid process for everything from security to concessions to creating great interactive exhibits featuring the health of the ocean. We had eight subcommittees with the primary focus of making the event great, from creating a sustainable green event, to the marine side, to making sure boaters are safe, to logistics and concessions.”

The Volvo Ocean Race village is made up of 100 containers that were shipped from Auckland, New Zealand to Philadelphia, Pa. From there, the containers were trucked to Newport. Cranes carefully place each one in its precise spot.

“It’s like a giant game of Jenga,” said Read. He cannot do this job alone, and his shore crew is as accomplished as any bowman aboard a race boat.

Before he submitted Newport’s stopover bid, Read made sure a woman known as “Suma” was on his team. The race village manager, Sue Maffei Plowden stands just 5’ 4” tall but is a giant in the world of international sailing event management.

A graduate of URI, Suma ran the America’s Cup World Series in Newport in 2012 and has played an instrumental role in making sure Newport is prepared before the arrival of the race boats. “She has an amazing way of getting things done,” said Read.

Suma, who has produced America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race events all over the world, is thrilled to be working in her own backyard. She said, “This is such a fantastic venue. The sailors love Newport. It’s historic and unique, there’s nothing really like it.”

One challenge the shore team faced is the fact that the Volvo Pavilion is an 8,400-square-foot structure, which must be erected on a flat surface. On short notice, Allan Megarry of Sail Newport had to work with state engineers to source concrete footings to level out the three-foot drop in the parking lot.

Megarry is also responsible for the myriad of approvals and paperwork that must be processed. He makes sure all of the insurance is in good order, for the boats, the structures and the teams. According to Read, “it’s a massive undertaking.”

Janice Kennedy and Margaret (Muggsy) Skinner stepped up to lead the small army of volunteers, more than 500 strong, who make the event happen.

The opening ceremonies and all of the public events are the responsibility of Katie Barker, whose to-do list included this enviable task: “Hire friendly clowns to walk through the village.”

For the past two months, the preparations for the Newport Stopover have been nonstop. More than anything, the hometown sailors hope to see you in the village for their arrival. Except for Alvimedica reporter Ross. As soon as he hits the shore, he’s making a beeline over to Newport Creamery for an Awful Awful, and then to Dunkin’ for an extra large coffee and two glazed doughnuts.

 Joe Berkeley is a freelance writer and amateur sailor. His work is at joeberkeley.com

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