Feature | Sports

Volvo Ocean Race Drops Anchor In Newport

The grueling, globe-spanning ocean race makes its only North American stop in Newport.


If you think that sailing is only for the uber-rich, think again. You may hear yacht and think: stuffy, rich, boring. I bet you wouldn’t imagine that the sport could be daring, adventurous, dangerous or intense. But picture this: You’re on a 65-foot yacht in the middle of the ocean with nine other sailors. You are racing against seven other teams on a worldwide journey. All seven teams will start the race, but not all seven will finish. You must overcome crashing waves, shifting winds, inclement weather, jagged rocks… and did I mention this is a sailing competition? That’s right. All you eat is freeze-dried food and all you have to wear are the clothes on your back and one change of clothes. You will spend numerous days at sea racing from one port to the next. You will recuperate, repair your yacht and start all over again. It will take you nine months, you will stop in 11 countries and you will traverse over 38,000 miles. You would have started this race in October and it will end in June. This is the Volvo Ocean Race, and it’s coming to our little state.

The seven teams have journeyed from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa; Abu Dhabi, UAE; Sanya, China; Auckland, New Zealand; and Itajai, Brazil. They are currently on their way from Brazil to Newport. From Newport they will head to Lisbon, Portugal; Lorient, France; The Hague, Netherlands; and finally Gothenburg, Sweden. This is the first time Newport, has hosted a stopover for the Volvo Ocean Race, and you won’t want to miss it.

Root For the Home Team
Meet Team Alvimedica, the American team with a Turkish sponsor. Their team comprises eight active sailors and one onboard reporter. Their yacht is skippered by Charlie Enright, a sailor born and bred in Bristol. (He was born in 1984, by the way.) He’s in charge of the yacht, and directs all of the other sailors. Other team members are Mark Towill (Watch Captain), Will Oxley (Navigator), Alberto Bolzan (Helmsman/Trimmer), Nick Dana (Bowman/Boat Captain) who’s from Newport, Ryan Houston (Watch Captain), David Swete (Helmsman/Trimmer), Sebastien Marssete (Trimmer/Bowman) and Amory Ross (Onboard Reporter) who is also from Newport.

But what does it take to make the team? What kind of person embarks on a worldwide sailing race? According to Charlie Enright, this person is, “a little crazy, adventurous, competitive and [has] a desire to be the best. This is the premiere ocean event in sailing, and if you want to test your might against the best then this is definitely the proving ground for it.”

Charlie is skippering the youngest, and therefore most inexperienced, team in the race. That, in fact, has been the biggest challenge for them thus far. “We’re all really good sailors; we’re mixing it up with the best sailors in the world and we’re continuing to improve every leg,” he says. And this could be an advantage for Team Alvimedica. “We’re definitely not set in our ways, that’s for sure, [so] we’re not afraid to try new things. We’re hungry, we want [to win]. We’re proud of how we’ve done this so far, but you don’t enter yacht races to get fifth place,” Charlie explains.

And race their hearts out they have. The most challenging section of the race so far, or leg, has been from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil. The route took the teams across the South Pacific, around Cape Horn (the southernmost point of South America) then up the eastern coast of South America to Brazil. “It was the windiest leg, had the biggest waves and the racing was the tightest. It’s crazy that after 7,500 miles, the top four boats finished within 50 minutes of another,” Charlie explains. “It’s historically the most difficult leg and it certainly lived up to that feeling. Rounding Cape Horn is a right of passage for all sailors – like a personal Everest. The race definitely has a different feel with that behind us.” For Charlie Enright, this was his first time rounding Cape Horn. Only three sailors on his boat had previously rounded Cape Horn, the fewest on any boat on any team.

Celebrate the Stopover
Fast forward to right now. Team Alvimedica and the other teams are on their way to Newport from Brazil. By the time they get here, they will have traversed 5,010 nautical miles and finished the sixth leg of their journey. They’ll be tired, hungry and proud of the journey they just completed. Every time teams reach the next stopover, they are greeted in an enormous way: with a Race Village. Each port prepares a massive event to commemorate the end of one leg and the beginning of the next. As each boat crosses that leg’s finish line, they are greeted with huge crowds. Sail Newport will be hosting the end of Leg 6 and the beginning of Leg 7.

Sail Newport is home to New England’s largest public sailing center and is the premier sailing site in Rhode Island. Situated at Fort Adams, Sail Newport not only contains a community sailing center that has hosted many regattas – sailing and boating races – it also has beautifully manicured grounds perfect for any celebration. Brad Read, the executive director of Sail Newport, weighs in on what he’s looking forward to when the yachts arrive: “I’m looking forward to welcoming the teams after the battles they’ve had with the weather around the world. One team ended up on the bricks in the Indian Ocean, the women’s team broke a rudder, the Chinese team broke a mast; they’ve all gone through hardships. What I’m most looking forward to is watching them sail around Fort Adams, cross the finish line, take their sails down and be able to offer them something warm to eat and cold to drink.”

Once the boats cross that finish line it’s time to celebrate in a totally nautical way. Fort Adams will host the Race Village from May 5-17, and it is free to the public. There will be a marine Exploration Zone, kids’ activities and games, a food court, entertainment, team compounds, sponsor pavilions, the Heineken Docks beer garden, a theater and up-close viewing of the race boats.

And the race boats won’t just be hanging out at the dock, oh no. During this time there will be plenty of in-port races where spectators will get stunning views of the racing yachts. They’ll also be hosting a “Try Sailing” area where spectators can go out on a boat. “Anyone can go sailing on our J-22s (a 22- foot sailboat) with experienced sailors. They are going to bring you for a tour of the harbor and show you what sailing is all about,” says Brad. “This is integral because we are using this race as an inspiration to get people on the water. Community sailing is growing very strongly across the nation. Whether you’re in Burlington, Vermont, Newport or Boston, there’s a place to learn how to sail and it doesn’t cost a lot of money.”

In fact, watching and enjoying this 12-day event is free. It’s the perfect way to learn more about a sport that has helped to define Newport’s role in the international arena. It’s a sport that is accessible to everyone and more exciting than you would have thought.

The Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover
May 5-17
Held at Sail Neport
60 Fort Adams Drive, Newport