For nearly 40 weeks the seven teams competing in the Volvo Ocean Race live, eat, and work aboard one of the most technical boats in existence: The Volvo Ocean 65, a high-performance 72-foot carbon fiber vessel equipped to handle the toughest conditions on the planet. Sleeping bunks in the dark and cramped underbelly below are spare stretches of mesh and aluminum equipped with seat belts; the toilet is off the back of the boat, right next to the plastic bin of Wet Wipes labeled “Sh*t Tickets!!!” It’s not a life of Topsiders and gin and tonics, that’s for sure.
But no one becomes an offshore sailor in search of comfort. The Volvo Ocean Race is one of professional sailing’s most elite, and most extreme, events, not for the faint of heart, or stomach. Starting from Alicante, Spain, in October and ending next month in The Hague, the boats cover 45,000 fast and wet nautical miles with brief stopovers to recover and refuel in 12 cities including Lisbon, Cape Town, Hong Kong, and Newport, Rhode Island. That’s where I had a chance to sail with Turn the Tide on Plastic, a team of five men and five women skippered by Britain’s Dee Caffari, a former teacher now known for being the first woman to sail non-stop around the world in both directions, by herself. Her first words of advice to me as I climbed aboard: “Go where I go. But let me go first.”
During a practice race through Newport Harbor, the Netherlands’s Team Brunel takes the lead.