SAN DIEGO — Charlie Enright and Mark Towill graduated from Brown, so they're smart enough to understand what they're getting into by leading a team in the Volvo Ocean Race even though they've never made a circumnavigation themselves.
A bit crazy? Sure, to take on a race that can be both exhilarating and deadly.
Driven? They have to be to want to sail in a race that will cover 38,739 nautical miles during the next nine months.
The Ivy Leaguers lead Team Alvimedica, which is based in Newport, Rhode Island, and sponsored by a Turkish company. Enright is the skipper and Towill is the general manager and one of the watch captains.
Team Alvimedica pulled a surprise and won the opening in-port race Saturday in Alicante, Spain.
The real action starts Saturday when the seven identical, 65-foot sloops head out onto the Atlantic Ocean for the first leg, to Cape Town.
Team Alvimedica is the youngest of the seven crews, with an average age of just more than 31 1/2 years. Five of the eight sailors are 30 or younger. Amory Ross, the onboard reporter, is 30.
"Youth by definition implies inexperience, and while our team is young we do have guys on the boat who have done the race before," Towill said in a recent phone interview. "Generally speaking we are one of the underdog teams, something we are embracing. We're sort of looking at it as an opportunity to improve and learn every day and make the most of the opportunity we have. It's still pretty early to tell how we stack up."
Towill turns 26 on Oct. 20 and is three years out of college. He grew up in Hawaii and attended the same high school as golfer Michelle Wie and NFL linebacker Manti Te'o.
Team Alvimedica has five crewmembers with Volvo Ocean Race experience, including navigator Will Oxley, a 49-year-old Australian who's done it three times and has four circumnavigations. Ryan Houston, 32, has done two and Dave Swete, 30, has done one. They are both from New Zealand.
Sebastien Marsset, 29, of France has been a shore crew member and Nick Dana, 28, of Newport, has done one Volvo as an onboard reporter and one as a shore crew member.
"Experience is valuable and something that can't be duplicated," said the 30-year-old Enright, who's from Bristol, Rhode Island. "We'll get it under our belt as the race progress and hopefully we'll improve at a faster clip than the other guys. There is no substitute for experience, but being one of younger teams, hopefully we'll be a little bit hungrier and bring a fresh perspective."
The first leg is usually full of mayhem.
Three years ago, the mast on U.S.-based Puma Ocean Racing snapped in rough conditions in the South Atlantic. The boat was forced to withdraw from the first leg and limped to a remote island for repairs.
"The first night out is the first time the boats have been pushed that hard," Enright said. "It's no coincidence that those things happen early on. We've sailed 15,000 miles in this boat since we got it in April. That's a fair chunk, more than most Volvo boats have sailed before they set off on the first leg."
Enright and Towill met in 2006 during trials for the documentary Morning Light, which followed a group of young sailors competing in the Transpacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Inspired by mentors who had competed in the Volvo Ocean Race, they set up their own company, All-American Ocean Racing, with a goal of sailing in the round-the-world race.
While they've never done the Volvo, they do have experience in major ocean crossings and other offshore races.
Each crew went through a two-day course on safety at sea.
"Some of the stuff that gets simulated there is pretty eye-opening," Enright said. "It's what every seaman should be prepared for, from the possibility of man overboard, an onboard fire, capsize, medical evacuation, abandoning ship, piracy. There's plenty going on out there."
Among the hazards are whales, icebergs, wayward containers and waves the size of houses.
"My biggest worries are running into something at high speed, a container ship or something," Towill said. "More generally it's just the unknown or uncontrollable, like weather systems that spin up out of nowhere. There's only so much you can do to control your surroundings. My biggest exhilaration will probably be at some point doing well on a leg, hopefully coming into Newport."
The only U.S. stopover is in Newport from May 5-17.
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