Youth…American…Sponsored: It Can Be Done
By Kimball Livingston Posted June 29, 2014 – Photo of Alvimedica under sail © Daniel Forster/Team Alvimedica
Fair warning to my journo colleagues. If the America’s Cup goes to Bermuda, I have dibs on covering it for The Onion.
And if you don’t get that, take a slow walk around the block, or doublecheck your Bermuda sailing history.
Our news of the moment comes from the former home of America’s Cup, Newport, Rhode Island, where the USA youth team’s Volvo Ocean Race entry was christened over the weekend by former US Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin as Alvimedica, the name of the company bold enough to sponsor first time circumnavigators in one of the toughest-going round-the-world races. Not that they’re making a bad bet . . .
Roy would be proud. And I’ll explain.
The existence of Team Alvimedica represents further success and the next challenge for two young men who set out to build themselves a Volvo boat and team. To build it against the oddsand there ought to be a big, loud wow herebecause there are a mere handful of sailors worldwide who can be sure of getting sponsorship when they need it. Like most of the American sailing population, Charlie Enright, 29, and Mark Towill, 25, are not that. The two “found” each other through the late Roy Disney’s Morning Light project, the boat and the movie, where already-advanced young sailors were given rigorous training in seamanship, navigation, boat systems and medical procedures by top players including Robbie Haines and Stan Honey. The Morning Light crew had a good go with an updated TP52 in the 2007 Transpac and at times threatened to beat their head-to-head competition, the pros aboard John Kilroy’s TP52, Samba Pa Ti, that being one of the most successful Transpac boats of all time.
With the Morning Light project behind them, Enright and Towill set some goals . . .
And that went well. In 2011, just for for example, Enright skippered the Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team to victories in the Transatlantic and Rolex Fastnet Races (Oakcliff Sailing being a story in itself), and in the same year Towillwho holds two degrees from Brown in economics and environmental studieswas a winner at the Melges 32 Worlds.
They launched themselves as All American Racing and, eventually, their young, up-and-coming vibe hit synch with Alvimedica, which describes itself as, “a young, agile company devoted to developing minimally-invasive medical technologies for medical professionals looking for the next level of innovation in the operating room.” It all came together when Alvimedica decided that Enright, Towill and the Volvo Ocean Race represent, “The perfect platform to express our worldwide ambitions.” And what better company to be talking to? When the partnership was first announced, Turkey-based Alvimedica CEO Cem Bozkurt noted, “Sailing has been our focus in sports. We’ve been joining races with a sailing team formed up of our employees the last two years.”
The race team, still in development, recently sailed to Newport from Portugal in semi-race mode, to further their blue water skills, and there is heavy lifting yet to be done. By phone from Rhode Island, Towill said, “Our main objectives now are to fully learn the boat and its characteristics, the sails, the combinations, the complications. Crossover points. Interaction with water ballast. We have to analyze everything to a new level of detail. Meanwhile, we also have to narrow the crew to eight, plus alternates.”
The team sailed with ten, crossing east-west, but the limit for the racewhich starts October 4 from Alicante, Spainis eight. “We tried to simulate what it’s like with eight,” Towill said. “We proved that it takes all eight to make any maneuver, any sail change. It’s hard, but that’s part of the allure.”
With Volvo class boats now sized down from custom 70-footers to one-design 65-footers, it’s tempting to imagine they’ve been tamed, but that was never the idea. The fundamental design premise for Volvo 70s was to make them fast, and make them wet, because wet communicates. Green water on deck. Flying spray. The cameras love it.
So, Mark. The Volvo 65? “It’s definitely wet. Fairly comfy off the breeze, but always very physical.”
And how do you look at crew selection? “You’re looking for skills, obviously, but you’re also looking for the ability to work in a team environment.”
I think I can safely add, in a team environment, under stress. Alvimedica will be out sailing every day, or almost every day, until a selected team of eight takes off for Europe on July 9. They won’t be back until late April, 2015, when the Volvo Ocean Race fleet makes its USA stopover, the sixth of its ten ports, at Newport. Think nine months and 38,000 miles from Alicante to a finish line at Goteborg, Sweden.
As a select few have shown us before, it can be done.