They captured the hearts of Newport and beyond as the youngest team in the race last edition, and now Team Alvimedica skipper Charlie Enright and his Team Principal Mark Towill are eager to put that experience to use. We caught up with them to chat about everything from the transition back into ‘real life’, their reflections on the 2014-15 campaign – and the future.
Hi guys! Tell us what you’ve both been up to since the end of the 2014-15 race…
MT: Since the finish of the 2014-15 race we’ve been working hard on getting back to the start line in 2017. It’s been a balance between sailing and fundraising. We’ve launched our project team under the name 55 South and signed 11th Hour Racing as our title sponsor for 2016. Charlie and I have tried to do as much sailing together as possible and mix it up in various types of boats.
CE: We’re proud of a lot of what we accomplished in the last race, but there’s a lot we know we can do better.
Who is 11th Hour Racing, and how did you end up teaming with them?
MT: 11th Hour Racing is based in Newport. They invest in sailing programs and organisations around the globe to affect change for environmental sustainability within the sport of sailing. We worked with them at the Ocean Summit in Newport and knew we wanted to do our part in building awareness for the mounting problem of marine debris, a lot of which we saw in the last edition of the Race. So it was a natural fit for us and we’re proud to have been using this off year speaking about what we saw in the oceans and how we can work towards making meaningful changes to minimise the problem.
How tough is it when the Race ends and you’re back in the ‘real world’. How do you deal with that?
CE: Well, there’s nothing like waking up everyday with one goal!
MT: There’s certainly a transition, no doubt. You get so used to moving at a million miles an hour during the Race. The pace is different. It’s good, though. I was able to spend some quality time at home reconnecting with family and friends.
CE: Going back to the real world, for me, was going back to a new world… and, time flies! My son has his first birthday this week.
What do you think to the new race route for the 2017-18 edition?
MT: It’s really exciting! The Southern Ocean leg was one of the highlights for our team, and the new route presents more time down there. It will be a tremendous challenge, but something we are looking forward to.
CE: It’s crazy down in the southern latitudes, more like video-game sailing than anything else. Last edition, the Southern Ocean – and particularly the bit from Auckland to Cape Horn – was a good run for us.
You guys led the fleet around Cape Horn – a big achievement in your first leg truly in the Southern Ocean. How did that feel? Has it sunk in yet?
MT: Not really. But every time I see the photo I smile.
CE: You know, I think Cape Horn is really the only part of the race where people stop and let things sink in. It really is an incredible part of the planet.
MT: So much went into getting to that moment, all the hard work, the team effort, it was surreal. What I’m most proud of was the team we put together, everyone put in so much, and when you can come together with a group of guys and achieve something like that, it’s a special thing.
You also had Volvo Ocean Race veteran Stu Bannatyne onboard for that leg. How important is experience down there?
MT: Oh, for sure, Stu’s experience was paramount. I think it was his eighth time rounding the Horn, he has so many miles under his belt, he really helped set the tone for that leg. He was an absolute pleasure to have onboard.
How excited would you be to head back to the Southern Ocean? And as an offshore sailor, what does the prospect of a leg like Cape Town to Hong Kong make you feel?
CE: I would be excited to do some more Southern Ocean sailing, for sure, but wearing my skipper’s hat, you cannot underestimate all of the safety implications that come along with that. It’s a ton of downwind sailing with no leeward mark, but with that comes a feeling of remoteness. Cape Town to Hong Kong, would be a tough one, especially over the holidays with a young family at home. It would also feel a bit strange taking a left to head up north when the bow is already pointed towards another Cape!
MT: I think that from a pure racing perspective, the Southern Ocean is what defines this race. It’s why we do it, and the challenge and the adventure keep you coming back for more.
Charlie – just on that point, now you’re a father, does that change how you feel about heading back out offshore?
Yes, and that feeling began as soon as I knew my wife was pregnant back when we left Abu Dhabi. The more you grow your family the more people you have relying on you. Ten years ago it was just me, but to not change my lifestyle now that there’s three of us, would be selfish.
As the youngest team in the Race, and the youngest skipper, you guys had a steep learning curve. Talk us through your experience – what were the biggest things you learned?
MT: There’s no doubt we had a lot to learn. As the leaders of the team, having never competed in the Race before, we were short on experience and long on enthusiasm. Looking back on it now we did some things right but also could have made better decisions along the way. It would be wonderful to have the opportunity to give it another go and implement the things we have learned into a winning campaign. You only have so much time with the boat in the lead-up period, and it’s critical to spend enough time on the water, focus on building the right team around you, define what the key objectives are in terms of performance and testing, and set up a training base and support team to make all of that possible, while doing so within a budget and limited timeline.
CE: I’d say three things I personally learned were that, yes, we had a great group of young guys, we made the least number of crew substitutions and really grew as a unit along the way, culminating in a leg win into Gothenburg… But having said that, it’s a long race – and some teams seemed to benefit from a crew substitution here and there. Something to consider in the future. Second, boat speed is king. Having fast drivers and trimmers makes the tactics and navigation easier. You can put your boat in the same body of water as everyone else and grind it out over time. And finally, time management – or knowing what’s important vs. what ‘just needs to get done’.
You guys have been friends for a long time. What did you learn about each other that you didn’t know before, during the 2014-15 race?
CE: Actually, not a lot! We knew each other so well in the beginning it’d be hard to learn too much more! We are very similar guys, but have different strengths and weakness…they balance out well.
Are you still hungry to do the Race?
CE: 100%. Hungrier than ever.
MT: As Charlie says, without a doubt. I think about it every day and it continues to be my main priority. Everything we have done since the finish last year has been in an effort to get back to the start line in 2017. It was incredible to win the final leg, to finally feel like we have what it takes to be successful in this event. I believe we’ll be able to carry that into the next Race if given the opportunity.
I guess in some ways, it’s a shame that the race ended so quickly after your leg win. Do you feel like you still have that momentum from 2014-15?
CE: New race, new team, new goals… we’ll take what we learned certainly, but momentum might be a stretch. I guess you’re only as good as your last leg, so maybe we’ll use that as fuel!
Talk us through what you’ve been doing to try and secure sponsorship. It’s a tough process isn’t it?
MT: In many ways it’s harder than doing the Race itself! Our main objective has been to secure title sponsorship to bring the campaign to fruition. We’re excited to have secured both 11th Hour Racing and Argo Group as partners for the next edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, but we still do need to secure a title partner to return to the start line. We’ve engaged with a number of quality brands and had some in-depth conversations about how we can help add value to their business. It’s a long process and it takes time.
CE: There’s no script for any of this stuff. We’re just trying to take advantage of every opportunity. You have to stay positive, but real, and not get discouraged when things don’t materialise like you’d hoped. Yes, it’s a tough process, but we like to think that we are in a better place now than we were 14 months before the last race!
What do you think is so special about this race that it brings people back and back?
MT: For the sailors, it’s all about the adventure. It’s the whole process, the build-up and the commitment and all of the hard work that goes into being successful. I’m often asked what the prize is for winning the event, and when people learn that there is no monetary award, they are shocked. For me personally, I love being on the ocean, the simplicity of it all, it keeps me coming back for more.
CE: I think also it’s the sense of competition and adventure… and the legacy of the people who’ve come before you.
In 2017-18, we will return to Newport for a second consecutive edition. How important is the Volvo Ocean Race – and having American sailors in it – to the local sailing community?
MT: The Newport stopover was simply incredible! There were so many folks that came out to support us. I’m hopeful that we can continue to be the home team for the States and for Newport.
CE: It’s amazing, 18 months later you still see many a Newporter sporting the orange colors of a Turkish Medical device company – another very good example of the value proposition the Volvo Ocean Race presents! Newport has a ravenous sailing fanbase and it’s only bolstered by the addition of familiar faces.
In one to two sentences, can you sum up your 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race experience?
MT: The 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race was a life-changing experience. It was by far the most challenging, and most rewarding thing I’ve ever been a part of.
What’s the plan going forward?
MT: Secure our sponsorship and get out on the water!
CE: Build a better mousetrap.