June 24, 2021
I’m not sure where to start. Having recently bought a camper van, we set off on an adventure to Alicante for the start of leg three of The Ocean Race Europe. We rolled into Alicante in the afternoon. We checked into our hotel, walked out onto the balcony, and found ourselves overlooking the entire Ocean Race fleet. The VO65’s were Med-tied to the dock while the IMOCA 60’s were on moorings to accommodate their huge foils. Pretty cool. Shout out to our Benevolent Editor for convincing the Ocean Race organizers that I am a legitimate journalist. I was hoping for champagne press events and VIP parties but hey…Covid.
The Race Organizers did an incredible job blending Covid precautions with hospitality. Thank you to Eugenia, Nacho and especially the press RIB crew Jesus (pronounced Hey-Zeus) and Irene. Since we had the local TV crew aboard, we were the closest to the action. Jesus is a terrific RIB driver and, at times, it felt like we could reach out and touch the foil tips as they tore through the turquois, crystal clear waters of the Med. Obviously a sailor himself, he maneuvered us super close without ever affecting the boats we were following.
The EU Race is primarily staged to build interest for to big event in 2022 and promote sustainability. At the same time, this event gives future offshore racers as young a sixteen a chance to start and refine their offshore careers. These kids are phenomenal athletes and consummate professionals. They have vans to move people and gear around. So did we back in 1983 at SORC. Back then, the van was an alternative to sleeping on the boat. In the 80’s you were a subsistence sailing bum. You sailed for food, sportswear and maybe beer money.
The next morning, we found ourselves sitting next to Clarisse Cremer, the incredible young skipper of the IMOCA 60, Banque Populaire and the first woman to finish in the gruelling 20/21 Vendee Globe race. She is just as charming in person as she was during the videos she uploaded during the Vendee. I doubt she weighs more than 45kg. And she sailed a sixty-footer nonstop around the world. Impressive. We headed down to docks as the teams scrambled with last minute preparations. I remember when it was strictly “Verbotin” to have logos on boats or crew swag. Further, it was a definite no-no to have paid crew aboard. (On occasion, the owner would discretely hand you an envelope after the regatta, but we didn’t talk about that.) That’s changed. For a lucky and dedicated few, sailing is a full-time job today.
Onboard the Austrian challenge – Think about that, Austria! With no coastlines that I know of, Austria fielded a team. Why can the People’s Republic of Canada get a team? Speaking of The Great White North, I met Daniel Dagenais-Gaw, the lone Canadian participating as crew in the event. Originally from Halifax, Daniel has already accomplished a lot for a twenty-year-old sailor. We went for a beer. (Actually, I had two beers and Daniel had a coffee.) Daniel is physically fit AF and knows how to fix anything and make boats go fast. Like I said, back in the day, we were a drinking team with a sailing problem. If you want to promote youth sport and offshore sailing in Canada, look up Daniel on FB and support him.
The start and the first leg were unbelievable from our perspective. The shots and videos do not do this event justice. We were following the IMOCA sixty LinkedOut close enough that you could feel the spray off the foils. Jesus had to peg the RIB at twenty-six knots to keep up. I haven’t seen anything as exhilarating Since the Hooter’s Americas Cup team blasted by us in Cabo. If you get a chance to watch these boats live, do it. If you find yourself in Alicante, be sure to check out The Ocean Race Museum, a permanent fixture on the Alicante waterfront.
So, what did I learn? For one, I’m old. I did Antigua Race Week on the bow of a vintage Volvo sixty a few years ago. That was when I realized that fifty-four is far too old to do big-boat offshore foredeck. After the regatta, I cut the spike off my climbing harness and gave it to my young friend Thomas Joffrin, an up-and-coming sailing professional from Brittany, France. As it turned out, Thomas was also racing aboard the Austrian boat with Daniel. Athletes like Clarisse, Thomas, and my fellow Canadian, Daniel are the future of this sport. And me? I’m still sleeping in a van.
Foredeck Union Commander and longtime Canadian crewmate and pal D. Mitchele, aka D Danger for obvious reasons, has left reality to pursue his dreams here and there around the world. Seen sharing adventures with Shellbacks, Fall 2019