Volvo Boats Prepare To Set Sail, Carrying Message Of Sustainability

May 18, 2018

After two weeks at Fort Adams State Park, boat crews in the Volvo Ocean Race will embark Sunday on the ninth leg of the race. The around-the-world sailing challenge is nearing a finish in June in the Netherlands.

On the dock at Fort Adams, in the heart of the Volvo Ocean Race Village, groups of school children and ocean racing fans admired the seven boats and their bright blue, red and yellow hulls.

Crew members walked to and from the boats, occasionally waving to the fans. By the time they arrive in The Hague next month, they will have travelled a total of 45,000 miles.

Vestas 11th Hour Racing is one of these boats, and three of her sailors have roots in Rhode Island, including Nick Dana, the boat’s bowman and captain.

Dana is a legend in Newport, especially in the sailing community. He has sailed all his life and has participated in Volvo Ocean races for a decade.

“It’s quite exhilarating, but scary at times,” said Dana, while sitting aboard the boat, which reaches speeds up to 46 miles-per-hour.  “No matter how used to it you are, if you’re not getting scared sometimes, you’re not human.” 

And it's not just about being the best sailor. Dana says good teamwork is essential in this race. After all, Volvo sailors spend days at a time together in cramped quarters, sleeping for no more than four hours at a time.

“You really have to match up a lot of personalities because ultimately, you see people at their breaking point,” said Dana. “And if you’re not able to help each other then it’s either the crew or the boat breaks.” 

If something on the boat does break, the crew may have to get creative to fix it. Dana’s crew had to use a light pole to replace a broken mast during an earlier leg of this year's race.

The boat’s name comes from its sponsors, Vestas Wind Systems, a Danish wind turbine manufacturer, and 11th Hour Racing, an organization that promotes marine health. In addition to competing in the race, the team has a mission to promote sustainability and raise awareness about the problem of plastics in the oceans.

“It’s huge for the ocean, it’s huge for the environment in general. I sail through this stuff. I see it in the water. It doesn’t go away and it’s getting to a point where it is pretty dire in our oceans.” said Dana.  “That’s my office. That’s our workspace. We’ve got to take care of it.” 

The Vestas team is aiming for a neutral carbon and plastic footprint during this race, taking steps to catalogue its fuel consumption and waste reduction. The team is also collecting data on the amount of plastic in the ocean, including in some of the most desolate places on the planet.

Todd McGuire, the program director at 11th Hour Racing, says the race sponsors have been eager to take steps to reduce pollution and waste.

“A lot of it is education. That there is going to be more plastic in then fish in the ocean by 2050, and that’s an astounding statistic. And people hear that and say, ‘Well, we’ve got to stop that,’” said McGuire. “Obviously we can’t keep going in that direction, so we have to change that.  And by using the race as a way to educate the public, everyone gets behind it.” 

McGuire says the racing teams are seeing first hand just how contaminated the oceans are.

“They’re sailing through plastic that is out there in the ocean. They’re actually having to back down the boats because they have plastic around the keel, which is affecting their performance,” he said.

Onboard Vestas 11th Hour Racing, Damian Foxall is a sailor and the boat's sustainability manager. One of his jobs is to help spread the word about reducing plastic consumption.

“It’s something that we have to do every day. It’s a battle,” he said. “When you go to the coffee shop, when you go to pick up a smoothie. Refuse, reuse, rethink, and ultimately we are showcasing a way of life and a rethinking for everyone.” 

The Volvo fleet will set sail on Sunday, traveling some 3,300 miles to Cardiff Wales, and the Vestas 11th Hour Racing team will carry their message of sustainability with them.