NEW YORK – Before Charlie Enright and Mark Towill could sail through the Southern Ocean’s gales in the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race, they needed help from a Disney movie, a Turkish medical devices company and a business plan.
Enright and Towill are accomplished sailors, alumni of Brown University’s nationally ranked team. Yet it’s their business and economics degrees and not their sailing skills that will put them at the helm of Team Alvimedica’s 65-foot ocean racing yacht when it launches next month to compete against the world’s best - and best-funded - sailors.
“There’s no handbook for this,” said Towill, the 25-year-old team general manager. “Nobody says ‘this is how you get a sponsor.’ We took every meeting we could and talked to anyone and everyone who would listen.”
Thousands of sailors worldwide dream of earning a spot on a professional team in the Volvo, which competes with the America’s Cup for sailing prestige. The nine-month, 38,739-mile course around the globe from Alicante, Spain, to Gothenburg, Sweden, allows only the toughest and most-skilled competitors, winnowing out even Olympic and world champions, said Knut Frostad, the race’s CEO.
What makes Enright, 29, and Towill different is they didn’t try out for a team, they built their own, Frostad said. The pair’s sailing abilities are matched by equally strong organizational skills and the persistence to assemble a $21 million professional sports franchise from scratch - a squad that must be rich enough to compete against teams backed by China’s Dongfeng Commercial Vehicle Co. and billionaire Jan Brand’s Brunel International NV, and strong enough to survive through hurricane-force winds and 30-foot waves.
“This race isn’t only about sailing - it’s about managing yourself, your teammates, the sponsors and getting the whole project from A to Z,” Frostad said in a telephone interview. “You need to be good at a lot of different things. There’s been plenty of good examples of fantastic sailors that have totally failed in the round-the-world race because they think it’s all about getting off the starting line and as quickly as possible to the finish.”
It’s a journey that took Enright and Towill from dinghies to the world’s biggest, fastest yachts in less time than it takes most college students to choose a major.