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A Q&A with Charlie Enright about his recently announced VOR campaign

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 3 Apr 2017
Skipper Charlie Enright - June 19, 2015. Arrivals to the Pitstop in The Hague during Leg 9 to Gothenburg; Team Alvimedica Victor Fraile/Volvo Ocean Race
The cliché goes that when a butterfly flaps its wings in New Mexico, a hurricane will eventually come to China. While this is a simplistic way of looking at chain reactions, it’s fair to say that the late, great Roy Disney created some serious shed vortices when he and his film-making business decided to give a group of hyper-talented under-20s the chance to train with some of the world’s best offshore sailors with the goal of sailing in the 2007 Transpac Race. The “kids” had a fantastic experience, the race gained a colorful footnote, the general public got a great sailing film, and a group of sailors were given their first taste of offshore sailing and playing-for-keeps adventure.

Americans Charlie Enright (32) and Mark Towill (28) were both part of Disney’s Morning Light project, and both fell in love with the joys of offshore sailing. A deep bond between the two sailors was formed between Los Angeles and Honolulu, and dreams of bigger adventures were soon shared.

Flash forward to 2014, and Enright and Towill found themselves on the starting line of the 2014/2015 Volvo Ocean Race (VOR), leading Team Alvimedica-a team that they put together via a heck of a lot of hard work, personal sacrifice and commitment to a shared dream-from Spain to South Africa. Charlie and Mark hired Will Oxley (AUS) as their highly experienced navigator, and they brought in Stu Bannatyne (NZ), an ultra-experienced VOR ace, to help bolster their young team as a coach and sometimes-sailor.

It’s often said that the VOR is won and lost in the months and years preceding the race’s start, and that proved to be the case with the 2014/2015 edition. True, the boats were all One Design Volvo Ocean 65s that were built to exacting standards from a Farr design, but some teams had far more VOR miles than others. So while Team Alvimedica was committed to a dream, their hard-boiled lesson was that ocean racing is often a game of knowledge.

Still, Team Alvimedica proved quick on the inshore courses, they were the first team to round The Horn, and they experienced the joy of winning a leg when they arrived in Gothenburg, Sweden. The hook that was set with Morning Light had now transformed to a new vision: Winning the 2017/2018 VOR.

On March 21, 2017, in Newport, Rhode Island, Enright and Towill announced their Team Vestas 11th Hour Racing campaign for this year’s VOR. Vestas, it will be remembered, raced in the 2014/2015 VOR (when they infamously found the Cargados Carajos Shoals, some 240 nautical miles northeast of Mauritius, at almost 20 knots), and now the Aarhus, Demark-based sponsor is back and has teamed up with 11th Hour Racing, a Schmidt Family Foundation [Ed note: no relation to your humble scribe] is a program aimed at promoting “systemic change for the health of our marine environment'.

I caught up with Charlie Enright via email to learn more about his latest Volvo Ocean Race campaign.

What we're your biggest take-home lessons from the 2014/2015 VOR?
Innumerable...performance, trimming, mental and physical preparation, crew choice and budgetary efficiencies to name a few-its about doing a lot of little things a little bit better.

Do you see the One Design nature of the VOR as being more of an advantage for first-time teams, versus experienced teams like Vestas 11th Hour, or does the platform not reward one kind of experience level?
There is no substitute for experience but the One Design concept closes the gap. Last time, ADOR [Ed Note: skipper Ian Walker and his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew] was the most experienced team, and you saw that in the results. However, the One Design concept allows newer teams to compete at a much closer level [to the more experienced squads].

Can you give me a little insight into how you plan to go about selecting and grooming your crew for the Southern Ocean? Also, gender?
We have more experience sailing with more experienced people, the Rolodex is bigger, and less trialing will be required. You will see a good group for the Southern Ocean, that's for sure. We look to do more substituting.

In theory, there should be less trialing required, having said that we are trailing for a few spots, including females.

I've heard you and Mark say that you want to be a lot more competitive this time around-can you give us a 35,000' view of your plan to earn more podium finishes?
We should be more competitive by virtue of building off last time...last time we were not on the podium until the Sanya [China] Leg, after that it was more consistent, culminating in a leg win [sailing] into Sweden.

Do you plan to pursue this as a youth/younger-team endeavor, or do you foresee having guys like Will Oxley and Stu Bannatyne involved? Or, does age not factor into your thinking at this point?
Lets just say we're not aiming for any particular identity, just the strongest team we think we can put doesn't look like we’ll be sailing with a lot of old-timers, or a bunch of kids...hopefully we’ll build a fast, cohesive group who are in the prime of their careers!

Can you talk to me about how 11th Hour's involvement gives you, Mark and the team new opportunities to influence environmental thinking?
A number of ways...we've done an impact report on the last race, and we are looking to improve upon those results... quantifying [our impact and media impressions] allows for metrics of success.

The Volvo Ocean Race is a platform for communicating change, and that's how we will use it. I continue to be passionate about the ocean plastics problem, as well as marine debris in general.

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