Taken for a Ride
Taken for a Ride
The Volvo Ocean Race is equal parts adventure race and traveling circus, and the pro-am races at each of the race’s stopovers can be thoroughly entertaining for crews and guests alike. "Gaining Bearing" from our March 2012 issue.
Now it’s time to race, and we explain how the race will go down: all the boats start together, we sail to a mark about a mile away, and then sail back—twice around, full drag-race style, which is essentially as fast as the boats will go in 12 knots of breeze.
The gun goes, and the fun begins. Every guest drives the boat. Every guest has his or her picture taken driving the boat. And every guest gets into grinding around the marks and through tacks or jibes. By the end of the frantic, 20-minute race, all are thoroughly amused, and there are probably about 20,000 photos on their collective cameras. Blog away.
Whenever a new person gets on the wheel, there’s always a look of terror, so I try to put them at ease by asking, “Do you know how to drive a car?”
They all say, “yes,” and when they realize the boat’s wheel reacts like a car wheel, they usually keep it under control. Except for Jake Shears, of the Scissor Sisters. Of the thousands of people we’ve taken sailing in the past five years, he’s the only person that has ever answered my question with a “No.”
“You mean you don’t know how to drive?” I ask the 33-year-old.
Sure enough, he’s a terrible driver. I tell him to stick to singing, or whatever it is he does on stage. Ana Matronic, the red-haired co-lead singer for the Scissor Sisters is an excellent boat driver, and does, in fact, have a driver’s license.
In comes the tender with group number two ready for action. This is Volvo’s group. Volvo sends their VIPs, executives, and friends out on the boats. This group has 13 guests. Two of them have sailed before.
Same program: start, reach, reach. Cameras are clicking, everyone’s driving, people are grinding their hearts out. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this experiment, it’s that human beings are a competitive species. Everyone wants to win, and everyone wants to know why we didn’t win.
Finally, for Race 3, it’s time to take care of our friends from BERG Propulsion. On board clamor another 15 or so guests, and this time there are several sailors amongst the group. Sure enough, the breeze drops to about 8 knots or so, but one advantage of the canting keel is that we can heel the boat over at any time, giving the impression that we’re flying. Ah, the tricks I’ve learned in the entertainment business.
When the day is done, fun prizes are handed out back on the dock, and all of the pro-amers are happy, filled with stories to tell their friends and pictures to share on their Facebook pages and blogs. We’ve done our job. We’ve given back just a little to the people who make this all happen. It’s the least we can do.