The Volvo Ocean Race is as much a sailboat race as it is a major managerial undertaking. Charlie Enright, skipper of Team Alvimedica, threw himself into this delicate blend of business and sailing skills when he signed on to race around the world in a 65-foot high-performance yacht.
Enright began laying his foundation for competitive sailing at a young age in Optimists, as do many contemporary sailors. Next came the Brown University Sailing Team—an experience that primed him for the Volvo Ocean Race in an unexpected way.
While Enright was a four-time All-American, the style of collegiate racing hardly prepared him for what was to come with a big-boat campaign. “Having the opportunity to sail every day, that’s what I miss,” Enright says about the leap from college racing to ocean racing. “You need to do a lot of sailing outside of college by practicing in different mediums and conditions you’re exposed to.” Not only did Enright immerse himself in as many different scenarios possible, but he majored in Business Economics at Brown, a track that would prepare him for the campaign he would eventually find himself leading.
Enright’s first foray into offshore racing was with the Morning Light campaign in the 2,300-mile Transpacific Yacht Race. The entry was sponsored by Roy Disney and used as a platform for the movie meant to inspire young sailors. On the boat with Enright was Mark Towill, who became his friend, teammate, and business partner.
After graduation, Enright worked for North Sails, scraping together as many hours on the water as possible. In an attempt to expand his sailing repertoire past the college realm, Enright practiced dabbling in a variety of one-design classes and programs until his ticket to the big-league of offshore racing came out of the blue. As he puts it, “One day I was contacted by someone asking me if I would be interested in heading this campaign [Alivmedica]. And I thought, ‘Well, hey, why not?’”
Enright turned first to Towill, and the two of them began laying the foundation. They had two good sailors as pillars of the campaign, but before they could put their sailing skills into play for the actual racing, they had to face financial hurdles. Enright and Towill flew to Amsterdam and put on their “monkey suits,” as Enright called them, and met with potential sponsors to make the race palpable in the first place. Twelve hours and a few drinks later, the duo scored what they needed to pursue all aspects of their campaign.
In the coming months, Enright and Towill successfully split their time between learning how to get the most from their Volvo 65 to recruiting a dynamically sound crew. Enright attributes the success in this process to his and Towill’s partnership. “Our relationship—how we operate—is how we got here. We have a lot of similarities and differences that make us a good team,” Enright says.
Their ability to apportion their improvement of sailing skills and their focus on holding up a business is remarkable. “If someone told me, ‘You have to find 20 million dollars or sail around the world, I’d say to sail around the world is easier,” says Enright. “I feel like I’m constantly pulled in a lot of directions. You have to be in a position to focus on the sailing but keep the boat going.”
Team Alvimedica finished fifth overall in the 2014-2015 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, with a first-place finish in the final leg. But, this wouldn’t be the end of the open ocean for Enright and Towill. The two jumped aboard Bryon Ehrhart’s Reichel-Pugh 63 Lucky for the 2015 Transatlantic Race almost immediately after completing their Volvo circumnavigation. For more on the Transatlantic Race, currently underway, visit transatlanticrace.com