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Back At It

Oman Air's Max Bulger reports back on the fast first day in Qingdao, China, for Act 2 of the Extreme Sailing Series.

April 14, 2012
Sailing World

BulgerBlogAct2

I will say that, if it wasn’t for these posters (which are plastered all over the airport and city) I might still be sitting on the curb at the airport, failing to give directions in incredibly broken Mandarin to a confused looking cab driver. Max Bulger

I learned a lot of valuable lessons during Act 1, but apparently few of them had to do with departure. While I did manage to pack a little further in advance this time (not much of a feat considering most of my gear was shipped with the boat from Oman to China), I still found myself escaping to the airport in a flurry of mid-term exams, dissertations and papers. I guess that’s what happens when you’re an undergraduate moonlighting as a bartender to pay rent moonlighting as an international sailor moonlighting as a… you get the point. Once again, I find myself thankful to have such awesome friends and family to help me keep it all together.

Another lesson to file in the unlearned-from-last-time department is “know where the hell you’re going before you leave.” I landed in Qingdao last night just before midnight, without my baggage, the name of our hotel or a working cellphone. Without divulging the details, I’ll just say I found my way to the hotel before morning (having only to decline a few fraudulent cab drivers and solicitations for female escorts) and received my luggage by sunset today. Crisis averted.

My first trip to the bathroom in the boat park today was also my first introduction to the Qingdao interpretation of a porta-potty: Bathroom Bus. Only in China.

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After a short’s night sleep, it was good to be reunited with the team. After a 4:30am false start by one of our beloved boatbuilders (and my roommate here in Qingdao) Tim, the first arrivals of Team Oman Air met for breakfast at 6:30 this morning. Nasser, Will, boatbuilders Joe and Tim, and I caught up over coffee and the sensory overload that is the hotel buffet. (In case you were wondering, the five of them went Western, whereas I will be eating dim sum before 7am for the next week straight. It’s the little things.) With my back to the window, I managed to avoid confronting the weather until just before we headed down to the Olymic Marine Park.

A foggy day at the Olympic facility.

It’s cold here in Qingdao, around 7 degrees Celsius, and today brought dense fog. From the end of the boat park we are sharing with The Wave, you could hardly see Red Bull and ZouLou on the far side. The temperature is bearable, but the constant moisture makes working outside all day an exhausting affair. This event is far shorter than the last one: we put together the boat today, will finish stepping the rig and splashing the hulls tomorrow, and if we’re lucky get a short practice session in the afternoon. Our only full day of practice will be Monday, and racing is Tuesday-Friday. I’ll be on a plane next Saturday morning and back in Boston before midnight EST in 7 days. Considering we had almost 2 weeks prep time for the same days racing in Oman, not to mention less wind and less trying weather, Act 2 is going to be a physical test.

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It’s not all fun and games: Nasser and Will work on stretching out our new tramp. Despite appearances, this was by far the most tedious and time-consuming job of the day.

Every team is already racing the clock. Quick greetings have been exchanged, and, as always, all the teams are friendly with each other, but there is a palpable attitude change. In Oman, we had all the space and extra time needed to get our programs together before the season began. This first day unloading boats in Qingdao marks the beginning of an international sprint that will last from now through December, in Brazil. Each job done too slowly or incorrectly means one less hour on the water, or one more thing to do before the next event. Customs laws and league regulations prohibit any hope of getting around these issues through early arrival.

The Team Oman Air office on the end of Day 1.

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That being said, it’s this kind of challenge that makes our sport demanding. If there’s one message that’s obvious as we prep for Act 2, this team knows it’s not enough to get around the racecourse in first one time.

Follow Max Bulger on Twitter.

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