Highlights of Isler's First Taste of the Volvo Ocean Race

Here's a list of some highlights and other vivid memories from my first Volvo leg:The fun and camaraderie amongst the teams thanks to the village atmosphere and lack of ultra secrecy (like the America's Cup) in both Sydney and Auckland.Playing keyboard in the Volvo team's band at a gig in Sydney. The thrill of being part of the famed start of the Sydney to Hobart race on Boxing Day inside Sydney's beautiful harbor; and to cap it off, being first boat out of the harbor and earning the $10,000 prize, which the team donated to the victims of the raging bushfires.The twister, waterspout, or whatever you call it: we came within a mile of the beast and recorded 60 knot winds. Needless to say I was down below in the basement, (tracking it on the radar).Major, bouncy, uncomfortable sailing conditions with the wind blasting against the strong East Australian current -- it felt like Gulf Stream sailing. Realizing, once again, how tough a competitor my friend Ross Field is¿ as he pushed on¿hour after hour without complaint¿despite a severe back injury.Having a major lead on most of the Volvo fleet evaporate as we sat in a windless hole on Tasmania's southeast corner. Battling full-on all night and rounding Tasman Light in the lead. We thought that would do it, but another huge hole reshuffled the deck completely: this ¿mini-leg¿ was far from kind to Team News Corp.Sailing up the narrowing bay to Hobart, Tasmania¿my first trip there¿and towards the throngs on the water and on shore that welcome the fleet. Drinking a cold soda and eating a hot sandwich at the dock whilst rewiring some electronics down below.Leaving the dock an hour after we arrived to head out for the restart.The spectacular view of the ¿organ pipes¿ on Tasmania's south coast'several hundred-foot-high rock pipes lined up for a mile or so. Back to fast, wet, uncomfortable reaching sailing in the Tasman. Thanks to their wide hulls (at the deck), water ballast¿resulting in minimal heel ¿and really fast speeds, these boats are as wet as it gets. And all the sleeping bags were already soaked from the bashing we had leaving Sydney.Being continually amazed and inspired by the extra effort exerted by and the talent of our crew. The southern hemisphere stars¿including the famed Southern Cross spinning around the southern horizon¿ as well as upside-down perspectives on the moon and Orion.The bummer when we realized that Assa had made it through the shorter northern route without parking. The incredible 6-day battle with Illbruck -- never more than 4 miles apart the entire way. Watching the soaring albatrosses slowly be replaced by more coastal type birds¿a sign that landfall was imminent. Arriving at New Zealand's dramatically beautiful north coast at mid morning and making big gains by playing the windshifts and currents. Dolphins coming to play in our wake¿dolphins are always a highlight anywhere. That last evening battle with Tyco and Illbruck¿¿ three boats all going flat-out in moderate running conditions¿ near sister ships all going the same speed. Jumping Illbruck and surging into the lead with less than 30 miles to go. The squalls, wind piping up to 34 knots and simply flying downwind--with Illbruck right along side flying through the Tiri Island gap -- entering the Hauraki Gulf. No more navigation needed here; it felt like we were coming home. The bummer as we saw Tyco emerge out of the haze and slowly gain bearing on us several miles away¿knowing they had jumped us once and for all. Jibe for jibe¿ trying to get past Illbruck -- including one final stab by dragging the action underneath the lee at North Head less than a mile from the finish. After finishing¿feeling the wave of exhaustion sweep over me¿it had been staved off for hours by the intensity of the battle for third, fourth, and fifth.Realizing -- a day or so later, that sailing Volvo 60's is not fun in the traditional sense. It's hard, uncomfortable, frustrating at times, downright dangerous, and especially down on the southern ocean legs¿really scary for days and days on end. But you get through it thanks to the challenge of your competitors and the phenomenal efforts of your teammates, sitting, working and sleeping right be side you. And when you finish, the feeling of accomplishment can be immense. Nobody said that life should be lived within the bounds of what we call ¿civilized comfort¿ all the time.