On July 1, 2015, having reached the pinnacle of offshore racing, 24 young sailors are hit with a harsh reality: Suddenly they are out of a job. As graduates of the Volvo Ocean Race’s under-30 requirement, they’re back in the pro-sailing unemployment line, standing alongside teammates and competitors way more qualified.
But they’re millennials, and when has age ever stopped them from achieving their dreams? The Under 30s are part of the generation that has consistently said, “If the job isn’t there, I’m going to create it for myself.” And that’s exactly what these young Volvo veterans are doing.
1. Rokas MileviCius, 28
Rokas Milevicius found it challenging to come off the race and lose that sense of intensity when he moved back home to Lithuania: “The hardest part is going from the serious [work], working at 100 percent all the time, to day-to-day work. I miss the high energy we had for two years of training and the Volvo Ocean Race. Now that it ended, it feels like I have nothing to do. So I’m gearing up for whatever comes next. I’m taking every opportunity to sail. I know my weaknesses and I’m working on those. I’m in the gym. My goal is to be always ready for what’s next.” Milevicius always wanted to sail in the Volvo Ocean Race, and even when he applied for Team Brunel, he thought the odds were against him. “To become a professional sailor is to achieve one of my biggest dreams,” he says. “Now I’m fighting for a dream [to sail the race again], and I’m never giving up.”
2. Justine Mettraux, 29
Justine Mettraux might be the next Samantha Davies. In 2013 she went from finishing second overall in the Mini Transat straight into training with Team SCA. Now she’s back into solo sailing, working on her Figaro campaign for 2016 and the next Mini Transat. Needless to say, Justine is one busy woman.
“I wouldn’t say there’s pressure to find work because of my age, but because of my gender,” she says. “I’m not expecting the future to change after Team SCA’s campaign, because it hasn’t in the past. Women have a marketing edge, especially in solo sailing. But I’m not expecting the calls, so I have to go out and get them myself. You have to build your campaign yourself as a woman. [Fortunately] there are more sponsorship opportunities for women because there are less women solo sailing, and women are proving they too can have good results.”
3. Elodie Mettraux, 30
Elodie Mettraux is on the hunt for more racing experience, more sea time, and a sponsor for the 2016 Tour de France à la Voile — none of which have come delivered to her front door. She’s going out to get them all herself.
“After the Transat Jacques Vabre, Libby Greenhalgh [Team SCA], Fletcher Kennedy [shore crew Team SCA] and I are sailing a Class 40 back to France from Brazil,” she says. “I am using this to promote my sailing career, but I’m also looking to get sponsors interested in my team and myself. We’ll have an extremely small budget for the trip, but it will be a good opportunity to gain more experience navigating and sailing. “I have to practice more and keep sailing. I have to stay active. I have to take these little jobs because I really want to sail the Tour de France à la Voile with a solid mixed or all-female crew. I’ll try to find my own sponsor until February 2016, and then, if nothing happens, I’ll begin making phone calls to be a part of someone else’s team.
“Before the VOR, I wasn’t working as a professional sailor, so I didn’t have a sponsor prior to the race. The Volvo Ocean Race changed my career, and I want to continue to sail at the highest professional level.”
4. Nicolai Sehested, 25
Nicolai Sehested, a crewmember with Team Vestas Wind, is not technically employed, but he is certainly staying busy. Like Milevicˆius, Sehested feels it’s hard to go back to normal life. But at the moment, his main goal is getting results. “Because results speak for me,” he says. “I wish sailing was more like mainstream sports, and that results spoke more for the sailor instead of networking. [Because it’s so often] networking, it’s the same sailors who get the jobs, so the younger guys don’t get a chance. I’m creating my own team, since you can’t really rely on anyone else and it’s too risky to wait. So I’m going to keep racing, keep myself busy, but always be ready.”
Volvo Ocean Race 2014 – 15 Leg 6 to Newport
5. Carlos Hernandez, 28
Sailing in the Volvo Ocean Race with Team Mapfre was a dream come true for Carlos Hernandez. “Since I was young I followed the race,” he says. “I was close to getting into the last edition with the second Spanish team, but the project did not succeed. I finally got the chance to sail in this edition, and I hope I have the opportunity to sail many more times.
“It feels like people look at you in a different manner when they know you’ve done the Volvo Ocean Race. The whole time I was learning from the best sailors in the world, and I wanted to take advantage of this. I was like a sponge. Because my goal is to sail in the next race, I want to always keep sailing at a high level. I go to the gym to keep fit, I’m sailing in the Sydney Hobart Race, and I’m sailing as much as I can, even in other classes, so people see I’m active and have energy to face new challenges.”
6. Mark Towill, 27
Mark Towill is unique among his Under 30 peers in that rather than hoping for one of the coveted Under 30 spots, he created his own young team with co-skipper Charlie Enright. Touted as the “young guns” of the race, Team Alvimedica finished fifth overall, but they laid the foundation for another go at it. While Enright was the face of the team, Towill was the resourceful general manager keeping the program in check. With the experience of his and Enright’s sponsorship hunt from the previous edition, Towill is back to knocking on boardroom doors full time.
“From where I’m sitting, the phone is not going to ring, so I have to go out and get those opportunities,” says Towill. “I want to do as much sailing with Charlie and the core players of the team as possible, but we also have to focus on the real goal, to do the 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race, which is a full-time job.
“It’s all about balance. We’ve always been young guys making our own opportunity. Now we’re seeing an increase in younger teams, self-organized around a goal. We want to be a youthful American team, which we believe sets us apart, but we’re competing against ‘traditional’ sports.
“My single biggest goal is to win the Volvo Ocean Race with an American-supported or mostly American team. It feels like our first race was just about doing it, and now it feels like unfinished business.”