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A Chat with Charlie Enright

Volvo veteran Charlier Enright 

Volvo veteran Charlier Enright 

Rhode Island native Charlie Enright, 35, has competed in not one but two Volvo Ocean Races (VOR), with Team Alvimedica in 2014-15 and Vestas 11th Hour Racing 2017-18. More recently, Enright and 11th Hour Racing have announced they plan to compete in The Ocean Race, the successor to the VOR, which will feature a fleet of full-foiling IMOCA 60s that promise greater speeds—and stresses on the crew—than ever.

This past spring Laurie Fullerton caught up with Enright shortly after he’d completed the Transat Jacques Vabre, a doublehanded race from France to Brazil. The race was the first in a series of training events Enright and his VOR partner Mark Towill have lined up as they prepare for The Ocean Race, which begins in Alicante, Spain, in October 2021.

SAIL: How will the IMOCA 60, long used in the Vendée Globe round-the-world race, be a game-changer for this event?

CE: We are entering a brave new world, as opposed to the uniform one-design Volvo Ocean 65 used during the more recent VOR races. There is no question this definitely will be new for us. Although in 2016, computer simulators convinced us that these boats could foil, humans just weren’t sure. Now, as it is the case with the upcoming Vendée Globe in 2020 and the Ocean Race in 2021, the grand [prix sailing community] is all in with the foiling technology. We are going to be entering The Ocean Race with a customized boat and a customized campaign. Adding to that, we have the foiling aspect of the boat and that is both a really big step for us and in turn a big step for this race....When it comes to the Volvo Ocean Race, in 2005-06, the one-design Volvo 70 was a new class, and at the time they were pretty revolutionary. But the evolution slowed down, and by 2012 these boats were far more standard. What we are going to do has never been done in past Volvo races. This boat will be specifically designed with cutting-edge foils to lift the boat out of the water at higher speeds. But we know it’s just the beginning of the process.

The IMOCA 60 fleet at the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre

The IMOCA 60 fleet at the start of the Transat Jacques Vabre

SAIL: The construction and testing of your team’s IMOCA 60 will be done in Brittany, France. Can you elaborate a bit more on your strategy?

CE: With the depth of experience in building IMOCAs in Brittany, it is a natural fit to build our boat there because there is a real synergy going on in the region. It will be designed by Guillaume Verdier and built by CDK Technologies. Because what we are about to do has never been done in past Volvo races we are back out there in the Wild West, so to speak, in terms of sailing and design, we are still not clear what we will be looking for as we put together a sailing team and our boat. A big question, for example, is how to create a deck layout for five crew and one onboard reporter aboard a boat originally created for shorthanded racing.... Brittany is where it is at in terms of offshore, shorthanded and singlehanded racing, so this is where we feel we need to be. It allows us to launch the boat early in 2021, which gives us time for ample testing, trials and training in France and elsewhere in the leadup to The Ocean Race.

SAIL: Your home port of Newport, Rhode Island, has been selected as a stopover for The Ocean Race, the same as the last couple of VORs. This must be something the other sailors and skippers envy.

CE: Honestly, I have never thought about it that way, but I am, indeed, very lucky. The Volvo Ocean Race or a race like The Ocean Race is such a premier event and when such a premiere event is taking place in your hometown you don’t take it lightly. Some of the best days one can imagine happened to me sailing into and out of my homeport.

SAIL: Although you are recognized as an offshore competitor, are you also drawn to what’s going on with the America’s Cup?

CE: The line between the disciplines is getting blurry, and the high-performance needle is moving to the right. Foiling and flying are the future. New Zealander Peter Burling, who skippered the winning America’s Cup boat and went in the Volvo Ocean Race, is a tremendous example of how good sailors win races no matter what the boat or racing format.

SAIL: For U.S. sailors who dream of being an ocean racer, what would you suggest they do to pursue this somewhat elusive dream?

CE: Places like Oakcliff Sailing in New York have done a wonderful job, but we are desperately lacking in opportunities elsewhere to broaden offshore sailing. I believe the Storm Trysail clubs have been big supporters of offshore racing, which is great because each and every offshore race is different and presents a competitive challenge and sense of adventure. I believe you can just do so many windward-leewards, and there is a desire to get out and do more distance racing among many of us. It’s harder here than other places, but young people should recognize every offshore sailing opportunity, especially when it may be right under your nose. Use these opportunities as a stepping stone to what is next. But remember things don’t just happen, and you can’t rest on your laurels as there is always someone working harder and making an effort to get there, too. 

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The Ocean Race: Route

The route for The Ocean Race, which begins October 2021 in Alicante, Spain, and finishes the following summer in Genoa, Italy, will look familiar to fans of the event’s predecessor, the Volvo Ocean Race.

Well-known stops among the 10 cities the race will visit include Cape Town, South Africa; Auckland, New Zealand; Itajaí, Brazil; and Newport, Rhode Island. As always, the 38,000-mile course will dip into the Southern Ocean on multiple occasions and also take the fleet across the equator no less than four times.

One big change: the 2021-22 event will feature not one, but two different fleets of boats: one comprised of full-foiling crewed IMOCA 60s, and a second comprised of the same Volvo Ocean 65 sloops used in the last two editions of the VOR. For the latest on The Ocean Race, including stopover dates and the teams taking part, visit theoceanrace.com.

May 2020

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