Volume 14, Issue 17 ~ April 27 - May 3, 2006


Heroes All

by Kat Bennett

As I was working at the media center for the Volvo Ocean Race, one of the shore crew from Brasil 1 approached me. “Here is something about our boat,” he said — “although, I know that Americans only care about the winners.”

I knew in a way that he was right. The media center had already been deserted by the journalists from the major papers. The first three boats were in: first place, second place, third place. They had their winners, just like the Olympics. End of story.

At the same time, I also knew that he was wrong. “There are a lot of Americans who care about every boat,” I answered. “And there’s the bear.”

“Ah, yes, the bear,” he smiled.

One boat carried a contraband toy bear, smuggled aboard despite the strict weight and gear limits imposed during racing. This nameless bear made random appearances and sent the occasional e-mail often saying the things that no crewmember dare say. He also made himself very handy about the boat. Brasil 1 sent out a request for a name for the bear, and I was interested in the outcome.

I was also interested in the crew. Here were men who had sailed through the terrors of the sea. They had outrun waterspouts and cyclones, survived breached hulls and broken masts. They sloughed through the heat and the light airs; battered their way through seas twice as high as their boats. They worked together with the kind of teamwork for which American management hungers.

The race itself is always a first. Always new boats, new speeds, new gear. New ideas. The Volvo crews are not just racers; they break the waves of technology. The work of these crews sets the standard for an industry of racers and sailors. Standards are set not just by what wins, but by what doesn’t break. What works well and what doesn’t.

They sailed through seas filled with the ghosts of the sailors before them, men swept overboard and lost for all time. Some of this year’s crew felt the deck slip away and the waves rush over, felt the world disappear in a second as the waves grabbed at them to pull them away. Saw for a moment how a man felt just before he was lost to the sea.

And their fellow crewmembers felt that moment of helplessness as they watch the sea reaching for their friend. Still they raced.

It is true there is a first place in this race. But there is no last place. They have rounded Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope and can sit at the mess with both feet on the table and wear a gold ring through their ear. Like Odysseus or the Argonauts, every man is a hero, a champion, a sportsman and a sailor. Every man is a hero just for doing it.

And this American cares.

Kat Bennett is in her seventh week of chronicling the Volvo Ocean Race for Bay Weekly.

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