Volume 14, Issue 20 ~ May 18 - May 24, 2006

Where We Live

by Steve Carr

The Time of My Life

Playing golden retriever for Brasil 1

I’m an average sailor who has been following the Whitbread — and now Volvo — Ocean Races since I was a boy. Every four years, I make sure I’m on the scene to do the dock tours and maritime festivals. This year I decided to take a different tack. I took two weeks off from work and volunteered in Baltimore, working on the boats as they were readied for the next leg to Portsmouth, England.

I spent my first week at Port Covington, where they were dry-docking the seven Volvo 70s. I got to hang with all of the different shore crews and do the grunt work that goes on behind the scenes, like wet-sanding the bottom of a 70-foot-long Grand Prix ocean racer. This was a side of the Volvo that few dream of.

Adopted into Brasil’s Family

As luck would have it, I got hooked up with the samba-time crazies from Brasil 1, everybody’s favorite.

One day, my main mission was to get them hooked up with water so they could hose off the boat and keep her clean. Each team’s hoses had metric nozzles, of no use here in the States. When I finally got Brasil 1 connected, I snuck up on the crew as they were working on the bow and let them have it, yelling “You are no longer a Third World nation!”

Another morning, I scrubbed every inch of Brasil’s inside. I lay in the cocoon-like bunk and swabbed the surrounding bulkheads. I sat on the toilet seat and sponged the cubbyhole bathroom, the crew toothbrushes still in their holders. I sat at the navigation station where a religious icon of Jesus hung above the computers, helping a storm-tossed sailor steer his boat. I can close my eyes and see every nook and cranny of Brasil.

At times the whole thing was surreal. After working down below in the close confines of Brasil one day, I went above and realized that everyone had left for lunch. I was all alone. On that gorgeous sunny afternoon, I sat at the helm and imagined sailing around the world. I watched the Pirates next door playing with their red and black pirate ship while Kimo Worthington — the head of the Pirates’ shore crew and one of the world’s greatest sailors — raced little battery-powered Volvo sailboats against one of the guys from Team Ericsson.

Friends and I set out to watch the in-port race; we went nuts when Brasil finished second. At the awards ceremony in the Inner Harbor that evening. I noticed my Brazilian buddies standing by the stage. I started to join them, but it hit me that this was their special moment, and I was just some wannabe world sailor who had no business intruding. So I backed away and watched the boys from Pirates get their award for finishing third and spray champagne all over each other like kids. The next thing I knew someone was dragging me by the arm while another handed me a cold beer. It was Clayton and Tim from Brasil’s shore crew. “Come! Join us. You’re part of our family.”

The Brasil team was incredibly gracious in victory. They insisted that the wet sand job we did on the boat’s hull made a big difference. Torben Grael — their skipper and a guy who has won more Olympic sailing medals than anyone alive — hugged me. After that, I was invited to the crew party where we ate big slabs of grilled Brazilian beef and drank Heineken; just red meat and beer.

Partying with the Best of Them

A big part of the Volvo stopover is partying. One night I went to a techno bar on Charles Street for a free blowout sponsored by Pirates and ended up pounding drinks with all these crazy people I had been reading about for months, sort of like hanging out with the Rolling Stones. The next night I went to the John Legend show at the newly renovated Hippodrome Theater, where high rollers from around the world hobnobbed with local dignitaries and rowdy sailors. The next night we had a suite overlooking first base for the O’s game against the Blue Jays. Work all day and play all night. That’s the Volvo.

By the time the Volvos came to Annapolis, I had assumed the role of Team Brasil’s pet golden retriever, and I played tour guide during their stay, helping them find dive tanks, get a stove fixed and navigate America’s sailing capital.

On Sunday, we sailed out alongside Brasil 1 as they headed for the restart. When they saw us, they waved madly and snapped pictures of us from their boat. As they sailed down the Bay in first place, we raised a cold beer and saluted our new friends from South America. Volvo’s time here gave me two of the best weeks of my life, and I wish it had never ended.

Hey, wait a second. I still have my press pass … Portsmouth, here I come.

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