Now that the seven 70 ft sloops in the Volvo Ocean Race have moved on, I should note the impression on me that they left behind. Jane, Leo, and I went down to Boston Harbor to see the first boats come in on April 26. The race village on Fan Pier was hopping, so we went to the nearby Institute of Contemporary Art for the great view from its upper level. No boats had arrived by the time it was due to close, so we dashed two piers down, to the World Trade Center. We turned the corner of the building at the far end at precisely the right moment to see Ericsson 4 flying up the inner harbor, a flotilla of small boats all around her, a fire boat pumping celebratory fountains aloft. Her great height of sail made her a truly amazing sight, like the future bearing down on us, a vessel from another planet. The next two boats, Ericsson 3 and Telefonica Blue, were just minutes astern, extraordinary after a passage of over fifteen days from Rio de Janeiro.
There is no more extreme sporting event than this round the world race in ten legs from Alicante to St. Petersburg, via Cape Town, Cochin, Singapore, Qingdao, Rio, Boston, Galway, Gothenburg, and Stockholm. Boston was the only stop in North America, and the opportunity of a lifetime to see the world’s most daring ocean racers and their crews, one of them—Puma—being the hometown team. On May 9, the boats took part in in-port races, earning points that accrued to their totals. The races took place in Broad Sound, just north of Boston Harbor. Leo and I went out in a motor boat to watch. The breeze was never much more than 10 knots, but these vessels are spectacular even when sailing in a light wind. Fog descended before the second race, so they loomed out of the gloom like floating specters. At one point all you could see of them was the top of their masts above the fog layer. Telefonica Blue won both races, the fog cleared, and we headed back to port.
I was out on Strider, a 30 ft sloop, with Chris Dubois of the Courageous Sailing Center, and Cameron McNeill, when on May 16 the fleet left for Galway. I felt privileged to be sailing on the same water as these sleek creatures, as they screamed down the inner harbor in a stiff breeze, close-hauled. They took a turn of the inner harbor so that we, the passengers and crews of the other hundred boats on the water, and the thousands watching from shore could see them race for more than a few minutes. Visibility diminished as they passed Castle Island for the first time towards the windward mark. Just after the first boats made it, we heard a single long blast on a ship’s horn. A freighter, the Nor’ Easter, was heading in. She delayed Delta Lloyd’s turn, and threatened to disrupt the whole race, but the fleet kept going, made the leeward mark, and headed out to sea. We followed far behind, the wind rising. We put in a reef near Deer Isle. By then we had long since lost sight of the Volvo Ocean Race boats whose next stop would be Galway. I shall never sail in anything like them, but their presence in Boston was truly inspiring.