They all battled fatigue and they all got battered by the same strong Gulf Stream. But the crews of the world's ultimate sailing event - the 32,000-mile Whitbread Round the World Race - also all seem to share an endurance secret: their families.
Time and again, as tanned and wind-blown crew members tied up in Baltimore's Inner Harbor after the seventh - and perhaps the most grueling - leg of the race, wives and children and extended family were on hand to cheer the intrepid sailors.
The most elite athletes in the sailing world have a much-deserved reputation as dedicated partygoers eager to reach the next port, but the family-friendly scene here yesterday somewhat tempers that image.
"I would never be able to do this without them," says Swedish Match skipper Gunnar Krantz, squinting up at his small daughter, Emma, riding on his shoulders. To many in the adoring crowd by the dock, Krantz is larger than life in the golden setting sun. But it is Emma, and wife, Enna, whom Krantz looks for first at journey's end. "For us it is a way of life," he says.
Gerald Rogivue, co-skipper of the Brunel Sunergy team from the Netherlands, now has more family traveling the world to meet him at various stops than he did when the race began last September in Southampton, England. Five months ago, as the Whitbread racers set sail on the second leg of the journey, Rogivue's wife, Alison, stayed in Capetown, South Africa, to give birth to the couple's second daughter, Gianna. Along with older sister Savanna, all three Rogivue women were on hand in Baltimore to greet the Brunel Sunergy team, first-place finishers of the Florida-to-Maryland portion of the race.
"They've been the underdogs of the race so far. Now we are calling them the wonderdogs!," said Alison Rogivue said as the family was reunited.
The crews will stay in Baltimore until May 3, when they'll line up their boats under the massive Chesapeake Bay Bridge outside of Annapolis and take off again.
Whitbread, first sailed in 1973, is now in its seventh running. Under the hand of the most experienced sailors in the world, the sleek sailing vessels circumnavigate the globe in nine separate legs. The routes follow the long voyages made in centuries past by clipper ships, tracing the contours of Africa, Australia, around South America's dreaded Cape Horn, north to the United States' East Coast, then back to Europe, ending back where they started in Southampton.
As Whitbread's traditions become established, families are emerging as a mainstay. "There weren't as many families in the beginning. You see a lot more now," says Whitbread staffer Heather Dallas.
"The wives hop from port to port, the campaign accommodates them," adds Warren Douglas with the Merit Cup team from Monaco, noting there will be a total of nine port stops on five continents. "You can image a wife in Norway with three kids while her husband is in Fort Lauderdale living it up," he grins.
In addition to the families, a traveling tribe of ground crew supports each boat. Well before a ship's sail appears on the horizon, the support crew is already in place, set up in makeshift workshops contained in large, portable containers that resemble an 18-wheeler's trailer. Inside, a shore boss, sail makers, riggers, boatmakers, and a "cook" (a do-all type) are ready to make repairs and resupply food cabinets.
A 12-member crew typically operates each 65-foot-long boat. It costs $6 million to $10 million on average to build a boat, transport the tribe, and pay for maintenance along the route.
For those with and without families, experiences on the open seas seem more meaningful when shared. Swedish Match skipper Krantz brought Emma and Enna the story of bumping into a whale and almost losing the rudder two days out of Fremantle, Australia. Arend VanBergeyk, a crew member of Brunel Sunergy, has been e-mailing his girlfriend in Holland during the race. In the 28,000 nautical miles traveled to date, VanBergeyk and the other teams have dodged icebergs, mountainous waves, and lightning.
By many accounts, the vessels took perhaps the worst beating during the last 870 miles of their voyage. Sailing atop the northeasterly flowing Gulf stream, the boats banged off of the top of 15- to 20-foot whitecaps kicked up by 20-knot headwinds.
"It was like being dropped onto hard land over and over," says VanBergeyk. "There was no way to move around the boat without holding on with two hands. Sometimes you needed three hands." Despite the hardship and day without sleep, sailors say it's worth it."You forget all the bad parts. You go places no other sailor goes ... the spinnaker sails ... nothing competes with doing something like this," says VanBergeyk.