Mike Jahn

HYou know when there's something you were just born to do? It's effortless, natural, you don't have to think about it?  Babe Ruth was born to play ball. Angelina Jolie was born to be beautiful. Mitt Romney was ... was ...

Let me start over. I was born to write. Was I born to write well? I'm not sure, you'll have to ask my editor. His answer will depend on how drunk you get him. I'll pick up the tab.

I was not born to fish. The only way I could catch a fish was to make him die of laughter. I tried fly fishing when I was a kid. I even tied my own flies, spent hours and hours on it. But I never caught anything. My flies never got so much as a hungry glance. The fish were too busy laughing their fins off.

But I was born to race sailboats. I was a very good sailor, at least by the standards of the Great South Bay, alongside which sat my home town of Sodom-by-the-Sea. I sailed a dinghy (not dingy; that would be my resume). In other words, small. It would take a very long stretch of an exceedingly fertile imagination to call them yachts.

It takes quite an imagination to visualize sailing yachts at all these days. Forget huge, sleek wooden vessels with acres of billowing white canvas above and scores of gin-swilling gentlemen in blazers below. Think instead of the Volvo 70, which is ... let me think (it's been known to happen) how to describe it ... perhaps as a 70-foot windsurfer plastered with corporate logos and able to outrun a U.S. Navy destroyer. Watch a video shot from one and you think the camera was mounted on a surfboard. Towering spray shoots everywhere. The men who sail them describe the experience of going on deck during full-tilt conditions as “being firehosed.”

Manned by Olympic athletes and equally trained others who are also professional sailors, six of the $10 million boats are currently tearing around the world in the Volvo Ocean Race, a nine-month, 39,000-mile aquatic Grand Pris that began in Alicante, Spain, in November and will end in Galway, Ireland, in July. They're currently at a planned stop in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on the Persian Gulf.

And therein hangs a sail. The Volvo 70 may be a windsurfer, but it’s high tech in every way. Laptops and displays are everywhere. Satellite data let them find good wind and sail around storms. There’s a “Media Crew Member” who blogs, tweets, and uploads videos to Youtube. There are cameras all over the place. The boat is more thoroughly wired into the Internet than a thousand teenage hackers. Think of a Superbowl with a camera mounted in the ball. It’s possible for a fan to get engulfed in the data stream and spend night and day doing nothing but watching the Volvo 70s circumnavigate. It’s easy. There are position updates every three hours that can be read by anyone.

Including pirates.

Finally, the ink-stained wretch who was born to write gets to the point. Better pump a few more shots of Old Red Eye into that editor before asking his opinion. The point is to remind us yet again that nothing is new, no matter how many digital bells and whistles you hang on it. Here we have the ultimate racing boats ... extreme sailing, some call it ... ripping up the sea faster than a destroyer, interacting in real time with the entire planet, docked in glittery Abu Dhabi hiding from pirates. And worrying about Iranian threats to close down the Strait of Hormuz before Saturday, January 14, when the boats have to get through it again to start of their sprint around Southeast Asia to Sanya, China, the fourth leg of the circumnavigation.

They’ll make it and "the Everest of racing" will continue ... if they aren't kidnapped or blown up.

Why would the boats not have to fear pirates? They're big buckets of cash ... I think I mentioned the $10 million price tags ... sailing the ancient trade routes carrying a fortune in publicity and promotion from port to port. Abu Dhabi and Sanya aren't putting on immense, citywide celebrations because they love wind and sea. (They are sponsoring two of the boats, the ones repeatedly breaking down). The Emir's crew just announced that more than 12,000 Abu Dhabi hotel nights have been sold to race organizers, support personnel, and fans. I suspect that the room rates are a bit higher than you and I pay at Motel 6.

Let's face it -- the Volvo 70s are merchant vessels. And navies were created many centuries ago specifically to protect merchant shipping. At some point just past Madagascar, as they were about to enter the Somali pirate danger zone, the race managers shut off the data stream, cut the position reports, and hoisted the boats, masts and all, onto an armed ship ... there are photos of a deck protected by razor wire ... for a series of secret maneuvers that ultimately got them to Abu Dhabi. Where the Emir is throwing one whale of a party. Truly, some party, a citywide celebration like that given the Olympics. When I got back from one of my races maybe I got a bottle of warm beer.

Pirates are not invited. Bloggers are, and a bunch of ours were flown in to help cover the festivities. 

I didn’t have all these problems racing off the shore of Sodom-by-the-Sea. I might be swamped by a ferry wake, run up on the rocks or a sand bar, tipped over into a school of jellyfish, or get stuck in the middle of the bay in a lightning storm while quivering five feet from a tall metal stick. That happened. I had the soiled trousers to prove it. Worse, when I got back to the dock someone had stolen the beer and there was sand in the sandwiches. But no one took me captive and no Iranians were firing missiles at me. 

So on Saturday, January 14, have three fingers of Old Red Eye in honor of the Olympian, high tech, tweeting sailors of the Volvo Ocean Race and cheer them on as they ride their heavily armed freighter out of missile range and far enough past the pirates to get back in the water, switch on the data stream, resume uploads and tweets, and show, one more time, that nothing is new. 

They were born to do it.


Mike Jahn’s newest Kindle book is “Murder in Central Park” http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Jahns-York-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B006QBRN0C/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326057566&sr=1-3

The Volvo Ocean Race http://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/home.html

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