Monday, 31 October 2011

How I helped grind third place in the Pro-Am

It seemed only sensible that if I’m going to report on this Volvo Ocean Race and the people and boats then I should get stuck in and have a sail. And I got that chance when I was invited to join Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya for the Pro-Am Race.

Unlike the grey skies and light air for the in-port race, we were blessed by a 12-knot breeze and bright sunshine. The teams took five of the professional crews off the boats and replaced them with amateurs.

I was joined by some VIPs from past races and some race sponsors. I wasn’t about to jump on board and give it the big I am, so I tried to melt into the background. I’m 6 ft 7ins and melting into the background has never been my strong point.

Younger crew
As the crew was made up of the younger side of the team, no one recognised me.  And when Mike Sanderson offered the chance to get involved and jump on to the grinding pedestals, I naturally stepped forward.

I didn’t have the heart to tell the young lad that was explaining to me how to sail that I’d been a professional sailor for 25 years and was a grinder in the Americas Cup.

After the first few tacks I had ground the main in using only first gear and spun my teacher off the handles. It was at that point he asked my name and I confessed to my history.

Father figure
The news spread quickly through the boat and I was treated like a respected, recognised father-figure of the sport. After that I was given the job of getting the main in by myself and had a fantastic day. We finished a respectable third.

The day may have provided a little boost to my ego, but the downside was inevitable – the next day I was going to hurt from top to bottom of my 6 foot 7 inch frame.

Mark Covell

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