Big boots to fill in Volvo race for Abu Dhabi boat crew member

Nick Dana cannot touch the sail but he is still a vital member and an integral link between the world and the crew.
Nick Dana is an American sailor but does not hit the waters with the Abu Dhabi Ocean Race team.
Nick Dana is an American sailor but does not hit the waters with the Abu Dhabi Ocean Race team.

"The yacht is dry down below, and the mango porridge for breakfast is still warm. All is happy aboard Azzam."

He is the on-board sailor who cannot sail, according to the rule book. He is the videographer, the chronicler, even the cajoler. He is an integral part of the 11-man crew even if his motions differ drastically from the sailing 10.

Four fixed cameras on deck help this "media crew member", a position required on Volvo Ocean Race boats. Another video camera and a still camera will be constant company for Nick Dana during nine months aboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam. He also will blog, as he did lately between Portugal and England.

"The colour of the sky is greying as we sail further toward the English coast."

Aged 25, raised in the seaport of Newport in Rhode Island, a studio-art major at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, a keen surfer and a country music fan among all else, Dana has tasks that involve safety and communication with race headquarters, but also stretch to the evocative.

Think of it: for centuries in a world of storybook sea swells, sailors had vivid stories they could stash in memory banks only. Now those stories get a separate airing.

"The guys always like watching playback of certain events and you kind of get them into it," Dana said. "They're glad that it's all being documented. A lot of these guys used to sail offshore and have incredible experiences and there wouldn't be an ounce of footage on it."

"Although it was an instrument-heavy, moonless night, Azzam felt like a low-riding Cadillac (according to myself and Andrew Lewis, the two Americans on board) moving smoothly through the darkness."

Beyond that, Dana has still another duty, that of good denizen in a domain in which the role proves unusually important. Any 11 humans circumnavigating the world in confined space face issues.

"Not only do you have the job of documenting everything on board and kind of translating it in ways not only technical, but also kind of aesthetically pleasing," he said.

"Also you have to be a citizen on board and get along with the other citizens. You're not allowed to sail but there's a lot of other factors. You really have to become part of the brotherhood. You have no choice. You're in a 70-foot box with these guys."

As Azzam navigates, Dana navigate the citizenship role with a principal role he likens slightly to "a war correspondent."

"I can't pick up a sail," he said, just as a war correspondent "can't pick up a gun."

"We have been tracking upwind for around 19 hours, long enough on a Volvo Ocean Race 70! The crew is anxious to crack sheets."

He wrote that amid Azzam's recent Fastnet victory near England and Ireland, and such passages have seemed nigh since his infancy. His parents, Charlie and Rose, long have sailed their 70-foot ketch, while in Bahamas Investor magazine in 2009, Charlie described himself as a "harbour rat" and said: "There is much more to sailing than just playing around in big, white boats."

His brother, Eli, mans the job of boat traffic controller at Newport Shipyard, while a sister, Isabella, and a brother, Milo, also walk around with considerable yacht smarts.

Nick once told a reporter of sailing since age "two weeks," and he said that at 13.

He said that in New Zealand during the 2000 America's Cup, when the American sailing celebrity and family friend, Dennis Conner, made him 17th man aboard Stars & Stripes, on a day that happened to present nine-foot swells and 30-knot challenges. The 13 year old had called it "a funny ride" in the Providence Journal-Bulletin.

"He's quite a cool kid," Conner said in the New Zealand Herald. "We e-mail each other. And he has a pet llama." Well ...

"I wouldn't have sent him out there, though, if I had known it was going to be so rough. But he looks like he handled it fine."

"Charging the batteries and cooking the porridge… Life is happy on board as we tuck into our morning feed."

Dana graced the crew in 2010 aboard Beau Geste for its record-breaking win in the Bermuda Ocean Race. He served as a boat builder on the Puma shore team in the previous Volvo Ocean Race. His age might suggest relative pup-hood, but his family long since knows his essence.

"I think they pretty much just consider this normal at this point," he said. "I just kind of send word every once in a while when I'm doing something ridiculous, and they just kind of go along with it."

culpepper@thenational.ae


Follow The National Sport on @SprtNationalUAE & Chuck Culpepper on @DubaiChuck


Published: August 24, 2011 04:00 AM

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