2018-05-17 / Front Page


Dutch sailor shares dream come true with Melrose kids

Dutch sailor Carolijn Brouwer describes life onboard a Volvo Ocean Race boat Friday during an outdoor assembly at Melrose School. She is a crew member of the Dongfeng Race Team. 
PHOTO BYANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Dutch sailor Carolijn Brouwer describes life onboard a Volvo Ocean Race boat Friday during an outdoor assembly at Melrose School. She is a crew member of the Dongfeng Race Team. PHOTO BYANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Every child has a dream, Dutch sailor Carolijn Brouwer told students during an outdoor assembly Friday at Melrose School.

Her dream was to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race, a grueling circumnavigation of the Earth that includes weeklong stints with no land in sight.

For students wondering if dreams come true, Brouwer’s visit was proof — just three days earlier, she entered Narragansett Bay as a crew member aboard Dongfeng Race Team, the Chinese boat in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race.

Meg Myles, executive director of the Conanicut Island Sailing Foundation, arranged for Brouwer to speak with third- and fourth-graders about sailing around the world. She contacted Brouwer in April shortly before the fleet set sail for its 5,700-nautical-mile voyage from Brazil to Rhode Island. The two women, who met while competing at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece, reconnected during the 2015 Newport stopover for the race.

Brouwer adjusts the outrigger on the Chinese boat during the 5,700-mile leg from Brazil to Newport. 
JEREMIE LECAUDEYVOLVO OCEAN RACE Brouwer adjusts the outrigger on the Chinese boat during the 5,700-mile leg from Brazil to Newport. JEREMIE LECAUDEYVOLVO OCEAN RACE Not many amenities

During her visit to Melrose Avenue last week, Brouwer explained that life onboard the Dongfeng vessel is simple, with few luxuries.

“It’s our house while we’re out to sea,” she said. “But we don’t have much in our house. It’s very primitive.”

One glaring omission is a shower. To stay refreshed, the sailors use baby wipes and douse themselves with buckets of saltwater, then wash the salt from their bodies with drinking water, which is nothing more than desalinated seawater.

The boat’s galley is equipped with two burners and two kettles, which the sailors use to prepare freeze-dried meals. Brouwer ultimately consumes about 5,000 calories daily to stay energized. That includes three freeze-dried packets, each containing about 900 calories, along with protein shakes, nuts, dried fruit and candy bars.

“That is a lot of food,” she said. “I’m basically constantly eating. It’s your fuel. We don’t sleep enough; we don’t get enough rest because we’re sailing the boat 24/7. We don’t have an autopilot, so it’s up to the crew to be sailing the boat all the time. We really rely on food as a source of energy.”

When the boat leaves each port, Brouwer is allowed to take one bag with her, which includes her clothing and any personal effects. The bag is “a bit bigger than your school backpack,” she told the children.

“If I go 20 days at sea, everything I want to take with me has to go in here.”

Crew members work in four-hour shifts that alternate with four-hour breaks. During those respites, Brouwer said, sailors are lucky to get 2.5 hours of sleep. They also must use this time to change their bottom layers of clothing, and then get dressed again in gear that’s appropriate for the weather on deck.

While this may sound like a simple chore, Brouwer said it takes her about 30 minutes to get dressed and return to the deck. That’s because of the boat’s movement in the rough seas. As a demonstration, she asked fourth-grader Lauren Hund to get equipped in rain gear as quickly as possible.

Brouwer is from Leiden, Netherlands, and began sailing when she was 10. This edition marks her third Volvo Ocean Race, previously racing with two all-female crews: Amer Sports Too in 2000-01 and Team SCA in 2014-15. She is one of two women on the nine-person Dongfeng team, which comprises sailors from five countries.

Aside from her Volvo experience, Brouwer competed in three consecutive Summer Games. While she competed for her homeland in 2000 and 2004, Brouwer represented Belgium in the 2008 Beijing Games. She also was named the female sailor of the year by the International Sailing Federation in 1998.

Brouwer said she is attracted to the Volvo Ocean Race for three reasons: it’s challenging, it’s an adventure and it relies on teamwork.

“It’s really close racing and it’s really tough racing,” she said. “It’s probably the biggest challenge I will have ever done in my life. It’s probably physically and mentally the hardest thing I will ever have done. As a person, I like to raise the bar quite high and push my limits. That’s definitely what we’re doing.”

Fleet of strength

The race started in mid-October from Spain and the leaders reached Narragansett Bay around 7 a.m. May 8, completing the eighth leg of the race that began 17 day earlier from Itajai, Brazil. Dongfeng, after finishing this leg fourth, is currently in second place overall behind MAPFRE, which won the leg to Newport.

“It’s not just trying to reach a goal,” Brouwer said, “but it’s actually the journey.”

Brouwer said her team was leading the fleet 18 miles from Fort Adams, which illustrates how close this leg was — the top two teams were separated by just 61 seconds. Even on the open ocean as the fleet crossed the equator, the boats often were close enough for Brouwer to see the entire fleet from the deck of Dongfeng.

“There’s just water out there, but you’re still sailing so close together,” she said. “That’s what I find is really cool about this race.”

Brouwer and the Dongfeng team, which is skippered by Frenchman Charles Caudrelier, started preparing for the race in France about eight months before they moved their yacht to Spain.

“You have to get to know the boat,” she said. “The more time you can spend on the boat and the more time you spend training together, the better you will get.”

After speaking for about 20 minutes, Brouwer answered questions from the students. What if one of your crewmates doesn’t like freeze-dried food, one student asked. In response, Brouwer said Caudrelier eats different food from the rest of crew that’s sent specially from his home.

“Frenchmen are very particular about their food, so they often don’t like the freeze-dried food,” she said. “He has a special diet. He’s in a little bit of a special position, so he gets special food. Everyone else just eats the normal freeze-dried food.”

This was the first in a laundry list of food questions. The culinary curiosity, librarian Lisa Casey said, was a result of the children having sampled the frozen food in class.

“They loved it,” she said, “and went back for thirds and fourths.”

The students enjoyed Brouwer’s presentation, including fourth-grader Ella Gregoire. “I thought it was good because my dad has a boat and we sail on it a lot,” she said. “I like to know more about boats.”

Melrose School principal Carrie Petersen thought Brouwer’s presentation was engaging. She said it “brought realness” to the Volvo Ocean Race, which, at least for Brouwer, is a dream come true.

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