The Volvo Ocean Race, an around-the-world sailing race, stopped in Miami for a two-week event. Through work, I was a lucky recipient of a ticket to "crew" one of the boats during a practice race off the coast of Miami. Here is a photo of the boat (Puma) on its way through the cut to the Atlantic. (If you look closely, you may be able to see me in the stern--I am wearing a light blue shirt):
With all of this technology at work, the performance is staggering. The wind was very light while we were sailing, mostly between 6 and 8 knots. Even with a spinnaker, Sea Gem would be lucky to muster 3, maybe 4, knots in that wind. But Puma sails faster than wind speed. In 6 knots of wind, we did 8 knots. In 8 knots of wind, we did 11 knots. And, apparently, the Volvo Ocean Race boats will hit 40 knots--faster than most power boats--in the right conditions.
So, am I jealous? Not at all. To achieve that performance, comfort is not only compromised, it is banished altogether. Living conditions aboard Puma were awful. It was hot and humid, dark, cramped, and extremely noisy. Because the boats are carbon fiber and are not insulated, every noise is amplified into the interior. There is one bathroom for ten men, who sleep nearly stacked on top of each other in tiny, mesh cots. It is truly miserable. That discomfort is necessary to achieve maximum performance, but for a liveaboard like Sea Gem, I will gladly sacrifice performance to be comfortable.
Although Puma and Sea Gem are polar opposites, I was pleased to see that they share one piece of equipment in common: the mighty Hella fan. Whether sailing at 3 knots or 40, those things just plain work.