The wind speed is only 21 knots this morning yet it sounds like a class 5 rapid on deck. I can hear the guys yelling just to be heard. A torrent of water crashes overhead, easing into a trickle. If there were thunder and lightning effects I could be sitting in the orchestra pit of a Baroque theater. The boat lurches and pitches as it tears through the Ocean, throwing me back and forward and side and forth in my seat. It’s a poor man’s ab workout.
- April 30, 2015, aboard Dongfeng Race Team, east of the Caribbean
Sam Greenfield had a dream to do the Volvo Ocean race as an onboard reporter. He made his pitch with a video that opened with him walking through a snow-covered field in Vermont making his case.
He didn't get the job.
But Sam got the next best thing, an invitation for a 30-day internship in Alicante, Spain, exactly two years ago. That led to coverage of the Tour de France a la Voile and more, much of it chronicled in his “Digital Vagabond” series for boats.com. We published his original Volvo pitch, but my favorite blogs featured videos he shot and edited from the Tour.
Somehow this movie made its way onto the Tour de France Facebook page for about 24 hours, until a web manager realized what had happened. The first—and probably last—ever sailing video on the Tour de France cycling FB page, likely the least-viewed post on the one-million-plus fan site in its digital history.
My second movie is about an amateur shore crew with a German entry, Iskareen. I drove with them from Dunkirk to Breskens, Holland and spent the night onboard a Volvo 60 after the landlady neglected to leave the keys in the post box. I’m eternally grateful for her mistake.
- July 14, 2013 "An American on the Other Tour de France"
Last year, Sam was invited back to Alicante to work for the Volvo Ocean Race as a multi-media reporter, before and throughout the race. (“I call it being an offboard reporter,” he says.) But after two legs, Dongfeng Race Team’s OBR Yann Riou had a family situation, and Sam got the call to do the leg from Abu Dhabi to China. Donfeng won that leg, but for Sam, May 6th was an even bigger victory, as he completed another leg, from Brazil to Newport, R.I., aboard Dongfeng, winning by less than four minutes.
“I have 6 deadlines a day during the race,” Sam told me, a few days later. “Three meals for the crew and three media deadlines. The blog is at 0600 universal time—500 words—and then at 1000, seven photos and two minutes of video, which includes lots of 10 second clips.”
The food is freeze-dried, but getting the right video footage and photos is sometimes a challenge. OBRs field specific requests from the VOR’s TV show, Life at the Extreme, the daily online “Inside Track”, the race’s YouTube and Facebook pages, team videos, sponsors, and the race’s commercial partners.
His favorite part? “The blogs. I have the most freedom to be creative.”
A massive white squall is stalking us in the background and we’re going to ride it out for the next hour. It’s Christmas in April.
31 knots might not feel fast in a car, but onboard a Volvo Ocean 65 it’s a very different sensation. “I imagine it’s like driving a car at 250 kilometers, offroad,” says Charles.
“I imagine if you put an American guy on this boat going 31 knots they’d stop watching baseball,” speculates Pascal. “It's so boring, baseball.”
At 31 knots your eyes start burning from the salt spray. It’s why the sailors usually wear helmets with visors. The waves launch over the boat and across the deck with such force that they can knock you off your feet. Or push you along the deck if you’re sitting. The best lesson I ever learned - by trial and error - is to never hold the camera directly in front of your face when filming in 30 knots or more. It’s not fun to get pistol whipped by your Nikon.
- April 29, 2015, aboard Dongfeng Race Team, east of the Caribbean
Sam’s an offboard reporter again now, shooting video for Volvo as the race sprints to Europe and on up to the finish in Sweden. I asked about lessons he’s learned. “Pace yourself, respect deadlines, and don’t plan more than a week in advance,” he said. “I also try to remember to take a few minutes every now and then to stop and appreciate what I’ve got.”