But Sally Barkow is circumnavigating the globe the hard way — harnessing the wind on a sailboat while competing against other teams trying to cross the finish line first in the Volvo Ocean Race.
There are easier and quicker ways to visit South Africa, China, Brazil and New Zealand.
Last year the Nashotah native earned a spot on Team SCA, an all-female team competing in the prestigious sailing competition held every three years.
Since the race started in Alicante, Spain, in October, Barkow has sailed thousands of miles working as a driver/trimmer for Team SCA, sometimes at the helm steering the ship and sometimes controlling the sails through winches.
“It’s kind of like a chess game on the water. I’m the one sort of moving our piece with a lot of coordination from our team,” Barkow said in a phone interview last week from Newport, R.I.
The teams left Newport on Sunday for the next leg of the race across the Atlantic Ocean to Lisbon, Portugal.
The race’s first leg — Spain to South Africa — took 28 days, followed by Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; China; Auckland, New Zealand; and Brazil before making the only landfall in the United States. After stops in Portugal and France, the race finishes in Sweden next month.
At each stop teams have been greeted and feted by crowds eager to welcome the Volvo racers. Last week Barkow’s family, which has been following the race online, traveled to Rhode Island to visit her.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to tour the world than what we’ve just done,” said Barkow, 34, who competed in the Beijing Olympic Games and was twice named U.S. Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year.
The difference in length and lighter sails has evened the playing field somewhat for the all-female crew, because physical strength is key in such a long and demanding competition.
Few women have been selected for Volvo racing crews over the decades, which meant none of the members of Team SCA, which is sponsored by a Swedish hygiene and forest products company, have experience in the demanding race.
But Team SCA spent months working together before the race started and quickly jelled.
“The boats take a lot of coordination and are really technical. It’s been learning from Day 1 how to do the simple things on the boat and now that we’re more familiar with it, we’re pushing the boat harder and learning to sail it more efficiently,” said Barkow, who is one of only two Americans on the 11-person team.
At sea, team members are split into shifts that work four hours and then take four hours off, making it difficult to get sleep, Barkow said.
But after a couple of days, bodies adjust to the different sleep pattern and the physical demands of the job.
So far, Team SCA has come in last in every leg except for the first one, but the distance Barkow’s team is finishing behind the front-runner is narrowing, she said.
Among the highlights for Barkow were a pod of sperm whales that swam with Team SCA’s boat, tails flapping in the water, as they traveled into Cape Town, South Africa, and seeing the change in the ocean while passing from the warm, calm Gulf Stream into the much colder and stronger current closer to the United States.
“The color of the sky changed, the waves got bigger, the current got stronger. It was interesting to see the elements change around you in an instant,” said Barkow. “We expected it to change in a few hours. It happened before we were ready. That’s one of the moments that you realize the ocean is in control of you.”
by Meg Jones