x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Nick Dana: The front line reporter on Azzam

The Rhode Island native has four fixed cameras, a still camera and a video camera to help record Azzam's journey on his blog.

Nick Dana, the media crew member, will record the journey on his blog.
Nick Dana, the media crew member, will record the journey on his blog.

On and off in recent years he worked as a welder in a friend's fabrication shop. He co-owns a 1957 Volkswagen Beetle with Casey Smith of the rival Puma team. He probably could either charm you or bore you talking about his restored lobster boat if he so chose, but he's not a braggart.

For university, he strayed from New England to the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and he studied studio art on his way to ocean racing. He hails from a polished Rhode Island port yet maintains that on the Volvo Ocean Race he will bring along country music. In Portugal, he surfed when he could and in stopovers he'll surf when he can, labelling the Volvo a well-planned surfing event.

"I'm mechanically driven," Nick Dana said, and that drive took on added fuel during the last Volvo race when he worked on the Puma shore team, and when his fondness for the mechanics made another leap.

All of the distinctions of his personality matter because they add up to his mastery of an ancient equation at the age of 25.

Those born as twigs upon successful family trees often vie to find room and struggle if they seek the description "self-made", yet here is one last-of-four-children already building quite a self.

"We all like to travel," his brother, Eli Dana, said by telephone from Newport, Rhode Island, "but he's always been a little more adventurous than the rest of us. He's always trying to do something different. He's always liked to take risks and do new things."

With a smidgen of wryness, the brother said: "He doesn't want to be like the rest of us."

As the online newsletter of the Dana family-owned Newport Shipyard put it: "He's the one in our family who always keeps things interesting."

"I kind of went off on my own," Nick Dana said one day near Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's 70-foot yacht Azzam, on which he will serve as the media crew member, chronicling the outlandish journey with cameras and blogs. "I try not to draw back from my family too much."

That takes some cleverness when working in sailing while coming from a family that adores sailing.

His parents, Charlie and Rose, are seasoned offshore sailors whose 70-foot ketch Saint Roque has frequented the Bahamas. Their contributions to the sport rate extensive, not least when Charlie served as commodore of the 167-year-old New York Yacht Club. Eli, the boat traffic controller of the shipyard, sailed competitively. A sister, Isabella, owns a classic 1995 yawl in the Bahamas.

Nick once said he first sailed at the age of two weeks, although unfortunately he did not blog during that outing. When his parents took him to the 2000 America's Cup in New Zealand to support their Young America syndicate, the famed family friend Dennis Conner one day took on the lad as the "17th man", whereupon the 13 year old remained stoic upon spiteful seas.

Yet even given that avalanche of influence, Dana's Volvo venture shows both the authenticity of his being and the elasticity of a sport with many domains.

"Everybody [in Newport] is excited he's doing it," Eli said. "He's wanted to do it for quite a while."

For another thing, he maintains he "wasn't built from the racing background" and when he accurately put a 2010 Bermuda Ocean Race win on his list of great sailing moments, he later said it had been a sort of inside joke.

Most of all, perhaps, his interests within the game are perhaps unconventional for someone whose ancestors two and three generations up forged charities and medical centres and important whatnot.

"You know, to be honest, I get more of a kick out of little things," Dana said. "It's not so much an event. I haven't won, like, massive events. Something like really getting the hang of sailing a moth, that really intrigues me. Trying new boats."

And refinishing old boats. And the crucial little things of Volvo yacht upkeep. And the lobster boat, a feat itself for anyone who cannot imagine doing such things. It's 35 feet, from 1974, and restored, he said. And a surfer and adventurer about to board the sleek, modern, five-month-old Azzam for 39,000 nautical miles said of that 37-year-old scrapper: "It's cool because it's a wooden boat as well."

His job: Media crew member

A mandatory fixture on the Volvo Ocean Race teams, the media crew member does what a million sailors with a million stories probably wish somebody had done before the technology allowed: he chronicles his boat’s race experience. With four fixed cameras, another video camera and a still camera, Nick Dana will record Azzam’s mission, report about it in blogs and serve in the safety-minded capacity of communication with race headquarters. His normal post below deck is a 21st-century wonder.

One stipulation: even while an experienced sailor, Dana by rule cannot participate in sailing, which makes him, as he puts it, rather like “a war correspondent”.

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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