Ryan Breymaier started school at St. Mary's College of Maryland with the intent to get an economics degree and play lacrosse. When he discovered the school's top-flight sailing program during his first week on campus, there was no going back.
"I never played a game of lacrosse again," says the Annapolis, Md., native.
These days, Breymaier and co-skipper German Boris Herrmann are sailing the IMOCA Open 60 Neutrogena toward the finish of the double-handed Barcelona World Race. They are one of 15 teams with sailors from eight countries that entered the 25,000-nautical-mile, non-stop sprint around the globe. Breymaier and Herrmann are currently in fifth place among the 10 boats still competing.
The biennial Barcelona World Race - sailed in super-light, high-tech IMOCA Open 60 monohulls with few concessions for comfort - started its second edition on New Year's Eve. It follows the Great Circle route past three capes: the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin and Cape Horn. The top finishers, including Neutrogena, are expected back in Barcelona, Spain, near the end of March. Breymaier is the only American competing. He has sailed professionally since he graduated college, and he now lives in France with his wife, Nicola.
"Over here, I'm now known as the young American pitting himself against the European legends but being encouraged by them at the same time," Breymaier, 34, says. "I love the boats, I love the racing, and I love the challenge," he adds, noting that in 2009 alone he logged 20,000 miles on the boat.
Click play to watch Breymaier offer a personal greeting to Soundings readers while making good time in a steady Southern Ocean breeze. Mobile users can also click here.
As a younger sailor, he quickly developed a preference for offshore racing over round-the-buoys regattas. "At one point during college I did have a Laser, but I only took it out when it was howling so I could see how fast I could get it," he says.
In late-February, Breymaier and Herrmann were recovering from a day that Breymaier calls "probably the worst I have ever had." They were sailing about 100 miles behind French sailing icon Dominique Wavre, sailing with Michele Paret aboard Mirabaud (which has since retired from the race), and gaining ground.
"Suddenly, while jibing, I went to fill one of the ballasts, and at the same time we did a huge nose dive. The ballast tube broke, putting a lot of water inside the boat - I am not talking about a couple of gallons," he says. "The weight made the boat wipe out completely just as I was moving the last sail, the code zero. Unfortunately, it slipped and fell into the water. We had to get the kite down, turn the boat around and go to retrieve it."
As it was, a large albatross was sitting on the floating sail.
"These sails weigh 200 pounds or so, and wet it's even more. With the terrible sea state, it took us over an hour to get it on board," he says. "Then we had to deal with the water inside the boat and fix the ballast tube, which meant getting the carbon and epoxy out during the night."
Click play to watch Breymaier - at the helm, with pruned hands - describe the experience of launching off the top of a wave. Mobile users can also click here.
Apart from the drama, Breymaier is relishing the experience.
"Things are great on board. Boris and I make a good team, and we get on great together. We concentrate when we need to, and when it's time to relax Boris will put some music on, and we'll take a break and let the pilot work," Breymaier says. "We both have a lot of fun keeping the boat going fast, and we're very motivated to give it all we can. He's a good teammate."