10/14/2014 09:59 am ET Updated Oct 14, 2014

How Two Ivy League Wunderkinds Are Taking On The World's Most Prestigious Sailing Race

Yacht races may be for the young at heart, but they usually require pretty mature bank accounts.

So when a young crew of recent Ivy League graduates finagled a spot (and a yacht) in the The Volvo Ocean Race, which rivals the America's Cup in prestige and costs participants about $21 million, more than a few sailing aficionados took notice.

The race, which started this past weekend and spans nine months, is the opportunity of a lifetime for Brown University graduates Mark Towill, 26, and Charlie Enright, 30, of Team Alvimedica. One of seven racing in the around-the-world voyage, the youngest team in the contest is largely considered to be the underdog as well.

After all, experience matters when you're up against “whales, icebergs, wayward containers, and waves the size of houses,” according to the Associated Press.

But the reward -- in terms of reputation and cachet -- is huge, which is why Towill and Enright hustled like hell to be included. The two worked for two and a half years to find a sponsor, eventually finding support in Turkish medical equipment manufacturer Alvimedica, a young company that wanted to support a young team in the race.

"We took every meeting we could and talked to anyone and everyone who would listen," Towill told Bloomberg.

While Towill and Enright both competed on Brown’s nationally ranked sailing team, this is their first time sailing in the competition. Their five crew members, however, have experience in the Volvo Ocean Race.

According to Will Oxley, the team's veteran navigator, the biggest threat the sailors face is simple sleep deprivation. "I try to average four and half hours every 24,” Oxley told The New York Times. “And I try to do it in three 90-minute sleeps."

Oxley says sailors have to track their sleep carefully in order to assess their decision-making abilities. "When I can see my decision-making deteriorate," he said, "I will get a little extra.”

The young blood should help keep energy and spirits high, but Towill told the Associated Press that their inexperience is also an advantage in another way. Despite their underdog status, he said, “We're sort of looking at it as an opportunity to improve and learn every day and make the most of the opportunity we have."

Enright and Towill both earned business degrees at Brown, but they met during filming for the Roy Disney-produced documentary “Morning Light,” which put high schoolers in a transpacific race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Both are natural born sailors and competitors: Towill is a Hawaii local and went to Punahou, the same high school as golfer Michelle Wie, linebacker Manti Te‘o and body surfer Barack Obama; Enright, the grandson of Clint Pearson, co-founder of Pearson Yachts, hails from Bristol, Rhode Island.

The two were inspired by the "Morning Light" experience and have been working together since. For their inclusion in the Volvo, Enright says, the two worked hard to make their dream a reality. "Some people would say we’ve skipped a couple steps," he told the Providence Journal, "but steps don’t exist. We’ve created our own experience.”

Although it's still early, Team Alvimedica is off to a good start. They won the first in-port race in Alicante, Spain, and started fourth in the first leg to South Africa -- a 24-day, 6,400-mile journey.

You can follow Team Alvimedica via Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.



Athletes Who Lost It All (Or Most Of It)